Hanoi U-Turn: Vietnamese journalists are convicted for exposing alleged corruption

The Vietnamese economy’s Achilles’ heel is the country’s reputation for corruption. A recent court case shows why.

Last week Nguyen Viet Chien of Thanh Nien (“Young People”) newspaper and Nguyen Van Hai of Tuoi Tre (“Youth”) were convicted for “abusing freedom and democracy.” Mr. Chien will serve two years in jail, while Mr. Hai will be subject to “re-education.” Two of their police sources were also convicted for “revealing state secrets”; one will go to jail for a year, the other got a warning.

Their real crime was exposing alleged corruption at the Transportation Ministry in 2006. Officials were said to have diverted millions of dollars from the bureau’s $2 billion budget — some $7 million to bet on European soccer matches alone. The Transportation Minister resigned. At the time, Hanoi’s willingness to allow reporting on the scandal seemed to augur a crackdown on corruption and a loosening of restrictions on the media.

Vietnam ranks 121 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s latest survey of perceived corruption. The journalists’ convictions will discourage other reporters from investigating and exposing official corruption too vigorously. That’s not good for business.


Vietnam Oct consumer prices may fall vs Sept-paper

HANOI, Oct 23 (Reuters) – Vietnam’s consumer prices in October could ease slightly from September following lower prices of food and fuel, state-run newspapers reported on Thursday.

Vietnam has been facing double-digit annual inflation each month since November last year. The government aims to bring inflation to below 15 percent next year from a forecast 24 percent this year.

A decrease of the consumer price index could mark the first monthly fall since March 2007 when prices in the Southeast Asian country eased 0.2 percent from the previous month.

Cao Sy Kiem, a member of the government’s Financial and Monetary Advisory Council, said prices this month could ease around 0.1 percent from September, the online Dan Tri newspaper (www.dantri.comvn) said.

‘This (fall) would come because of lower prices of fuel and food, which account for a large proportion in the price basket,’ Kiem, a former State Bank of Vietnam Governor, was quoted as saying. Food prices account for nearly 43 percent of the basket Vietnam uses to calculate the consumer price index.

Vietnam cut retail petrol prices twice last week, with a total reduction of 6 percent following lower oil prices on global markets.

October’s consumer prices in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest, eased 0.24 percent from September, the first fall this year thanks to a drop in food and fuel costs, the city’s statistics department said on Tuesday.

Inflation in the city, Vietnam’s business centre, serve as an early indication of the trend in the national inflation figure.

(Reporting by Dang Trung Nghia; Writing by Ho Binh Minh, Editing by Jacqueline Wong)


Pact signed to set up economic zone in Vietnam

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

China and Vietnam Wednesday signed an agreement to build an economic and trade cooperation zone in Haiphong, the third largest city in the Southeast Asian country.

“]Premier Wen Jiabao welcomes Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, October 22, 2008. [China Daily]
The zone will be modeled on Shenzhen, China’s first special economic zone and the leading city in its reforms.

The mayors of Shenzhen and Haiphong signed the agreement in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to build the 800-hectare China-Vietnam economic and trade cooperation zone.

The pact was inked after Premier Wen Jiabao held an hour-long meeting with visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

The foundation for the zone will be laid in December, and the cost of its infrastructure construction will be about $200 million. More than 170 companies are likely to set up shop there, investing up to $5 billion.

The zone will be divided into two parts, with one for light industries, including apparel and electronics, and the other dedicated to sectors such as logistics.

The idea of setting up such an economic zone was reportedly mooted during President Hu Jintao’s visit to Vietnam in 2006. Later, Shenzhen designated Vietnam as a favored investment destination.

The two sides inked seven other agreements, including one on preferential loan from the Export-Import Bank of China to Vietnam and another on a strategic cooperation between China’s third largest oil company, China National Offshore Oil Corp, and Petro Vietnam. The two sides agreed to set up a hotline, too, linking leaders of the two neighbors.

At his meeting with President Hu Jintao, Dung said his country would follow the spirit of “comrades plus brothers” in seeking a permanent solution to the territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

Talks with Danish PM

Hu and Wen held talks with visiting Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, too. The two countries signed two documents of cooperation on technology innovation and to fight climate change.

China’s top leaders will have a busier day today. Hu and Wen will hold up to 15 bilateral meetings with visiting foreign VIPs as world leaders start arriving in Beijing for the two-day 7th Asia-Europe Meeting, which begins on Friday.


EU calls for reassessment of Vietnam rights dialogue

The European parliament says the European Union must reassess its cooperation with Vietnam over human rights.

The parliamentarians adopted a text, by 479 votes to 21, saying human rights dialogue between the EU and Vietnam must lead to tangible improvements in Vietnam.

They called on the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to reassess cooperation policy with Vietnam, based on respect for democratic principles and fundamental rights.

They denounced in particular religious intolerance, and called for the immediate release of all people imprisoned or detained for the peaceful expression of political or religious beliefs.

These include more than 300 Montagnard Christians, as well as Khmer Krom Buddhist monks, Catholics and adherents of the Cao Dai religion, as well as democracy activists, land rights petitioners and trade union leaders.


Sweden won’t extend Vietnam adoption agreement

Sweden says it will not extend an adoption agreement with Vietnam beyond next year.

A government spokesman says the decision has been made because of concerns over corruption and possible baby-selling.

Sweden sent a fact finding delegation to Vietnam last month.

The spokesman says Sweden would consider renewing its adoption agreement once it felt assured that Hanoi had addressed its concerns.

Earlier this year, Vietnam ended its adoption agreement with the United States after the publication of an official US report alleging corruption in the adoption process.


Border disputes discussed as Vietnam premier visits China

Hanoi – Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with Chinese leaders Wednesday in Beijing to discuss borders and seek to strengthen often-strained ties with China, government officials said. Dung, his wife and a high-ranking government delegation arrived in Beijing Tuesday for his first official visit to China and the seventh Asia-Europe Meeting, which is to be held Friday and Saturday.

Bui Hong Phuc, a former ambassador to China, said the purpose of the visit was to sign an agreement to finish land border demarcation.

Dung also discussed with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao how to deal with Vietnam and China’s dispute over the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, Phuc said.

Unlike Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh and President Nguyen Minh Triet, Dung chose the United States for his first outbound trip to boost trade and investment with Vietnam’s former enemy on the battlefield. Trade with the US accounts for up to 20 per cent of the country’s exports while the China market takes 15 per cent.

Last year, Vietnam-China trade increased to more than 15 billion dollars and was expected to hit 21 billion dollars this year.

But Vietnam continues to run a trade deficit with China, which climbed to 3.8 billion dollars in 2006 and 9 billion dollars in 2007. It was predicted to reach 13 billion dollars in 2008.

Vietnam has a close but sometimes strained relationship with its fellow Communist neighbour. China backed Hanoi during its fight for independence and its war with the United States in the 1960s and ’70s, but the two countries fought a bloody border war in 1979 and broke off diplomatic relations until 1991.

The two countries continue to dispute the ownership of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, whose surrounding waters might contain substantial oil deposits.

Vietnam has sought to balance its relationship with China by cultivating close relations with the US, with which it ran a 12-billion-dollar trade surplus in 2007.

Sources close to the US government said they expected Dung’s trip to show progress on hot-button issues between the two Asian countries and that they welcomed such progress.

A former senior US official on South-East Asia said he expected the visit to focus on improving trade and economic relations, “an important point given the fairly lopsided imbalance of trade.”

Hurdles remain in Hanoi’s relations with both countries, including differences on human rights and democracy with the United States and land and sea borders with China.

Border disputes discussed as Vietnam premier visits China : Asia World

Vietnam economy hit by falling demand for exports

Hanoi – Vietnam is isolated from losses linked to toxic US subprime mortgage loans but the global economic crisis they have unleashed is hitting its export markets, government officials said Wednesday. The Trade and Industry Ministry projected the country would earn 15.7 billion dollars from exports in the fourth quarter, or roughly 5 billion dollars for each remaining month of the year. That figure represents a drop from the recent monthly average of more than 6 billion dollars as demand for key exports drops.

Producers and exporters are reporting that prices of exports such as rubber, coffee, pepper, rice and seafood are falling.

Textile and apparel exports, Vietnam’s second-biggest earner just after crude oil, were likely to miss the growth targets the government set for 2008.

“Obviously, our textile and apparel exports are being badly affected by the world financial crisis,” said Le Quoc An, chairman of the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association. “We find it hard to export our products these days.”

Vietnam planned on earning 9.5 billion dollars from the industry this year, up from 7.8 billion in 2007. It earned 7 billion dollars, or about 800 million dollars per month, in the first nine months of the year, but An said he doubted exporters could bring in the remaining 2.5 billion in the next three months.

Other major Vietnamese exports are facing difficulties as well as Vietnam’s main export markets tighten their belts because of slowing economic growth.

“Our exports have dropped sharply in the first nine months this year as our major markets are in recession,” said Nguyen Ton Quyen, secretary general of the Vietnam Wood and Forestry Product Association. “The fourth quarter will be a very tough time for us because we don’t have many orders.”

Quyen said importers from North America, Europe and Japan were not selling wood furniture from Vietnam because people have stopped making large purchases with the economic downturn.

The importers of Vietnam’s wood products are overstocked by 30 per cent, Quyen said, adding that orders have dropped by 20 per cent compared with the first nine months of last year.

“Many wood companies are only working intermittently because we cannot sell our products,” Quyen added.

Vietnam is the world’s 10th-largest wood products exporter and the second largest in the 10-nation Association of South-East Asian Nations with export revenues of 2.35 billion dollars in 2007. The government set a target of 3 billion dollars for the sector for 2008, but Quyen estimated the total would come closer to 2.8 billion dollars.

“The economic slowdown has caused a loss of 30 per cent in our export revenues in the past nine months compared with the same period last year,” said Nguyen Van Thu, vice chairman of Vietnam’s Tea Association.

Thu said Vietnam exported about 120,000 tons of tea in 2007, bringing in 130 million dollars. This year, he expected to export around 90,000 tons.

Rice, the country’s other key export, has been seeing similar falls. Local media reported that farmers were finding it hard to sell their rice while world prices plummet.

Vietnam’s rice exporters are facing a range of challenges, including high interest rates, lack of importers and the recent introduction of a rice export tax.

The Vietnam Food Association reported it had exported 3.8 million tons of rice as of October 17 and it expects to export 700,000 tons for the last quarter, but rice exporters said they doubted they could sell that much in two and a half months. They said most rice exporters have found that their customers are not placing any large orders.

“We planned to export around 200,000 tons of rice for the last quarter, but our importers lack money,” said Tran Xuan Ha, head of the export and import department of the Northern Food Corp, the second-biggest rice-exporting corporation in Vietnam. “We are not sure we can earn that money.”
Vietnam economy hit by falling demand for exports : Business

MEPs want progress on human rights before cooperation accord is signed 

In a resolution on EU-Vietnam relations, Parliament calls for Vietnam to be pressed to observe human rights and various key freedoms before a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU is finalised.

According to the resolution, which was adopted by 479 votes to 21 with 4 abstentions, freedom of assembly and of the press as well as internet access are severely restricted in Vietnam, while religious groups and ethnic minorities – such as Catholics, Buddhists and the Montagnard and Khmer minorities – suffer discrimination and persecution.

Better implementation of human rights under existing accord needed

Looking, firstly, to the current EU-Vietnam cooperation agreement, Parliament stresses that “the human rights dialogue between the European Union and Vietnam must lead to tangible improvements in Vietnam” and “asks the Council and the Commission to reassess cooperation policy with Vietnam, bearing in mind Article 1 of the 1995 Cooperation Agreement, which states that cooperation is based on respect for democratic principles and fundamental rights”.  It calls on the Commission “to establish clear benchmarks for the evaluation of the current development projects in Vietnam in order to ensure their compliance with the human rights and democracy clause”.

New agreement not to be finalised until rights violations stop

Secondly, MEPs urge the Commission and the Council, in the current negotiations for a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, “to raise with the Vietnamese side the need to stop the current systematic violation of democracy and human rights before the finalisation of the agreement”.

In particular, Parliament, which has a consultative role in the conclusion of the new agreement, wants Vietnam to be asked:

– to cooperate actively with UN human rights mechanisms, by inviting the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance to visit Vietnam;

– to release all people imprisoned or detained for the peaceful expression of political or religious beliefs;

– to allow independent religious organisations to freely conduct religious activities without government interference;

– to repeal provisions in Vietnamese law that criminalise dissent and certain religious activities on the basis of imprecisely defined ‘national security’ crimes;

– to end the Vietnamese Government’s censorship and control over the domestic media.

Vietnam: MEPs want progress on human rights before cooperation accord is signed

Sweden to stop adoptions from Vietnam

Sweden to stop adoptions from Vietnam

Sweden to stop adoptions from Vietnam

Published: 22 Oct 08 15:32 CET

The Swedish government plans to halt adoptions of children from Vietnam citing concerns over corruption and fears that the child’s best interests don’t always come first.

“It’s a really tough blow for many families who are waiting. Vietnam is also the only country many can consider adopting from,” said Jan Göransson, head of the Adoptionscentrum adoption agency, to Sveriges Radio.

Vietnam is popular among Swedes looking to adopt because it allows adoption by single parents and doesn’t have strict age restrictions like many other countries.

According to Sveriges Radio, a child from Vietnam is adopted by Swedish parents about once a week on average.

However, the government has decided not to extend its current agreement with Vietnam, which runs out in the autumn of 2009.

The decision, to be announced on Thursday, comes following reports which raise troubling questions about Vietnam’s adoption practices.

An investigation by the Swedish government revealed that biological parents in Vietnam are not always aware that their children have been put up for adoption. There are also reports that money has been paid in exchange for children to be adopted.

The United States has already banned further adoptions from Vietnam due to corruption concerns and evidence that mothers had taken payments to put their children up for adoption.

In addition, Vietnam has refused to sign on to international regulations governing adoptions.

According to health minister Göran Hägglund, the government’s ruling means that adoptions from Vietnam will cease within a year.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se/+46 8 656 6518)
Sweden to stop adoptions from Vietnam – The Local