Re­pres­sive Viet­nam a POOR HOST for Apec


The Nation - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

Viet­nam will in com­ing days host an Asia Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (Apec) sum­mit in Danang that’s sure to bol­ster its in­ter­na­tional stature amid in­creas­ingly com­plex re­gional and global de­vel­op­ments. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s got off to a bad start by crack­ing down on ac­tivists in prepa­ra­tion for the ar­rival of world lead­ers.

Eco­nom­i­cally speak­ing, the lead­er­ship in Hanoi seems to fully un­der­stand shift­ing global cir­cum­stances, par­tic­u­larly the rise of pop­ulist pro­tec­tion­ist ide­olo­gies such as those that swept Don­ald Trump to power in the United States and trig­gered Bri­tain’s exit from the Euro­pean Union. Yet such phe­nom­ena run counter to the found­ing prin­ci­ples of Apec, which groups 21 na­tional economies that de­pend to a great ex­tent on free trade and glob­al­i­sa­tion. Apec emerged in 1989 against a spread­ing back­drop of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, just as the Cold War came to an end. That was only three years af­ter Viet­nam be­gan its own “Doi Moi” pro­gramme aimed at trans­form­ing a so­cial­ist so­ci­ety into a mar­ket econ­omy.

Viet­nam joined Apec in Novem­ber 1998, seek­ing to ben­e­fit from glob­al­i­sa­tion and the fis­cal lib­er­al­i­sa­tion that came with it. It has done so, and hand­somely, its econ­omy grow­ing briskly and with few pauses.

But the Apec coun­tries – col­lec­tively rep­re­sent­ing 39 per cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, 57 per cent of all GDP and 49 per cent of all trade – now face a fresh chal­lenge as the US shows less in­ter­est in mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism. Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion to with­draw Amer­ica from the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) came as a sharp blow to a dozen na­tions, in­clud­ing Viet­nam. Apec is cur­rently striv­ing to achieve its so­called Bo­gor goals for free trade and in­vest­ment by 2020. Trump’s con­trari­ness threat­ens to stall that as well.

But it is cru­cial that Apec stay the course and play its for­mi­da­ble role in as­sur­ing the world sus­tain­able growth, pro­tect­ing it from the ef­fects of cli­mate change, fos­ter­ing a dig­i­tal econ­omy, curb­ing in­equities and off­set­ting the neg­a­tive im­pacts of glob­al­i­sa­tion. All of this will re­quire a mas­sive col­lec­tive ef­fort, and Viet­nam is ex­pected to urge its part­ners at the sum­mit to pull to­gether.

Its voice loses con­sid­er­able au­thor­ity, how­ever, when dis­si­dents are be­ing rounded up ahead of the meet­ing to pre­vent them from us­ing it as a plat­form to spot­light do­mes­tic is­sues. One stu­dent was re­cently sen­tenced to six years in jail for dis­tribut­ing “anti-state pro­pa­ganda”. Other so­cial ac­tivists have been ar­rested and pros­e­cuted. An­a­lysts say the gov­ern­ment is de­lib­er­ately si­lenc­ing crit­ics to avoid em­bar­rass­ment when the Apec lead­ers are as­sem­bled.

Apec is solely con­cerned with eco­nomic mat­ters – hu­man rights are not on its agenda. But Hu­man Rights Watch is cor­rect in press­ing for­eign del­e­gates at the sum­mit to pres­sure Hanoi on the sub­ject. If Trump and his ilk don’t care about the sup­pres­sion of free­doms, it falls to other mem­bers of Apec to ar­gue that glob­al­i­sa­tion re­quires global unity on such is­sues.

It mat­ters not that Viet­nam has never cham­pi­oned democ­racy. What mat­ters is that nearly 30 dis­si­dents who posed no se­cu­rity threat have been si­lenced for merely crit­i­cis­ing their gov­ern­ment. The regime is only em­bar­rass­ing it­self by act­ing so in­se­cure, and in­se­cu­rity among any mem­ber-coun­tries un­der­mines all ef­forts to achieve Apec’s noble goals.

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