Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington , DC 20301-1000
Ottawa, May 28, 2012
RE: An Open Letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta on his visit to Vietnam from June 3-5, 2012
Dear Secretary Leon Panetta,
I am writing this letter to wish you well as you prepare to visit Vietnam early June 2012. As a Vietnamese-born Canadian, I can go to great lengths in telling you where you should go and what you should see; however, given that you are likely to have a very busy schedule, I will instead let you discover Vietnam for yourself if you have not already been there before.
The main reason of this letter is to report to you about my grave concern regarding the U.S.-Vietnam rapprochement and especially in the context of the growing dispute in the South China Sea and urge you to raise it during your public and private discussions with your Vietnamese counterpart and other officials from the government of Vietnam.
Throughout Vietnam , there is growing discontent towards the government for its handling of the current South China Sea disputes. Protests against Chinese maritime activities are suppressed by Vietnamese authorities, in part to prevent destabilizing its relationship with China , as well as ensuring the seeds of future protests (perhaps against the government itself) will not take root. How can Vietnam be considered a strategic partner or ally in the region if it continues to straddle the proverbial fence? Vietnam is not a democracy but a one-party state governed by the Communist Party, driven purely by self-interest so as to remain in the seat of power for as long as possible.
The government answers not to the people but to the Party. The Vietnamese people have seen the government for
what it is—ineffective and corrupt. How, then, can the United States rely on Vietnam where the latter is ideologically opposed to the values of the former?
The sobering reality is that Vietnam is not reliable. It cannot be counted upon to assist the United States in a potential conflict with China if the Party is placed in jeopardy. There is an ally in Vietnam but only in a democratically-elected government, where the will of the people is greater than the will of a political party. We can look back at the history of Vietnam and sift through the drama and media-influenced revisions of past conflicts, but the wishes of the Vietnamese people have always remained constant—to live free and independent of foreign powers. Unfortunately, fate has conspired against Vietnam . The communist North Vietnam , sponsored militarily and financially by China and the former Soviet Union, invaded South Vietnam in the largest conventional assault in the Vietnam War and unified the country under a flawed and corrupt constitution. With this act, the sacrifice of some 58,000 American lives lost in attaining the Paris Peace Accords were and continues to remain sullied.
One cannot change the past, but the future remains open and unresolved. However, the future of Vietnam rests not in the hands of its people. China is content with the status quo and will ensure that the Vietnamese Communists will not be threatened. Consequently, the Vietnamese people, growing unhappier by the day, look to what has happened with the Arab Spring and may consider that their time for a revolution is fast approaching. What had once been the topic of private conversations is now discussed publicly. Yet, should this be allowed to occur, any democratic movement will be swiftly crushed by the authorities with the tacit support of China . Communist rule will only be further entrenched.
Here exists an opportunity for the United States to make its presence known. The people are ready for democracy. They yearn for it but lack the organization and resources to bring about democratic reform. The United States can act as a counter-balance to China , gently pushing and convincing the Vietnamese government that democratic reform is in their best interest. It must be made clear to the government that their rule is unsustainable over the long-term. Should the current Vietnamese government wish to remain in power for even a little but longer, they will do well to allow for democratic reform. The United States can establish a road map towards gradual reform and assist in the transition, not simply to ensure the formation of a legitimate government but to protect the nascent democracy from Chinese interference.
The United States must resolve its current debt crisis and set its priorities, of course, but it cannot abdicate its role on the international stage as the leading figure in the fight for democracy. It cannot withdraw into isolation. With Vietnam , the United States can finally bring some measure of closure to those 58,000 American men and women who gave their lives not long ago in the service of their country. For almost a decade, the United States fought to maintain democracy and contain communism in Vietnam . Our moral imperative has not and should not waver. This battle is only lost if we choose to give up.
Therefore, I implore you to raise this issue during your public and private discussions with your Vietnamese counterpart and other officials from the government of Vietnam. I thank you for your prompt consideration of this extremely important matter and I would welcome the opportunity to meeting with you for further discussions on this and other subjects of mutual interest.
At last, I wish to thank you for your time and consideration, and hope that these words will carry with you during your travels to my homeland.
Khanh VU DUC, LL.L., LL.B., MPA
Barrister, Solicitor & Notary Public
VDK LAW OFFICE