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Vietnam and China Ratchet Down Rhetoric in Oil, Fishing Squabbles

Vietnam and China are trying to defuse tensions over offshore oil and fishing rights that have threatened to explode into a military confrontation. Vietnamese Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh met with Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Chinese Party Central Committee’s Military Commission, and other Chinese officials on an October 16-18 visit to Beijing.

“Neighbors cannot be changed,” Fan said in a statement issued by the Chinese government. It is in the interest of both China and Vietnam to maintain their friendship, resolve their disputes satisfactorily and promote development, he said.

In a Vietnamese government statement quoted by The Wall Street Journal, Thanh said, “It’s necessary for the two countries, particularly the two armies, to continue cooperation, maintain a healthy and stable relationship and resolve disputes.”

Relations between the neighbors have been strained since May 2014, when China placed an oil rig in the South China Sea close to the Paracel Islands, which both nations claim, and boats from the two countries rammed each other near the rig. The clash also set off protests against the Chinese in Vietnamese industrial parks, resulting in riots that killed four Chinese nationals, according to The Associated Press.

China took the rig away in July. But the conflicts continued. On October 14 Vietnamese fishermen were attacked by a Chinese surveillance vessel, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, and all of their equipment was destroyed.

A couple of weeks earlier, on October 2, Secretary of State John Kerry had met with the Vietnamese foreign minister in Washington to announce that the United States’ ban on weapons deals with Vietnam would be eased to allow sales of armed patrol boats and used spy planes. If Vietnam makes progress on human rights, the arms embargo could possibly be lifted altogether. The gesture, however, is largely symbolic because Vietnam buys most of its weapons from Russia, according to The Economist.

Also in October, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited India, which is providing a $100 million line of credit that Vietnam could use for national defense purchases. Shortly after the meeting, India announced that it would sell four naval patrol boats to Vietnam.

Hoping to prevent the conflict in offshore waters from getting out of control, China and Vietnam agreed at the October 16-18 meetings to establish a shared hotline to help manage their disputes, according to The Wall Street Journal.

‘Nano Dragon’ Booked for Space Flight

Vietnam plans to send into space in 2016 a 10-kilogram satellite that was designed entirely by Vietnamese engineers and incorporates nanotechnology, according to VNA, the country’s news agency. The satellite has been dubbed the “Nano Dragon.”

Vietnam already has four satellites in orbit, launched in collaboration with other countries. In November 2013 it sent up a satellite called Pico Dragon, which weighs just 1 kilogram. An aerospace center is being built in Hanoi with a $506 million investment from Japan.

Vietnamese Film Honored at Festival

A movie by 32-year-old Vietnamese director Nguyen Hoang Diep won Best Film at the 2014 Venice International Film Festival’s International Critics’ Week. Her production, filmed in Hanoi with a Vietnamese cast and crew, was screened for audiences there in November.

The story revolves around a jilted girlfriend’s need for an abortion and the help she receives from a transsexual friend. An American critic for The Hollywood Reporter praised the Vietnamese film, awkwardly titled in translation Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere, for its unusual frankness and sensitivity.

Campaign Slows Rhino Horn Use

A multipronged campaign, sponsored by five nonprofits, including the African Wildlife Federation, is curbing the use of rhinoceros horn in folk remedies, a practice that threatens the survival of rhinos.

The destructive harvesting of the horns declined in Vietnam by 38 percent in one year, according to a recent survey, which gathered responses from 1,000 people in six cities. The survey also found a 25 percent decrease in the belief that rhino horn can cure disease.

As part of the campaign, which began in August 2013, information about rhino horns is posted on buses and billboards. Programs on conservation for business groups like the Ha Noi Women’s Association were part of the three-year campaign.

The survey sponsors also included the Humane Society International and the Viet Nam Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

U.S. Shells, Bombs Uncovered During Dig

 Workers digging in the North Central Vietnam province of Quang Tri came across an underground repository of “dozens of artillery shells, mortar shells, hundreds of cluster bombs and other ordnance,” according to Thanh Nien News. The Vietnamese government estimates 16.3 million acres throughout the country have been contaminated with ordnance.

Controversial Air Force Pilot Dies

 Jack Broughton, an Air Force colonel who was vice commander of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing in Vietnam and led F-105D Thunderchief strikes, died October 24. He was 89. Broughton also piloted fighter-bombers during the Korean War. He flew more than 200 jet-fighter missions in both wars combined.

Broughton received the Air Force Cross for his heroism on Feb. 6, 1967, when he used his own plane as a decoy to attract enemy fire and protect other pilots on the mission.

Later that year, Broughton was involved in a controversy that ended his career as a fighter pilot, The New York Times noted in its obituary. On June 2, 1967, a pilot under Broughton’s command reported that while attacking anti-aircraft sites he might have struck a ship in a North Vietnamese port, a violation of restrictions placed on U.S. bombers. The Soviet Union later said one of its ships had been hit. Film from the plane’s gun camera showed the pilot had the Soviet ship in his sights. Broughton ordered the film destroyed to protect his pilot, which he admitted during a court-martial investigation. With no film as evidence of the ship attack, the colonel and two other pilots were acquitted of charges that they violated the rules of engagement. But Broughton was fined $600 for destroying government property and sent to an administrative post in Washington.

Monument to Disabled Veterans Dedicated in D.C.

The nation’s first memorial to disabled veterans was dedicated in Washington on Oct. 5, 2014—14 years after the legislation authorizing it was signed.

“With this memorial we commemorate, for the first time,” President Barack Obama said at the ceremony, “the two battles our disabled veterans have fought—the battle over there, and the battle here at home—your battle to recover, which at times can be even harder.” More than 3,000 disabled veterans, guests and dignitaries attended the ceremony.

The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial honors more than 4 million living disabled veterans as well as their caretakers and deceased disabled veterans. The $86 million memorial, south of the Capitol near the U.S. Botanic Garden, has a star-shaped fountain with a single ceremonial flame and a grove of trees that symbolizes hope.

Plans for the memorial began around 1995, when Lois Pope, widow of National Enquirer magnate Generoso Pope, met a disabled veteran at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall and realized no monument recognized his sacrifice. She set up a foundation to advocate for the memorial, and President Bill Clinton signed the authorizing legislation in 1999. The project faced numerous difficulties, including controversies over its location, fundraising problems and disputes over the memorial’s design. Construction finally began in the fall of 2011. Lois Pope and her foundation contributed $10 million to the project.

VA Fires 4 in Wake of Scandal

 The Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Oct. 6, 2014, the firing of four senior executives related to long wait times for patients at VA facilities, records that were altered to cover up the delays and other wrongdoing.

The actions come some five months after VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over the issue. He was replaced in July by Robert “Bob” McDonald, a former CEO of Procter & Gamble Co. Legislation signed by President Barack Obama on August 7 expedites the process of firing senior VA officials. More than 100 cases of malfeasance have been opened against VA officials, according to Navy Times.

The four employees being dismissed are the VA’s deputy chief procurement officer, the director of the Pittsburgh health care system, the director of the medical center in Dublin, Georgia, and the director of the Central Alabama health care system.


Originally published in the February 2015 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.