Bloggers react with joy, alarm and anger to White House meeting

Pham Tuan Anh (right edge) acted as interpreter for the two leaders. Photo courtesy of the Vietnam News Agency.

Pham Tuan Anh (far right) acted as interpreter for the two leaders. Photo courtesy of the Vietnam News Agency.

The sight of the General-Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party being greeted in the Oval Office has been met with mixed emotions by Vietnamese at home and those resident in the United States.

Bloggers expressed a wide range of sentiments from hope and satisfaction to frustration and even anger.

Hope because of signs that Vietnam could turn further away from China and ease political repression as it builds ties with Washington.

Frustration because of concern the US will focus too much on the strategic picture as it seeks to build coalitions against Beijing, and will ease pressure on the communist authorities in Hanoi over human rights violations.

Some saw no justification at all for reconciliation with the Communist Party.

“58,000 American soldiers lost their lives to protect freedom and hold back the red wave of communism, ” wrote Le Dien Duc, a Houston-based observer on Vietnam’s political situation.
“Then came the process of shaking hands, normalising relations, lifting the embargo and trade deals to help the old foe grow stronger. Such is the stupid 20-year-old policy of the U.S. in their relations with communist Vietnam.”

He argued that the Communist Party still sees the US as a hostile entity, citing recent comments by the Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, who denounced “the crimes committed by the U.S. Empire”.

In total contrast were the Facebook postings of a famous blogger, Pham Tuan Anh, who studied in the United States and has accompanied Mr Trong as an interpreter.

He quoted the words of poetry recited to the party boss by the American Vice-President, Joe Biden, conveying “the optimistic hope of a blue sky in the sun when the heavy fog has dispersed.”

The verses were taken from “Truyen Kieu” – The Tale of Kieu, an epic poem and the most famous classical work in Vietnamese literature.

The optimistic views of some young people however were balanced by a far more critical and sceptical tone from many overseas Vietnamese commentators.

They nitpicked about the scale and degree of lavishness at the reception ceremonies, the details of the greetings that were exchanged and the demeanor of Mr Trong himself.

Many sought to play up a photo that went viral on Vietnamese websites depicting the Party boss looking at his watch during his talks with President Obama.

“What a boorish gesture”; “how shameful for a politician; “unacceptable behavior”; “so impolite”. Just some of the more jaundiced comments.

Photo courtesy of AP, Reuteurs, and VOA.

Photo courtesy of AP, Reuteurs, and VOA.

The mock outrage abated when another photograph was published showing Mr Obama also looking at his watch. A VOA report indicated that it was Mr Obama who looked at his watch first.

Such was the level of interest in the body language for what amounted to an extremely rare diplomatic privilege – the reception in the Oval Office of a man who’s neither a head of state nor a head of government. In fact he’s the leader of a proud and unrepentant communist party that handed the United States the most bitter and humiliating defeat in its history.

Pro-government bloggers in Hanoi were predictably jubilant.

They hailed the visit as a milestone success in Vietnam’s foreign policy that would take bilateral relations to a higher level.

Le Dien Duc, however was back with more warnings and foreboding, alluding to President Obama’s dealings with Russia and his attempt to ‘re-set’ relations.

“Nothing has been reset, though. All what we see is that the entire Russian society is now taking the U.S. as their enemy,” he wrote.

He predicted that US policy would be ineffective, a handshake with the Communists would only strengthen their hand, he said, in Hanoi as well as Havana.