Little foreign support for hard pressed bloggers

The British minister had little to say about Vietnam's new crackdown on internet freedoms

Vietnam’s beleaguered bloggers are looking for international support as they face renewed repression by the communist government, but they received little comfort from a visiting British minister this week.

The Foreign Office Minister responsible for Asia and the Pacific, Mark Field, tweeted vaguely about the benefits of media freedom, but expressed no concern publicly about Vietnam’s draconian new cyber security law.

Press freedom advocates have described the new law, which came into effect on January 1, as Stalinist, warning that it puts an end to any hope of more internet freedom in Vietnam.

It bans any content that the government disapproves of, and requires foreign tech firms to store data locally and hand it over to the authorities on request.

Mr Field said that Britain wanted to strengthen its relations with Vietnam and stressed the benefits for British business.

In recent years, it has approved telecoms intercept equipment for sale to Vietnam despite concerns that it will be used to spy on government critics.

The Foreign Office said that Mr Field had raised concerns about the cyber security law privately, but the low key response will come as no surprise to Vietnam’s community of independent bloggers and pro-democracy activists.

They have long noted that London takes little interest in their cause and puts ever greater stress on economic and security links with Hanoi.

The EU mission and US embassy had been more vocal in their criticism of growing repression in Vietnam, although President Trump has made clear his lack of interest in promoting human rights.

Britain looks to Vietnam as a market for British military technology and is seeking to strengthen commercial ties across the region as it prepares to withdraw from the European Union.

The Vietnamese government used to work much harder to convince Western countries of its commitment to rights and freedoms, but the leadership that consolidated its grip on power in 2016 has shown little fear of foreign criticism.

President Trong has presided over the arrest of dozens of activists, the abduction of a Vietnamese fugitive in Berlin and now a drive for Chinese type restrictions on the internet.

The visit by the British minister underlines the West’s fading interest in internal repression in Vietnam and the plight of those facing arrest and imprisonment for expressing their opinions.