Vietnamese scholars, lawyers call for end to Ukraine invasion

Some see parallels in the conflict to Vietnam’s relationship with China.
2022.03.01
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A man reads a Vietnamese newspaper featuring front-page coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at a stall in Vietnam's capital Hanoi, Feb. 25, 2022.
AFP

Two groups of Vietnamese scholars, attorneys, and representatives from civil society organizations voiced support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invading army, striking a markedly different tone than their government, which has largely been silent on the war.

In a letter to Nataliya Zhynkina, Ukraine’s top diplomat in Vietnam, three dozen Vietnamese declared themselves to be “freedom lovers” and urged Ukrainians to resist Russia in defense of their “young democracy,” which emerged from an authoritarian past.

Among the signatories were members of the Civil Society Forum, Nguyen Trong Vinh Club, Le Hieu Dang Club, Lap Quyen Dan, and Vietnam Independent Writers Initiative.

They noted that while Vietnam is a communist country, many Vietnamese believe that independence and democracy — values that Ukrainians are protecting — are important.

The letter and a second one a group of attorneys wrote to Russia President Vladimir Putin circulated among closed groups on Facebook. They stand in sharp contrast to the Vietnamese government’s overarching passivity to the conflict.

As Russia’s closest partner and ally in Southeast Asia, Vietnam issued a tepid call for restraint, after the invasion, although state media have been extensively covering the conflict, without much of their usual pro-Russia bias. News reports include quotes from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and points of view of both nations and their allies.

Mac Van Trang, an expert on sociopolitical issues in Vietnam, told RFA that he had signed the letter to Zhynkina because Vietnam can relate to Ukraine’s plight: a small country defending itself against a much larger one.

China occupied and colonized Vietnam for years and initiated the 1979 war between the two nations. China also took Vietnam’s Paracel Islands and Johnson Reef in the South China Sea from Vietnam, Trang noted.

“Therefore, when witnessing Russia, led by Putin, threatening, harassing and bringing tanks, cannons, and missiles to invade Ukraine in order to establish a puppet government and turn Ukraine into its vassal state, we found this war to be unjust and meaningless,” he said.

“As they are bravely defending their sovereignty, independence and freedom, the government and people of Ukraine are great examples for us to admire and learn from,” he added. “We have to support them.”

The group of lawyers in Vietnam in their open letter to Putin also called for an end to what they said was an unjust war.

Attorney Tran Dai Lam told RFA that the great losses and horrible consequences of war that the Vietnamese had experienced during past conflicts prompted him to sign the letter.

“Our Vietnamese people have been through a lot of wars and along with them were death, economic destruction, and consequences for the future,” he said. “As a result, I don’t want to see Ukrainian and Russian people fire at each other.

“Ukrainian children are innocent, and they should not bear the devastating consequences of war like what we, Vietnamese people, had experienced,” he said.

By sending troops into Ukraine, Russia breached international law, Lam said. He said he feared Vietnam would face a similar threat from China in the future.

“In my viewpoint, Russia invades Ukraine, and this is an unjust war,” he said. “Russia has violated international laws and conventions. I strongly denounce Russia’s act of invasion of Ukraine.”

‘Stupid and narrow-minded’

The two letters also criticized Vietnamese who support Putin’s actions in Ukraine.

“Given invasion threats from China, as Vietnamese people, they should have empathized with Ukrainian people instead of supporting Putin’s invasion,” Trang said about the pro-Russia stance of several Vietnamese groups. “How stupid and narrow-minded they are!”

“One day when China attacks or invades part of our waters or islands in the East Sea [South China Sea], what basis and arguments could we then use to talk about our legitimate protection of our fatherland?”

Vietnamese in general seem split about Russia’s actions.

Huong Giang, who is living in Russia, told RFA that war between Russia and Ukraine broke out because of the country’s different viewpoints.

“In general, I don’t want that because the two nations are at war with one another, and the people in the crossfire will suffer damages,” she said.

But Trung Tho, who lives in Ha Tinh province, called Russia a “democratic, peaceful nation” and until now “a defender of peace.”

“Ukraine is so close to Russia but takes sides with the USA to oppose Russia,” he said. “How can Ukraine be right? The fact that Ukraine lets the USA and Western nations deploy weapons is clearly to destroy Russia.”

Netizen Nguyen Le Minh, who also supports Russia and Putin, wrote on his Facebook account that “Putin is aggressive, it’s OK.”

Russia cannot accept a neighboring country that joins other nations in turning its back on Russia, retired Vietnamese General Nguyen Thanh Tuan wrote on Facebook.

“Russia cannot be betrayed many times, so it needs to take measures prevent and eliminate the risk of bringing war to the country,” he said.

Major General Le Van Cuong, former director of the Institute of Strategy and Science at Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, told Nghe An newspaper on Monday that Putin’s actions in Ukraine did not amount to an invasion.

“President Putin announced first that Russia was not invading, was not taking any land from Ukraine; second, that Russia was not attacking the Ukrainian people because Ukrainians and Russians are the same people, sharing the same ancestors and blood,” he said. “I believe such an announcement is reasonable and that Putin has done exactly what he said.”

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s major airlines are ready to repatriate citizens on flights from most countries bordering Ukraine, after the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) requested on Monday that they submit plans to bring back Vietnamese citizens living and working in the Eastern European nation.

Three major carriers — Vietnam Airlines, VietJet Air, and Bamboo Airways — have issued plans to fly to six destinations to pick up Vietnamese citizens: Warsaw, Poland; Bucharest, Romania; Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Minsk, Belarus; and Moscow.

According to the government, about 7,000 Vietnamese citizens and legal entities live and operate in Ukraine.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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