Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vietnam’s General Vo Nguyen Giap forces Government to Listen

Vietnam’s great war hero, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, has stood up to defend his country once again, this time against what he says would be a huge mistake by the government — a vast mining operation run by a Chinese company.

Now 97, the commander who led his country to victory over both France and the United States has emerged as the most prominent voice in a broad popular protest that is challenging the secretive workings of the country’s Communist leaders.

In an unusual step, the government has taken note of the criticisms in recent weeks and appears to be making at least gestures of response, saying it will review the project’s environmental impact and slow its full implementation.

The project, approved by the Communist Party’s decision-making Politburo in late 2007, calls for an investment of $15 billion by 2025 to exploit reserves of bauxite — the key mineral in making aluminum — that by some estimates are the third largest in the world.

The state-owned Chinese mining group Chinalco has already put workers and equipment to work in the remote Central Highlands under contract to Vinacomin, the Vietnamese mining consortium that is aiming for up to 6.6 million tons of aluminum production by 2015.

The controversy draws together several issues in today’s Vietnam — its emulation of China’s environmentally destructive model of industrial development, a tentatively evolving relationship between the closed government system and its citizens, and a visceral distrust among many Vietnamese of their big neighbor to the north.
Apart from environmentalism and economics, the theme that runs through the blogs and public opinion on the street is a deep-rooted fear of China. Vietnam was a tributary state of China for 1,000 years and was invaded by China in 1979, and the two countries continue to joust for sovereignty in the South China Sea.
Excerpt from NY Times

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