“Vietnam’s Coronavirus Success Is Built on Repression” Say What?!?

An aging US journalist currently based in Hanoi (let’s call him PM) probably thought he was being collegial by posting this hatchet job on the Vietnam Studies Group (VSG) listserv. For the uninitiated, which would be 99.9% of you, said listserv provides “resources and information for scholarly research, study, and teaching about Vietnam.” (The main reason I’m still a member is for the occasional nugget of information gold in an otherwise vast expanse of esoteric ore.)

The article, written by anti-Vietnam British journalist Bill Hayton (BH), and his anonymous co-author, “Tro Ly Ngheo,” who is probably Bill’s alter ego, is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Having lived in Viet Nam for nearly 15 years, including through the COVID-19 time, his rant makes one wonder if he’s ever set foot in this country. (He has.)

After glancing at the clickbait title, check out the first paragraph:

When the Hanoi-based economic consultant Raymond Mallon returned home after a trip abroad in late March, he was immediately texted by the local police asking after his health. Vietnam is a state that not only knows where you live but also knows when you go away—and your mobile phone number.

Here’s Mr. Mallon’s same-day response to VSG:

Of course, it was not at surprising that officials knew when we got back and that they had our phone number: we were required to provide this in a health declaration provided prior to departure. My surprise was the efficient way the information provided was used and the friendliness displayed to us by the official in question. For information the reference to me appears to come from the following tweet.

Village VN police texted us to ask about our health after our flights back to Hanoi. We sent a picture of us with masks on watching tv. He sent a meme back with a pumping heart and asked if we were really wearing masks inside. 🙂


Touché! The first shot was fired. A short time later, another, much larger shoe dropped:

Thanks Ray for the clarification!

What I hear from friends and relatives in Vietnam is that there was tremendous public health work including tracking, tracing and treating.  People in neighborhoods that were quarantined who needed it received food and other necessaries from the government and people I heard from who were quarantined for 14 days in military centers received decent food and lodging at no cost.

Contrast Vietnam’s low infection rate and no deaths with what we are facing here in the US: 

As of now, there are 83,082 people killed by COVID-19 including 21,845 in NY.  About half of those who died are elderly people living in nursing homes, in all the states that reported nursing home deaths.  The lack of PPE has meant that the most vulnerable patients in some cases were left to die without every effort being made to save them.  With the stay at home orders being prematurely relaxed in some areas, doctors estimate that the death toll could rise to hundreds of thousands.

Nurses have literally died from lack of PPE. Contract tracing and followup has yet to be done and is only in the planning stages now, months after the pandemic started here. Millions of people who have lost their jobs have also lost their health insurance and those who have had to be treated in hospital will be receiving huge bills that they have no way to pay.  People who never had health insurance are sometimes afraid to go to the hospital and quite a number have been found dead in their houses from COVID-19.

Our national government has told us that that corporate profits are more important than our lives, as the open up businesses in areas where COVID spread is going up. And some politicians have told the elderly (like me and Nhan) who are old and the vulnerable that we should be ready to die to protect the economy!

So I would gladly have a polite official come to my home to inquire about my health or to tell me that I had been exposed by others so I could be proactive about my health and not endanger others!

Merle Ratner, Independent Analyst, NY

That’s the intellectual equivalent of taking BH and “Ngheo” out to the proverbial woodshed. Double ouch! Here are two more, for good measure.

Dear Ray,

Thank you for your email. If I understand you correctly, are you saying that you were quoted in this article on government repression without your knowledge and your tweet used without your permission (and, it seems, taken out of context)?

If so, this is deeply problematic for journalism in general, but for VSG in particular. 

Christina Schwenkel, concerned VSG executive committee member

In this post both the OP and the author(s) get an official slap on the wrist. Note the reference to “legitimate news sources.”

Hello all – 

As to the original posting, please do not post full articles to the list; this potentially violates copyright. Please post a link (URL). Secondly, we (VSG Executive Committee) want to remind all to please post legitimate news sources. During this pandemic there has been more than one questionably sourced item sent to the list. VSG remains focused on scholarship on Vietnam, not rumors or unsubstantiated news. I find it particularly egregious when authors of articles are not directly sourcing material. Lastly this is a list about Vietnam not Laos, Cambodia or Covid 19.

VSG mission

The core mission of the Vietnamese Studies Group listserv is facilitating the exchange of academic knowledge about Vietnam and Vietnamese history, society, culture, and politics.  Although not all contributors to the VSG list are professional scholars, all contributors are required to uphold the values of professionalism and mutual respect befitting a scholarly community.  To this end, list contributors must observe the following rules:
Rule re copyright: 6. Participants shall respect copyrights. (Please do not post copyrighted news articles to the list.  You can refer to a URL, or selectively cut and paste materials as part of a discussion); https://sites.google.com/a/uw.edu/vietnamstudiesgroup/discussion-networking

Thank you, Maggie (Margaret B. Bodemer, Ph.D.)

Margaret B. Bodemer, Ph.D., History Department and Asian Studies Minor, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Four shoes have dropped and I look forward to some more. Speaking of woodsheds, let the rhetorical beating continue. It’s well-deserved! So far, it’s crickets from BH and PM. Don’t hold your breath.

BH did what any good yellow journalist with an ax to grind would do, in this case, against the Vietnamese government and, by extension, the nation of Viet Nam. Just find the information that helps you grind your ax, no sources required, even if you have to take it out of context. So much for critical thinking or the importance of facts, for that matter. Then run with it and find a media outlet stupid or biased enough to publish it.

Why does BH have a bee in his bonnet about Viet Nam? One reason is that the government refused to renew his visa after he was a BBC correspondent during 2006-07. (The same thing happened to PM in 2013 in China, putting an end to his decades-long career as a journalist in that country. Two peas in a pod?) Never miss an opportunity for payback, regardless of what it does to your sagging reputation.

PM, who posted this tripe on VSG, thereby wasting a lot of people’s time, probably did so because agrees with the thrust of the article.

Let’s have a look at the latest COVID-19 stats for BH’s and PM’s countries, and Viet Nam, shall we?

Total Cases Deaths Active Cases

UK 233,151 33,614 196,537

USA 1,457,593 86,912 1,052,654

Viet Nam 312 0 52

Shame on BH and his alter ego for writing this garbage and shame on Foreign Policy for publishing it. If you believe what BH wrote, you’re no better than the Trumpenvolk who believe that Dear Leader is a trusted source of information and that he was being sarcastic when he said that people should consider injecting themselves with a disinfectant as a cure for COVID-19.  (Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that, said the idiot-in-chief.)


Here are two more comments, the rhetorical icing on the cake.

It is interesting that some authors try to find repressive government and communist actions as the success for stopping the virus in VN never questioning why the pandemic goes on strongly in the US where our government wasted time blaming China for the pandemic and nothing was done. Of course the US ended up doing much the same as China but making it “voluntary”, ha ha, in the US and we still have a strong pandemic going on. When in VN a very few years ago I saw community organizations in action as well as the union movement and the Communist Party in getting things done with some expedience and community involvement. Here in the US our democracy is hardly working. From the top down, Trump to local governments, corporations pay for elections and buy the politicians elected and we are getting no where on anything except profits and wealth for the few, which is a more democratic system?

Hollis Stewart

A small note on this rather odd article: why does the caption on the first photo declare a perfectly helpful and truthful Public Service Announcement (PSA) on the habitual and proper wearing of masks to be a “propaganda poster”?

To be sure, there are lots of propaganda banners in Vietnamese public life, all the vinh quang’s and vĩ đại’s and đời đời’s and such. But this is a run-of-the-mill PSA, employing the “enemy” metaphor for the virus as has been done the world over, one of many PSAs that are essential tools in an effective anti-pandemic arsenal.

That Foreign Policy reflexively employed “propaganda poster” for a normal PSA in communist Viet Nam can be seen as, well, …propaganda.

It also speaks volumes about this article. When your hammer is exposing Vietnamese government repression, everything looks like a nail. I don’t believe this very tragic and dangerous pandemic should be used as a nail. (It’s also a bit disrespectful to Vietnamese civil society that is rightfully proud of the Covid response.) And when one decides nonetheless to use Covid-19 as a nail, the result is the troubling array of poor examples that others have already pointed out, from the misuse of a (decontextualized) tweet to the wandering Frenchman. Do we really believe that he was passively “shadowed” for two weeks, and did “Tro Ly Ngheo” not bother to ask him if he was interviewed and health-checked (as he should have been) at previous stops prior to Hội An?


Christoph Giebel, Ph.D., Assoc. Professor of International Studies and History; Director of Graduate Studies, S.E. Asia Center, Jackson School of Int’l. Studies; The Col. Donald W. Wiethuechter, USA Ret. Endowed Faculty Fellow in History, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Enough said. If you have the time and the stomach for it, read the article and judge for yourself, dear reader.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

8 thoughts on ““Vietnam’s Coronavirus Success Is Built on Repression” Say What?!?

  1. Here are some of my favorite comments in response to this article from LinkedIn and Twitter:

    As a reader, I appreciate your much-needed and timely clarifications. That original article raised my eyebrows, too. I really like it that you posted on LinkedIn – these clarifications are for everybody’s interest. I am not a Communist Party member, and I am not claiming that every aspect of Vietnam’s policies is perfect. But to badmouth especially about how Vietnam runs a successful fight against covid-19 during Jan-May 2020, is an unacceptable insult to the frontline doctors, the frontline border guards of Vietnam, to all of us who willingly traded off our freedom of movement to keep the deadly virus away. (HD)

    Criticizing a country that saved lives while politicians in both our (USA) and his (UK) country recklessly contributed to a horrific death toll is peak misplaced pettiness. (TBM)

    And terribly exploitative. What a time to cultivate his resentment towards Vietnam and what a high profile topic to exploit to get attention. (TBM)

    Robbie @robdoghotdog replying to @ProlixRedux” @HButter03, and 2 others: Vietnam had one of the most properly coordinated responses to the pandemic. please see yourself out
    HDleart @hle1352 replying to @bill_hayton: Political oppositions financed by the U.S. These groups have ties with former south puppet regime. Their goal is to create civil disorders with disinformation and fake news. They’re worse than covid-19.

    Dominic Newbould @DominicNewbould: This is a sensible and accurate response to lazy and sloppy writing in the (ARTICLE LINK) @ForeignPolicy “opinion piece” by Hayton from last week. Vietnam’s success against Covid is built on concern for human lives. That’s all. https://fair.org/home/foreign-policy-sees-repression-in-vietnams-fight-against-coronavirus/

    Replying to @DominicNewbould and @ForeignPolicy: I don’t think “lazy and sloppy” at all – I think quite carefully calculated to denigrate another country’s achievements purely based on that country’s political system. Who exactly is using propaganda?

    Remember Will “Democracy Activist”/”#FreeWilly” Nguyen who tried to “save” Viet Nam a couple of years ago and ended up being arrested, detained, and deported? https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/10/02/vietnam-north-south-and-the-party-line/

    Here’s his contribution to the “discussion”. Poor Will. I’d be happy to help clear up his “confusion.” 😉

    Will Nguyen (阮英惟) @will_nguyen: Genuinely confused about the anger over the FP article re: #Vietnam. I understand the ethical gray area re: quoting tweets, but is the thrust of the article wrong? All the responses I’ve seen so far are whataboutisms & ad hominems. I’d love to understand the issue better.

    Khang Vu replied:

    Khang Vu @KhangXVu – Replying to @will_nguyen: You can refer to this piece.

    “Vietnam’s Coronavirus Success Is Built on Repression” Say What?!?
    An aging US journalist currently based in Hanoi (let’s call him PM) probably thought he was being collegial by posting this hatchet job on the Vietnam Studies Group (VSG) listserv. For the un… markashwill.com

    Last but not least, “Caroline Mills” doesn’t pull any punches in this thread in which the Man Himself chimes in from his perch in the UK.

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: In case any of you think I’m awful, I disagree with every word that prick Bill Hayton wrote, and to be honest if he doesn’t understand the importance of track and trace, then he is an even bigger prick. Fuck you Bill.

    Replying to @misscvietnam: Please indulge me here. I’m really proud of Vietnam’s efforts to put the people first and success we have had over repressing the spread of covid 19.
    The transparency, clear information and support we have been provided with has been incredible.

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: Especially when compared with countries like the UK. Essex alone has had more than 1000 deaths (I fact checked that with my Dad, Mad Dog Mills. He lives down the road).

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: Track and trace has been a huge factor in Vietnam’s success in keeping cases below 300, with no deaths to date. I posted about this, and how amazing that was. It made me feel safe to keep the resort open, and to accept guidance from authorities that I could trust.

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: Just like the UK, in Vietnam we all have counties. Ours, like the Cham Islands and other poorer rural areas has a big problem with TB. I’ve tweeted about that before because I am working with a government funded scheme to set up free testing and health care for the island.

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: As I have tweeted previously, because of TB, the government here went further than other counties to protect us. I was shitting myself and offering to close down way before it was requested – because TB, Covid..

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: The local government supported me through that. We had meetings, they provided me with a doctor and both police and military support (we’re a military island, quite near Chu Lai and the contested islands that some bloke from Essex rants about). Nice fellas.

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: After the flight from the UK delivered us our first new cases in three weeks, track and trace accelerated. People that arrived on international flights after that were asked to fill out health and travel declarations including flights taken, hotels stayed, etc.

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: When a new case was reported that information was shared publically online, with timelines of places visited. That meant if we had been in contact we knew fast and could get ourselves tested for free.

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: Identities were protected, and anyone with any knowledge of Covid (which we all had thanks to our governments clear communication) was happy to have the opportunity to get a test. I had one, it was vile.

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: Have we been repressed? I don’t think so at all. I think we’ve been given the respect and trust to beat this together, and we are doing an excellent job.
    Anyway, it’s too nice a day for this and I’m off to the beach now.

    Bill Hayton @bill_hayton – replying to @misscvietnam: It was your tweet that gave me the idea to write the article. But I understand why you might feel the need to distance yourself from it. I hope the season gets better from here.

    caroline mills @misscvietnam: If my tweet had been the inspiration you would have done well to have discussed this with me before flying off on a tangent. However, thank you for your kind wishes. Stay safe.

  2. Here are some comments on the “Foreign Policy” Facebook page:

    Jeff Richardson: Rubbish! I personally had to contact my neighborhood police and health office to enforce home quarantine of my neighbors; school students returned from South Korea that were going in and out at will. The only thing that could justify this poor lede was the cordoning off of two neighborhoods with cluster outbreaks that were sprayed with Chloramine B, that was unanimously greeted with approval. Today is 31 days without any CoVid-2 cases.
    Julien Noyer: I’m living in Vietnam. The police went knocking at my door asked me some questions like: “did you travel before the 11th of march” then checked the stamps on my passport. I’m still traumatized by that interaction… Just kidding 😆 I’m feeling so lucky to be in this country during this time. Also the article forgot to mention the catchy song, the collective effort, the volunteers, the rice ATM and much more… ❤️ 🇻🇳 😁
    Ngô Thanh Tuấn: Totally absurd and stupid. Go and ask more people in Vietnam what they think before jumping to any conclusions. It’s no good making up a fictional character to make it sound true like that. FYI, I have reported this page as spreading fake news.
    Phạm Khải Hoàng: Meanwhile great promising Capitalism that gives people human rights turning their back to the people due to shortage of medical kits and proper treatment. Hundred thousands of people died across the world. What’s even the point of this article? Criticising us for doing better than you can? It ain’t cool. Our life is not interrupted. Yea, we’re working and studying without the fear of deaths around us
    Hồ Việt Bảo Long: It’s funny that you’re representing 96 million people in Vietnam to think we are being suppressed. I feel happy and proud of my country, and I believing the government, they have tried so hard and did very well, so stop lying and worry about the epidemic in your country.
    Hai Pham: You people are unable to satisfy, Vietnam is always under target because of its uncertain unlikely label “communist”. You think Taiwan success because of mass testing? That’s just extremely naive. Tracing and isolation are always the keys to avoid outbreak…
    Lakov Ivashov: Social distancing for a few months so that people can stay healthy is not wrong. The wrong thing is in the name “freedom” to save the economy, not the people.
    Thanh Trà: Oh I love this repression🤷‍♀‍. Foreign Policy is an international laughing stock.
    Ngô Thành: I don’t see the loss of human rights here. The government has wholeheartedly for the people and I believe in my Government.
    Phan Vĩnh Lộc: I am living in Vietnam, I have no reason to terrify me. Everything is very good 😃
    Jenny Angel: Then Bill Hayton and Nguyen Phuong Linh earn money by making fake news? Do you two feel shameful on what you wrote in articles like this? #stoplying
    Công Thành Western winning over covid19 is just like American won the Vietnam war. FAKE
    Hung Nguyen: Fake news from an anti-communist guy, almost Vietnamese feel safe when our government do that
    Thanh Le: Fake news for sure. Don’t be jealous with our success
    Nguyễn Đức Quyền: The bad guys always try to sabotage Vietnam and this site is an example. Uno Reverse Card When your country have over 1 million infected cases.
    Viet Anh Nguyen: Nothing is as filthy as the American media, they always misrepresent and slander about Communism. I live in Vietnam, there are many other people around me, and we always abide by Vietnam’s anti-epidemic policy, which is why we are now back to normal.
    Trần Song Hiếu: So that’s why you guy always be the loser. Both in Vietnam War and Covid-19 War!
    Nhân Tùng Nguyễn: This is absurd. The information in this article is biased and does not come from any scientific research, which makes it become irrelevant and does not reflect the whole opinion of Vietnamese people.
    Nguyễn Đức Trí: We feel very comfortable
    Lâm Nguyễn: Haha, America is the funniest creature on earth, aren’t they? An entire circus.
    Tân Võ: Fake news
    Abdelkader Yz Mehdi Ncr: Don’t listen to their propaganda! They are jealous!
    Văn Phát: Trash page, trash newspaper
    Hien Nguyen: Booooo!!! Fake news
    Nguyễn Hoàng Khôi: Nguyên: Fake news 😡😡😡
    Trang Nguyễn Ngọc: Fake news

  3. Do not turn your newspaper in the trash.People can get information from other source and compare and all lies will be exposed.BBCCS.

  4. Here’s a related Tweet worth sharing: @EmericanJohnson · May 13
    White “foreign policy expert” kind of knows who most of the people in the photo might be, what their uniforms probably mean, and can GUESS how they MIGHT relate to each other. But they DEFINITELY beat COVID-19 through repression, that’s for certain, on that he is an authority. Smiling face with sunglasses twitter.com/bill_hayton/st…

  5. Totally BS. The “repression” you’re talking about, it’s called governance. Don’t you have anything else to do than spreading fake news?

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