“Beijing’s Expanding Shadow: Choices for Vietnam”

Screenshot of the webinar

On Saturday, 10 October, Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) organized a webinar entitled Beijing’s Expanding Shadow: Choices for Vietnam in which Murray Hiebert, one of whose titles is Senior Associate (Non-resident), Southeast Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), spouted the prevailing anti-China party line and hawked his new book Under Beijing’s Shadow: Southeast Asia’s China Challenge. For the uninitiated, CSIS is a pro-US government, Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Guess who published Murray’s book?

This pro-US party line is pretty much what I’ve expected from FUV ever since Bob Kerrey, a self-confessed war criminal, was appointed chair of its board of trustees in 2016. The announcement was made by John Kerry, then US Secretary of State during President Obama’s May 2016 visit to Viet Nam. Other statements and actions by FUV’s leadership have only served to reinforce this perception.

Speaking of Bob Kerrey, FUV, and CSIS, here is the latter’s disingenuous contribution in passing to that contentious debate, a blog post written by a Vietnamese intern with very close ties to FUV’s leadership (wink & nod) and two essays in which I mention this pathetic example of anti-Viet Nam ax-grinding by a Vietnamese national, no less. She later said that an editor twisted her words, according to a reliable source, but that dog don’t hunt, in my opinion.

In Debate over Bob Kerrey’s Wartime Role, Vietnam Confronts its Past Demons (7.7.16)

The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position (26.5.17)

The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam (18.1.19)

FUV is yet another tool in the US foreign policy soft power toolbox, and a highly visible and influential one at that, a kind of red, white, and blue academic Trojan Horse, and a potential weapon of US soft power.

Image courtesy of FUV

While there were two Vietnamese colleagues to offer additional insights and perspectives, the fact remains that the event was based on an anti-Chinese theme in line with the Trump administration’s current agenda.

A like-minded FUV faculty member who probably tuned or, if not, was definitely there in spirit, in was Christopher Balding, who “lost his post at an elite Chinese university” and left the country two years ago “citing concerns about his personal safety.” Like Hiebert, Balding has an anti-Chinese ax to grind and does it with a vengeance. (Have a look at some of his Tweets, if you need confirmation of this assertion.) Here’s a good Viet Nam-related example of this type from the world of armchair journalism.

While I haven’t inquired (yet), my guess is that Balding is also red, white, and blue to the core, a world view that necessarily colors his scholarly interests, work, and teaching, pun intended. What do you think Vietnamese students will learn about the US in his classes, this blogger asks rhetorically?

Here’s another rhetorical question for you, dear reader. I wonder if FUV would organize a webinar about a book entitled Under the USA’s Shadow: The World’s US American Challenge? What about one that demolishes the notion that the US is not just the greatest nation on earth; it is indispensable? Or a session devoted to US nationalism (“the greatest nation on earth,” indeed) or the fact that the USA’s greatest enemies are not external but internal? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

In other words, don’t expect FUV to be a paragon of objectivity with a thirst for the truth, especially if that truth paints its financial and ideological benefactor in a negative light. That, my friends, is a rather large sin of omission and not the stuff of which true liberal arts universities are made.

Based on what I know about Senator Fulbright’s view of the arrogance of power and international education, including this quote, he must be turning in his grave: There is nothing obscure about the objectives of educational exchange. Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is – not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is…

Postscript: A few years ago, I posted a comment and a link on the FUV Facebook page about the Bob Kerrey scandal. Both were quickly deleted. Check out this 3.11.17 blog post for more information: Fulbright University Vietnam & Free Speech: “Do As We Say, Not As We Do”

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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