The Latest Fake News on Vietnam

Follow this link or click on the image to read a 12 September 2018 article version of a blog post I wrote on 12 August 2018.  

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Peace, MAA

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Fake News About Viet Nam

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Photo: AFP/Kao Nguyen

The above photo was taken at a 10 June 2018 demonstration in HCMC against a bill to create three new special economic zones (SEZs) in Quang Ninh and Khanh Hoa provinces, as well as on Phu Quoc Island.  (There are already 18 SEZs.)  As a result of considerable feedback from the public, including in the form of protests, the government has said it would adjust the 99-year term.  At issue is the fear of Chinese encroachment on Vietnamese sovereignty, since many of the investors would presumably be Chinese.  (China is Viet Nam’s leading trading partner.)  

Below is my response to a thread on the Viet Nam Studies Group (VSG) listserv about reputable sources of information about Viet Nam.  One colleague, DB, suggested Asia Times (AT), among others.  


Asia Times?  Really?  I guess it depends on which articles you read.  The one below, written by “Khai Nguyen” (KN) and posted on VSG a while ago, is an op-ed masquerading as news (Southeast Asia – Politics).  KN is obviously toeing the VK (Việt Kiều) or overseas Vietnamese/US-centric party line and thereby engaging in the kind of wishful thinking that’s prevalent in overseas Vietnamese refugee communities.  (Think Quận Cam/Orange County, CA, USA)  By the way, does anyone know who KN is?  I’d like to drop him a line.  Or maybe it’s a nom de guerre (?).    

A democratic revolution has just begun in Vietnam  (8 July 2018, Asia Times)

Massive but orderly protests across the country hint at the beginning of the end of Communist Party rule

My favorite comments, both spot-on, are:  

What a stupid story. Just more wishful thinking by Vietnam haters living in the US.  – Bao D Nguyen.  

This is clearly sponsored fake news. -Badri Subedi

If history is any guide, the suggestion in this comment is also a distinct possibility:  

Another colour protest organized and funded by CIA and the NED. CIA and the NED failed in their attempt to organise similar protest in Hong Kong and Thailand. Now, they are trying Vietnam. They will fail again. – Michael Chan

Below is the excerpt GN shared with the list.  Absolute BS, pardon my salty language.  Source?  Likely KN’s overactive imagination.  Statistics pulled out of thin air.  Whatever it takes to enhance his false narrative.  

The government now spends about 82.1% of the national budget to pay salaries to government officials, military, police, 205 public security generals and five million Party members. The remaining 17.9% is earmarked for development investments

If you don’t know very much about Viet Nam or you hate its government, you might be inclined to believe this 1700-word rant.  That was certainly the case with Chieu T. Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American who lives in Texas, and therefore sees his ancestral homeland through three red-striped glasses.  As if on cue, here’s what he wrote in the comments section:  “This is an amazingly accurate, good report.”  How many of you agree with this assertion?  I thought so.  

One of my favorite statements is KN’s conclusion:  Many Vietnamese now believe that a long-awaited true revolution has just begun.  Based on what, exactly, a dream the author had?  How many?  Which Vietnamese?  The author’s refugee buddies (or relatives) in the diaspora who still fly the flag of a client state that was vanquished and tossed into the trash bin of history with the liberation of Saigon on 30 April 1975?  The millions of Vietnamese who are among the most optimistic people in the world, economically and otherwise, according to annual surveys?  The notion that “a long-awaited true revolution has just begun” is so much pie in the sky.  This article has “OUTSIDER” stamped all over it.  

[KN’s essay is not unlike this article, posted by a VSGer a while back to a cyberchorus of groans and snickering.]  

Here’s part of what I wrote to AT about this poorly written and argued tirade:  Shame on Asia Times for publishing this tripe.  Conclusion:  take many of AT’s articles with a grain of salt.  That includes some of David Hutt’s work, e.g., Reactionary ‘red flags’ tilt Vietnam to the Alt-right.  


After reading my post, DB responded thus:  Agree — a story credited to “Khai Nguyen” recently appears to be a Việt Tân propaganda swallowed wholesale by Asia Times.  (Việt Tân, also known as the Vietnam Reform Revolutionary Party, is a network of members inside Vietnam and around the world, that aims to establish democracy and reform Vietnam through peaceful and political means.  It is classified as a terrorist organization by the Vietnamese government.)

Peace, MAA

Viet Nam Ranks 5th in Emigration to the United States

travel stateViet Nam ranks 5th in two US-related categories:  the number of its young people studying there as of last June and the number of its citizens who emigrated there in Fiscal Year 2017, which ended on 30 September 2017.  (Viet Nam is a “top ten” country in other categories, including EB-5 cases and US real estate purchases in 2016/17.)

Below is a list of the top 10 countries for US-bound immigration (PDF download).

  1. Mexico: 84,045
  2. Dominican Republic: 48,254
  3. China: 35,350
  4. Philippines: 30,410
  5. Viet Nam: 28,719
  6. India: 27,303
  7. Haiti: 16,694
  8. Jamaica: 13,695
  9. Bangladesh: 12,331
  10. Pakistan: 12,143

The breakdown for Viet Nam is as follows, along with an official definition of each category: 

Immediate relatives: 9,974  (Certain immigrants who because of their close relationship to U.S. citizens are exempt from the numerical limitations imposed on immigration to the United States. Immediate relatives are: spouses of citizens, children (under 21 years of age and unmarried) of citizens, and parents of citizens 21 years of age or older.

Special Immigrants: 53  A special immigrant is a person who qualifies for a green card (permanent residence) under the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) special immigrant program. In order to apply for immigration documents under this status, an individual must fill out a petition documenting his or her circumstances and submit the petition to USCIS.

Family Preference: 17,991 U.S. immigration law allows certain foreign nationals who are family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to become lawful permanent residents (get a Green Card) based on specific family relationships.

Employment Preference: 665  Approximately 140,000 immigrant visas are available each fiscal year for aliens (and their spouses and children) who seek to immigrate based on their job skills. If you have the right combination of skills, education, and/or work experience and are otherwise eligible, you may be able to live permanently in the United States. There are five employment-based immigrant visa preferences, including the popular EB-5 immigrant investor program in which Viet Nam ranks a distant second to China. 

Diversity Immigrants: The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program) makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually, drawn from random selection among all entries to individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The number is 0 because Viet Nam has a high rate of emigration to the US.  

Finally, 36 visas were issued under the Vietnam Amerasian categoryImmigrant visas are issued to Amerasians under Public Law 100-202 (Act of 12/22/87), which provides for the admission of aliens born in Vietnam after January 1, 1962, and before January 1, 1976, if the alien was fathered by a U.S. citizen. Spouses, children, and parents or guardians may accompany the alien.  Of the estimated 50,000 Amerasian children born during the war, 21,000 of them and more than 55,000 family members were permitted to emigrate to the US under the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987.  Only about 3% of Ameriasians in the US have found their fathers.  The rest are in Viet Nam, many in HCMC.  (Here’s a related story from 2015 and a more recent one about a father-daughter reunion.)

TOTAL:  28,719

The dynamics of push and pull are obvious here, given the fact that people from these countries represent large ethnic minority populations in the US.  For example, Mexican-Americans comprise 11.2% of the population.

Vietnamese immigrants are 5.1% of the worldwide total (559,536) with nearly as many Vietnamese moving to the US as immigrants from all of South America (30,242).  Vietnamese-Americans are the fourth-largest Asian American group after Chinese-, Indian-, and Filipino-Americans.  The US Census Bureau estimates the total population of Vietnamese-Americans (Việt kiều) to be just over 2 million, which is about 44% of the world’s overseas Vietnamese.

Where Do They Live?

California and Texas have the highest concentrations of Vietnamese-Americans with 40% and 12%, respectively.  Those states are also #1 and #2 in student enrollment with 6,171 in CA and 5,221 in TX, as of May 2017, according to the SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly update, for a two-state total of 11,392.  This means that two states out of 50 and Puerto Rico, which had one (1) student from Viet Nam, hosted 38% of all Vietnamese students, at the end of the 2016/17 academic year. 

Another interesting observation is that the percentage of young Vietnamese studying in CA was significantly lower than the percentage of Vietnamese-Americans living in that state (20.38%), while in Texas it was slightly higher (17.24%).

Other states with sizable concentrations of Vietnamese-Americans are Washington (4%), Florida (4%), and Virginia (3%).  It’s probably not a coincidence that these are among the top 10 host states for Vietnamese students.  There are also significant numbers of Vietnamese-Americans in Atlanta and New York, among other cities.  

Vietnamese in the U.S. Fact Sheet

In its series on social and demographic trends in the US, the Pew Research Center has produced fact sheets on Asians in the US, including Vietnamese-Americans.  It includes fairly up-to-date information about population, English proficiency, length of time in country, educational attainment, poverty rate, demographics, and social class.  For example, you can see how Vietnamese-Americans fare when compared with all Asians in the US in median annual household income, as well as the same income for US born vs. foreign born.  (The overall US median household income was $56,516 that year.)

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What Does It All Mean?

There are estimated 96 million Vietnamese, which means that the emigration of 28,719 of them to the US, most from southern Viet Nam, is a drop in the statistical bucket.  In case you’re wondering, that’s .03% of the population. 

Why do they go?  There are several reasons, most related to the pull factor.  The most obvious one is that so many Vietnamese in parts of the country that were in the former Republic of Viet Nam have so many relatives in the US.  Others, some of which overlap, are the often mistaken belief that the grass is greener, marriage (arranged or based on love), and employment-based cases.

In the meantime, growing numbers of overseas Vietnamese are relocating to Viet Nam, most likely in the thousands not tens of thousands, some to join a dynamic and promising startup scene, others to do non-profit work and still others simply to retire in their homeland.  The Vietnamese government has taken a number of steps to make them feel more welcome, including dual citizenship and the right to buy property.  (Many of those who have no intention of returning home are sending billions of dollars home in the form of remittances.  Viet Nam ranks 9th in that particular category with about 50% of those transfers coming from the US.)

Taking Advantage of a Golden Opportunity:  They Did It for the Children

I know of one couple who emigrated to the US through the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) created in 1979 under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a way of allowing the immigration of Vietnamese affiliated with the Republic of Viet Nam government or military.  In this case, the man was a low-ranking soldier in the RVN army, like so many, and a farmer by trade. 

Why did they take advantage of the opportunity to emigrate?  Not because they were persecuted or discriminated against but as a way to give their children a better education and future.  Mission accomplished.  What are their future plans?  To return to Viet Nam for retirement because they really don’t like living in the US and they want to die and be buried in their hometown (quê hương).  Their children will likely remain.

BONUS:  There is Some Truth to This Particular Stereotype

It’s well-known that overseas Vietnamese and nail salons go hand in hand.  I’ve heard it used by consular officers as a reason why some student applicants are denied.   As the story goes, they say (“used to say” might be more accurate, since times have changed) that they plan to live with an aunt in San Jose and study at a local community college or university.  Said aunt just happens to own a nail salon that her niece will probably end up working in, illegally, of course.  It is a family business, after all.

In fact, according to the Wikipedia entry on Vietnamese-Americans and based on a reliable source,

Nail-salon work is skilled manual labor which requires limited English-speaking ability. Some Vietnamese Americans see the work as a way to accumulate wealth quickly, and many send remittances to family members in Vietnam. Vietnamese entrepreneurs from Britain and Canada have adopted the U.S. model and opened nail salons in the United Kingdom, where few had existed.

This trend occurs in Europe for the same reasons. Like the restaurant and other service sector businesses, labor costs are low and profit is high.  

MAA

Viet Nam: A Top 10 Recipient of Remittances

2016 top 10 remittancesAccording to the World Bank, Viet Nam ranked a close 9th to Bangladesh in 2016 in total remittances with an infusion of $13.4 billion. 

With a 2016 GDP of $202.6 billion this means that 6.6% of Viet Nam’s GDP was attributed to remittances.  (See GDP definition below.)

Where Does the Money Go?

According to the State Bank of Vietnam HCMC Branch, a report released in early 2016 indicated that 70% of remittances went to production and business projects, while 21.6% went to the real estate market and 7% was spent on families’, i.e., relatives’, daily lives, healthcare and education services. 

One result of the decrease in the dollar interest rate to 0% a couple of years ago has been more money flowing into real estate.  (HCMC has one of the hottest real estate markets in the world.)  The rationale behind the official decision to lower the USD interest rate to nothing was to prevent people from hoarding dollars.

remittances vn
Here is an overview of Viet Nam-bound remittances from 2006 to 2015.  (Source:  WB)

Another way to make money with money is simply to have foreign currency converted to VND and park it in a CD account.  Current savings interest rates are in the 7-8% range, considerably higher than in the sending countries.  This reflects the growth of the domestic credit market and explains why so many banks are doing so well.

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Here’s a graphic look at Viet Nam’s dramatic GDP growth from 1985 through 2016.  (Source:  WB)

Brain Circulation:  A Mixed Bag

Remittances are one of the benefits of having a large diaspora and one reason why the term “brain drain” is not a useful description of what happens when people emigrate for whatever reason.  There are about 4.5 million overseas Vietnamese nearly half of whom are in the US.  Vietnamese-Americans send 60% of the total.  This also includes money sent by Vietnamese working overseas on a work visa.  The majority is sent by overseas Vietnamese. 

Future Prospects

It was predicted earlier this year that the decrease in remittances would continue, especially from the US, because of tighter restrictions on immigration to the US that would primarily affect illegal immigrants and those with a work visa.  (These individuals comprise up to 38% of all workers in the US from the Philippines, Viet Nam, and India.) 

In fact, it is estimated that Ho Chi Minh City will most likely receive a total of $5.2 billion in 2017, an increase of 6% from 2016.  Let me go out a limb here and say “As HCMC goes, so goes the country.”  ​(Viet Nam’s economy grew at the fastest rate in a decade this year and slightly higher than the government target of 6.7% exceeding the 6.21% for 2016.)

The November estimate was $5.7 billion, which was revised downward because of plans by the US Federal Reserve System to increase interest rates several times next year.  Another unknown variable is the VND/USD exchange rate, for which an “upward trend” is predicted “in the next four or five months”.  The VND has been stable for a number of years, thanks to government policy.  This means that there is virtually no difference on a given between the bank and “black market” rates.

Definition of GDP from The World Bank:  It’s useful from time to time to actually define terms, even if they are seemingly well-known.  Here’s the definition that the World Bank uses:  GDP at purchaser’s prices is the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or for depletion and degradation of natural resources. Data are in current U.S. dollars. Dollar figures for GDP are converted from domestic currencies using single year official exchange rates. For a few countries where the official exchange rate does not reflect the rate effectively applied to actual foreign exchange transactions, an alternative conversion factor is used.

MAA

Away from home: More Vietnamese leaving for richer countries

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Students registering at the fall 2016 StudyUSA Higher Education Fair in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).

This is the mildly provocative title of a recent VNExpress International article about Vietnamese studying, working, and seeking permanent resident status overseas.  While it may entice more netizens to read the article, the reality it attempts to describe is more multifaceted and complex than the black/white picture it paints.

Yes, significant numbers of young Vietnamese are studying overseas, including nearly 30,000 in the US alone, some with the intention of remaining, others not sure of their future path, and yet others with the goal of returning home.  (The statistics of Vietnamese studying overseas are outdated in this article; there are over 110,000 in the top five host countries alone:  Japan, the US, Australia, China, and Singapore.)

In fact, many do return home, if not immediately following completion of their studies, then after some time working overseas.  There are also growing numbers of overseas Vietnamese who are returning to their homeland (or that of their parents) to tap into Viet Nam’s dynamic and rapidly expanding economy.

Many of those high net worth individuals who invest in order to become US permanent residents, (similar programs in other countries), i.e,. who essentially buy a green card, are not emigrating.  They are essentially hedging their bets, diversifying their investments, and ensuring that they have more options in the future.

The significant number of Vietnamese working overseas benefit their families and Viet Nam through the money they send home, which is included in the $13 billion in remittances last year.  In addition, most will eventually return home, which will benefit Viet Nam’s economy.

The lure of the American Dream, which is a result of family ties and the often mistaken belief that the grass is greener on the other side, has contributed to Viet Nam’s status as a top 10 emigration country for the US.

MAA

What’s in a Name?

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As Vietnam celebrates the liberation/fall of Saigon 39 years ago today, 30 April, which signaled the end of the American War in Vietnam and the death knell of the southern part of that divided country known as the Republic of Vietnam, I thought you might be interested in knowing which city was the capital of South Vietnam, according to the  gospel of Google.

Go to Google Search and enter the search terms “RVN”, or simply click on the above image.  You’ll be surprised to learn that it was Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  In fact, the city’s official name was changed to HCMC in honor of the late President Hồ Chí Minh, in 1976 when the country was unified and became known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.  Of course, it is still called Saigon by most; HCMC and Saigon are often used interchangeably.  Even the Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport code is SGN.  Then there’s the Saigon Port.  For foreign journalists and Wikipedia it’s Ho Chi Minh City – formerly Saigon.  For official discourse it’s HCMC only.  You get the picture.

google_dont_be_evilCalling Saigon HCMC in the context of the former Republic of Vietnam is fightin’ words for many Việt Kiều (VK), most of whom have some connection to the RVN and/or the (US) government that bankrolled that client state.  It’s like pouring gasoline on smoldering embers.  I’m waiting for the aggrieved to organize a mass protest at 1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View, CA 94043, i.e., Google headquarters, uniforms, medals, gold flag with three (3) red stripes, signs, outrage, bitterness and all.

It’s only six (6) hours by car from Orange County (Quận Cam), home to the largest concentration of Vietnamese-Americans, and a mere 15 minutes away from San Jose, and which ranks 2nd in number of Vietnamese-American residents in the US.  What are you waiting for?  The time to right this wrong is NOW.  Suggested slogan:  Don’t be evil!

Note to the rabble-rousers among you:  You could launch a counter-protest defending Google’s right to list HCMC as the capital of South Vietnam to create even more cognitive dissonance and conflict both on and off of the Internet but you do so at your own risk.  Emotions usually run high at these events and, while VK demonstrators relish their right to freedom of assembly, most don’t take too kindly to others who wish to exercise the same right, especially if they don’t toe the (anti-communist) party line.  (Some VK friends in California who have dared to challenge the status-quo and take minority positions in their communities vis-à-vis the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, including those with an impeccable red, white and blue pedigree inherited from parents or grandparents, can confirm this.)

Happy Reunification Day!  Chúc mừng ngày thống nhất!

MAA

“Vietnamese Americans should come and live in Vietnam full time”

Interesting, insightful and heartfelt post by Minh, a HCMC-based blogger at Tech In Asia.

Introduction:  I’m a Vietnamese American. I’ve been living in Vietnam for seven years now. And in that time, I’ve only come back to the States a total of four times. Each time was less than a month. In other words, I’ve been living in this country full-time, non-stop. And if you’re a Vietnamese American, old or young, first generation or second generation, I think you should live here too.

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Conclusion:  P.S. On a personal note, living in Vietnam has been one of my most transformative and meaningful periods of my life. Teaching in the countryside to young university students made me so happy sometimes that it made me cry. And there were also some really fun inspiring moments, like when Vietnam was winning soccer games during the regional Tiger Cup and everybody “đi bão”. To see a country shift and change through the eyes of a foreigner is a privilege. Being in close contact with Vietnamese people who have so much hope for their own personal and country’s future is awesome.

Follow this link to read everything in between.