Is the glass half full?

About ten months ago, when I started this blog, my feelings about Vietnam’s prospects were different than today. That said, within the past ten months, my understanding of Vietnam has increased greatly, thanks largely to my daily consumption of all things related to politics in Vietnam.

I have especially benefited though direct and indirect exchanges with Vietnamese readers of my Vietnamese language blog Xin Lỗi Ông (‘Excuse me Sir’), whose responses to my posts have served as correctives or confirmations of my tentative ideas about their country. Thanks to all of you, friendly and hostile critics alike.

When I started out blogging, I did not expect to devote so many energies to matters concerning human rights. And yet the more time I devoted to my blog, to trying to understand what is going on in Vietnam, the more I was confronted with the harsh and depressing realities that (1) human rights in Vietnam are routinely violated and (2) that this fact profoundly undermines the country’s development prospects. What about China, one might ask. China has achieve record-shattering economic growth and has a rights record even worse than Vietnam. True. But who really respects China? Who would want to move there? Who would want to be a migrant worker in one of China’s factories or a victim of its police state?

Within the past two weeks two Vietnamese bloggers have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for ‘abusing democratic freedoms,’ while a prominent and especially vocal political reform advocate has been taken into state custody, her whereabouts and health status unknown. From where I sit, these are positively depressing developments that make Vietnam look ugly on the world stage.

In his much-discussed New Year’s message, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung discussed at length conditions that would be necessary for a more democratic republic. The disconnect between the reform rhetoric and realities on the ground would be profoundly dispiriting if it were not for the fact that those advocating for real reforms in Vietnam, myself included, refuse to be dispirited.

There is no need for Vietnam to remain a police state. Indeed, Vietnam stands to benefit from the development of a robust civil society. I am not Vietnamese. But I care about Vietnam as much as any Vietnamese and in my capacity as a social scientist and scholar my job is to try to understand and explain Vietnam. My blogging activities are mainly a response to my desire to share my thoughts and, yes, rant, about what is occurring in Vietnam. So as a blogger I ask you, with respect to Vietnam’s political development, is the glass half full?