Unity of Vietnamese people vital for national development: deputy foreign minister

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Overseas Vietnamese arrive at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City

It is necessary to unify Vietnamese people from all over the world, as overseas Vietnamese play an important role in the country's development, Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Thanh Son told Thanh Nien in a recent interview.

Son, who is also the chairman of the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese, said that the unification should also include those who fled the country after the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975.

He said it has been 38 years since the war ended, but both the local government and the overseas Vietnamese community have yet to do well in clearing the "hatred" and "barriers born from the past war."

On one hand, due to previous overthrow attempts plotted by "external forces," the government was cautious about applying policies regarding overseas Vietnamese, he said.

On the other hand, exposed to one-sided information over a long time, many members of the overseas Vietnamese community consider the communist government as something "scary."

"In fact, we have missed many opportunities to unify Vietnamese people."

Despite this, however, the overseas Vietnamese community is seen as playing "a really important role in contributing to the development and protection of the country," Son said.

He said most tourism projects across Vietnam were invested in by overseas Vietnamese, adding that they also play an important role in promoting the country's image and culture to foreigners.

Last year, overseas Vietnamese sent around US$10.5 billion in remittances through official means, plus more through unofficial ones and investment into projects, he said.

Totally, every year the remittance is $20 billion, or one-fifth of the country's GDP, or the trade value between Vietnam and Europe.

Then there are over 400,000 intellectuals, many of whom work in leading agencies across the world in various fields like space technology, economy, education, and health.

These scholars and experts have contributed many "dedicated" opinions about Vietnam's development projects like nuclear power and high-speed railways, but "it's a pity that we have received them in limited fashion."

Given such potential that the overseas Vietnamese community has, trust between the two sides should be built up, Son said. He also said the current government should initiate the first steps to resolve the hostility between both sides.

Son said the government should continue with policies that are "transparent," and benefit the overseas Vietnamese community, including those that relate to nationality, immigration and investment.

It is also necessary to organize activities that engage the overseas Vietnamese community so that both sides feel they are on the same side, working for the same objectives, the Deputy PM said. 

According to Son, although the government has issued policies regarding Vietnamese people's unification, awareness of the issue among local leaders "still varies," so some of them have not been effectively applied.

Distrust of overseas Vietnamese, especially those who have investment projects in Vietnam, can still be found here and there, he said.

"To unify people, it is important to be sincere and open."

As for those who are anti-government, Son said he does not think that it is good to apply the "rebels" tag to a part of the overseas Vietnamese community who are yet to have full knowledge of the country and thus have engaged activities against people's benefits.

"We should not take it too seriously and then keep them away from us."

He also said as far as he has observed, anti-government extremists are decreasing in number.

One of the extremists, Al Hoang, or Hoang Duy Hung, a council member of Houston City, for instance, was recently allowed to visit Vietnam and was positive about Vietnam's current situation, Son said.

The official also said that during his visit to the U.S. in October last year, he had met with many anti-government extremists.

The trip, which was his only one to that country since he took over the position of the committee's chairman in 2007, was "successful" because no demonstration was held against it, as has happened earlier, he added.

Moreover, since 2011, the committee has also invited many overseas Vietnamese newspapers, including those which are against the government, to Vietnam to learn more about the current situation in the country.

"We have to build trust. To make people trust us, we need to do something specific."

Asked about the views of the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Defense regarding the committee's activities, Son said they were supportive.

"We can't use violence to kill or arrest hostile forces abroad, but need the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese to engage in more (reconciliatory) activities," he quoted a military general as saying.

The cemetery

During the interview, Son also denied rumors regarding the cemetery of soldiers who served the former Republic of Vietnam, like people being charged to enter it.

He said the site, which is located in Binh An Commune, Di An District, the southern province of Binh Duong, is now managed by the provincial authorities who converted it into a civil cemetery in 2008.

Like any other civil cemetery, the Binh An People's Cemetery, as it is officially known, is open to families of the deceased people, he said.

The families are allowed to renovate or reconstruct the graves however they like, but they must follow regulations on graves' width and height. 

Son also said during his visit last year he had met with Nguyen Dac Thanh, a former major of the Republic of Vietnam's military. Thanh has established a group of veterans to find his old comrades' remains and gave him a few requests regarding the cemetery.

The requests were to Binh Duong authorities who have responded well, he added.

He said this was an example of unification and integration with overseas Vietnamese, especially families of those who had joined the army of the former Republic of Vietnam.

The cemetery was established in 1968 and was previously known as the Bien Hoa Military Cemetery. It was home to some 16,000 graves, according to the former government's documents.

However, speaking to Thanh Nien, Do Ngoc An, a former soldier of the Republic of Vietnam who has taken care of the graves at the cemetery since 1977, said there must be 25,000 26,000 graves, many of which were anonymous.

Over the years, thousands of families have found their loved ones' graves here with An's help.

According to An, although the cemetery was almost abandoned five-six years ago, it has been renovated recently with more trees planted, walls built and security enhanced.  

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