the legitimacy of Vi
etnam’s one party regime. Land issues also strike at the nexus of
political and economic power of local officials. The loyalty of the Catholic community hasalways been questioned. Land rights activists attempt to organize aggrieved peasantsand form associations the regime views as illegal and a challenge to its massorganisations.The anti-China protests do not involve any challenge to economic power. They are largelypatriotic displays of nationalism. They reflect views widely held among the elite. But theydo represent a challenge to nationalism as one of the basis of regime legitimacy. To theextent that anti-
China protests are an indictment of the central government’s failure to
stand up to China, they are viewed as a challenge. Many of the demonstrators in Hanoicome from well connected families.Q4. Academics say politics in Vietnam is driven by the belief that those in power have ahigher moral capacity than the everyman and are therefore trustworthy. How much doyou think this influences official reactions to public protests?ANSWER: Vietnamese political culture includes remnants of Confucian values.Government officials are supposed to uphold high moral standards and serve thecollective rather than the individual. This is an ideal type that has been undermined byperceptions of extensive corruption by government officials. I would say there is adisconnect between how the public views government officials and how governmentofficials view themselves. Government officials generally have a self-serving view of themselves. For example, political reformers inside the system often share similar viewswith those outside the system. But there is little likelihood the two would form acoalition. Those inside the system are aghast at those outside the system for the temerityof advocating political reform. Political reform is the prerogative of the elite
those tothe manor born
not those on the outside. They are viewed as pursuing individual andpersonal interests.Q5. Why do you think the government has allowed the anti-China protests to continuethis year?
ANSWER: China’s actions this year have been over the top. It suits the government to
permit public displays of anti-China sentiment
up to a point. In June last year China andVietnam reached agreemen
t “to steer public opinion”. This meant halting the anti
-Chinaprotests in Vietnam. There is widespread and growing public support for the protestsamong the elite.Q6. IN an earlier assessment you wrote that one reason for the crackdown againstbloggers is diplomacy with both China and the US. Are there any other reasons at play?ANSWER: Domestic politics and international relations are inextricably mixed. But whenyou leave the level of high politics to public protests, there are party and public securityconservatives who see any manifestation of organised public protest as subversive. It isusually linked to peaceful evolution. But it is also linked to a degree of governmentfrustration that despite the best efforts to intimidate and curtail demonstrations, theycontinue. In sum, public protest is viewed as a challenge to the authority of governmentofficials. Government officials want to be in control. They are sensitive to the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the colour revolutions andthe Arab Spring.