Published April 27, 2017 in Episode 70
It’s been a crazy few weeks in the news cycle, so let me get you caught up. Here’s my shortlist of five news stories you may have missed over our spring break and yours.
1. Crisis Averted, For Now, After Villagers take Police Hostage
A hostage crisis unfolded in the middle of April in the Đồng Tâm commune, in Mỹ Đức district just south of Hà Nội as the country watched with bated breath. Tensions over land rights that have simmered for years escalated when police arrested several villagers in an effort to evict them from their land. On April 15, locals took 38 government officials and security police hostage starting a standoff that would last eight days.
Villagers say telecom giant Viettel, which is owned by the military, seized the land illegally.
“I've been herding cows here since I was 12, to help my parents farm the land,” one farmer tells Express News. “The land belongs to the people of Đồng Tâm district. Now they’re saying it’s the Ministry of Defense’s land. I’m 60 years old now and I find it very strange.”
Over the week, several hostages were released while others reportedly fled. In the end, Hà Nội's mayor Nguyễn Đức Chung and the villagers negotiated the release of all remaining hostages. Chung promised the villagers would not face prosecution and the land dispute would be resolved within 45 days, VN Express reports.
As land is considered “the people’s property” in Việt Nam, individuals have usage rights, but never own the land. Still the standoff is rare even as Vietnamese authorities grapple with a tide of discontent and disputes as they seek to appropriate land for development. Observers say this dispute, and land rights grievances across the country, are far from being settled and tensions could spill over again, anywhere at any moment.
2. Up and Coming on Forbes List of 30 under 30 Asia
Việt Nam’s Queen of Hip Hop is topping yet another male-dominated chart: Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list. Suboi says she wants to be a voice for the community and take action for change. She memorably busted out a rhyme for U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited her country last year.
Suboi, whose real name is Hàng Lâm Trang Anh, is not the only one representing Việt Nam on Forbes 30. Also on the esteemed list are Ninh Nguyễn, founder of Urban Station Coffee and The Coffee House chains; Hải Nguyễn, founder of Canavi - a jobs page dedicated to empowering women, and Trung Nguyễn, the founder of Lozi, a food location app.
But Suboi reigns supreme as the only woman in the group.
3. Hà Nội Wants to Shut Down So-Called Fake News
Fake news has been big news lately, not just in the United States, but also in Việt Nam. Hà Nội has stepped up its efforts to target what they are calling fake and toxic content, and toxic here meaning anti-government, and it is enlisting U.S. internet giants like Google in the effort.
Responding to questions from a member of the National Assembly about the dangers of fake Facebook accounts, Trương Minh Tuấn, the minister of information and communications, boasted about the success of Circular 38 - a directive introduced earlier this year. It requests the cooperation of social media companies in weeding out malicious content.
Since mid-February, since announcing Circular 38, the ministry has had legal foundation to ask these service providers to follow Việt Nam’s rules,” Tuấn said. “And given this legal basis, Google has agreed to establish a mechanism for the Ministry of Information and Communications to request Google to remove a large number of video clips on YouTube. Recently we have uncovered 2,200 such malicious clips. So we asked Google to remove these 2,200 clips, which were aimed at maligning the comrades leading our government. And through April 12, Google has removed 1299 bad clips from YouTube, according to our recommendation.
Reuters reports that the Vietnamese government is not just going after the content providers. Last month, Việt Nam called on all companies, from Unilever to Ford, to seize putting their ads on YouTube next to content that it considers to be “toxic.”
4. Fury over Formosa Hasn’t Faded One Year After Fish Kills
In central Việt Nam, thousands of fishermen and their families, environmentalists and activists took to beaches and boats this month to protest the Taiwanese-owned Formosa company. One year after the Hà Tĩnh steel plant admitted to causing tons of dead fish to wash ashore Việt Nam's central coast, locals are still left in limbo
On April 3, several thousands of victims marched to the People's Committee building in Lộc Hà district in hard-hit Hà Tĩnh province. They say they haven’t received adequate compensation, even after Formosa pledged a payout of US$500 million to victims of the environmental disaster.
Fishermen also blocked traffic on a national highway in Kỳ Anh using fishing nets.
While redress for victims is slow to come, police have been quick to launch criminal investigations into protesters in both Lộc Hà and Kỳ Anh districts, seeking to punish those who “caused public disorder,” VN Express reports.
5. If You’re Griping About Chinese Tourists, Maybe You Should Look in the Mirror.
That’s the advice of Ngô Hoài Chung, the deputy head of Việt Nam’s tourism administration. And, well, he’s got a point. Foreign tourists in Việt Nam have griped about our trash and pollution just as much as Vietnamese have groused about the same behaviour from Chinese tourists.
Last month the tourism ministry had to issue an official etiquette guide to encourage “civilized behaviour” across the country. It includes helpful tips like, “queue up when there’s a line”, and, “Don’t push others in public or crowded areas.”
More Vietnamese than ever are traveling abroad now, and the ministry believes the suggestions will help improve Việt Nam’s image as it integrates into the global community.
One tour operator in Japan, which has had an explosion in the number of Chinese and Vietnamese tourists, says the Japanese natives are keenly aware of tourists’ behavior and take note.
So he makes a it a point to remind his tour groups of local customs: “For example, don’t be loud on the trains. Be aware of your fellow travellers. When you go to a buffet, if you take more food than you can eat, you’ll be fined.”
He says he tells his visitors this first thing, and they are pretty good with following the rules. He says, “When they come from Việt Nam to this country that’s very civilized and very clean, they say ‘We’ve got a lot to learn.’ So these trips abroad are a way for them to learn.”
As the Vietnamese proverb goes, Đi một ngày đàng, học một sàng khôn: One day of travel broadens the mind.