by Theo Russell
HUNDREDS of people packed the Bolivar Hall in central London last week for an event organised by Trade Union Friends of Vietnam and the Vietnamese Embassy to mark the 35th anniversary of the defeat of American imperialism in the Vietnam war.
Vietnamese ambassador Tran Quang Hoan spoke of the economic achievements which have made Vietnam among the most dynamic economies in the region, with average growth of seven to eight per cent since the adoption of a socialist market policy In 1986. He said the government was “determined to make Vietnam into a developed, industrialised country by 2020”.
Hoan said the industrial sector had grown form 20 per cent to 40 per cent of the economy since 1980, and in 2009 despite of the global financial crisis growth was almost six per cent.
“Living standards are constantly improving, and our growth has contributed to eradicating poverty, with levels down from 75 per cent of the population in 1976 to 13.5 per cent in 2008,” he said.
“The victories of the Vietnamese people took place under the revolutionary leadership of Ho Chi Minh, a great and universal cultural personality and the beloved uncle to his people,” said Hoan, adding that 2010 also marks the 120th anniversary of Ho’s birth and 65 years since the declaration of Vietnam’s independence.
“During those difficult years of war the British people stood side by side with the Vietnamese people,” he said.
Chau Nhat Binh, Leader of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour also spoke of “celebrating the end of the most barbaric war in history waged by US imperialism,” a war which followed 100 years of French colonialism “only to be divided by the Geneva Agreement” in 1954.
“We had to pay a high price for this victory. In Robert McNamara’s words, ‘we owe it to future generations to explain why we mobilised 6.5 million young people to fight and 22,000 factories to supply this war machine’.”
Binh, who joined the Vietnam People’s Army in 1972 and was almost killed twice, recalled that the US had used 80 million litres of chemical defoliants and 10 million tons of bombs, “Yet while spending billions on wars all over the world, the US has given Vietnam only $3 million to clear unexploded bombs.”
“Thirty five years later the scars remain painful,” he said. “Three million people are still affected by Agent Orange, including ex-US soldiers. We call on people around the world to continue the struggle for justice.”
The US defoliant manufacturers continue to deny responsibility, and yet another legal case has now been launched after several previous cases were turned down by US courts.
Minh said the Vietnamese government’s care for disabled people includes treatment and job creation programmes, and many training centres and workplaces specifically designed for disabled people.
Replying to questions Tran Quang Hoan said relations with China were “very good”. “China is our biggest trading partner, although there are still some problems. The question of the Spratly Islands has not been resolved, but we are open to proposals from the Chinese side.”
“We have an open door foreign policy and we aim to be a friendly and reliable partner to all countries on the basis of sovereignty, mutual respect and independence.”
“We don’t forget the past or the crimes which were committed, but at this moment we put the past aside in order to create a better life for our people who have suffered so much.”
Chau Nhat Binh spoke of the challenges and negative aspects the trade unions faced. “Economic growth is not sustainable with poorly trained workers, and our infrastructure is still poor. Since the adoption of a socialist market policy the divisions between rich and poor have widened, and there exploitation and degradation have increased.
“Our priorities today are to extend collective bargaining, especially to non-manufacturing industries, and trade union recruitment. We aim to have two million trade union members by 2013.
“The biggest problem is how to organise workers to protect their interests, and we need to be prepared to deal with the big international corporations which are now moving into Vietnam.”
Binh said healthcare was also a major concern. “Wage earners in the factories usually have health insurance which the employers and government contribute towards, but we need to encourage people in the rural areas, with poverty levels of 65 per cent, to take up health insurance.”
“Children under six receive free healthcare, but the government still has much to do to improve healthcare in Vietnam,” he said.
Len Aldis of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society pointed to another cruel legacy of the US war of aggression: cluster bombs, often disguised as brightly coloured objects looking like toys, which he said would take 300 years to clear. “Every week there are horrific injuries from cluster bomb explosions, with children especially vulnerable,” he said.
“People are still being born in southern Vietnam with no eyes or missing limbs due to Agent Orange poisoning, often several children in one family. What kind of life will these children be able to live?”