If communist Vietnamese authorities find out that a representative of the democratic organization Bloc 8406 had lectured UCLA students by phone about the movement for democracy in Vietnam, he could be arrested.
The anonymous representative from the Bloc 8406 party was one of four activists for democratic government in Vietnam who spoke Wednesday at the Vietnamese Student Union-sponsored forum about the importance of democracy in light of communist policies in the country.
Do Hoang Diem, chairman of the Vietnam Reform Party and UCLA alumnus, Ngo Chi Thieng and Mai Thanh Truyet of democratic political groups Dai Viet Quoc Dan Dang and Dai Viet, respectively, also spoke as part of panel to a group of approximately 150 students, faculty and members of the public.
The panelists discussed underground political groups that advocate democracy in Vietnam that have united behind the recently formed Bloc 8406. They also emphasized how students can help spread democracy in Vietnam by lobbying, passing on news, and donating money to democratic political groups.
Thieng said that while he does not see democracy as a flawless form of government, he is confident that introducing democracy will be the best way to raise the standard of living in Vietnam.
“I think both of them are bad, but right now we have nothing else to choose ““ so we have to choose capitalism because it’s much better than communism,” he said.
Truyet added that because the country recently joined the World Trade Organization, they will now have to comply with international trade regulations that he believes are more compatible with capitalism than communism.
By joining the organization, Diem said he believes this is the right political direction for Vietnam.
Political advocacy coordinator for the Vietnamese Student Union Daniel Pham said one of the main goals of the forum was to educate the audience about a complex subject.
“Not a lot of people know about these issues,” he said. “When you say “˜Vietnam,’ they have no idea that there’s this surging democratic movement … that they can possibly be involved in.”
Diem said that while he believes the communist Vietnamese government has been relatively successful stifling dissent in the past through media censorship, recent technology is helping to rupture previous communication barriers.
“Thank God to the Internet,” he said. “Those are wonderful tools we have been employing to break down the control on the media.”
Diem stressed that the rise of democracy in Vietnam must involve convincing the people that they have the power to nonviolently resist communist rule.
“Believe me, any government that does not have the support of the people is just not going to last,” he said.
Asian Languages and Cultures Professor Thu-Huong Nguyen-Vo underscored the complexity of the issue of democracy in Vietnam. She said the world no longer can be divided into strictly communist countries and capitalist countries. She added that, now especially, social justice, equality and human rights are extremely important to the Vietnamese.
“It’s very difficult to approach (this) in terms of “˜do you choose capitalism or do you choose communism’,” she said.
Diem closed the forum by saying that he got involved in this issue of democracy in Vietnam as a sophomore at UCLA in 1981.
“I made that first step and I never regret it,” he said. “When you do these kinds of things you get so much back.”