15 May 2020 — FAIR
A recent piece in Foreign Policy (5/12/20) is headed with a photograph of a placard that features an image of a nurse demonstrating the importance of wearing a face mask as both personal and interpersonal protection against the coronavirus. But reader beware: It’s not public education, it’s a “propaganda poster”—because it’s not from New Jersey, but was “seen on a wall in Hanoi.”
The message of the piece, headlined “Vietnam’s Coronavirus Success Is Built on Repression,” is exactly that subtle, and apparently you’re not meant to look too carefully at the reasoning. Vietnam, authors Bill Hayton and Tro Ly Ngheo tell readers, is a country where…wait for it…the state “knows your mobile phone number.”
Yes, they’re receiving praise for limiting infections from Covid-19, reporting zero deaths so far, but the praise isn’t warranted, because “the disease control mechanisms that have been effective are the same mechanisms that facilitate and protect the country’s one-party rule.”
OK, so what are the elements of this horror? First, it’s explained, Vietnam has “neighborhood wardens and public security officers who keep constant watch over city blocks.” Sounds scary. Would those be anything like the police officers in Kentucky who shot Breonna Taylor to death while storming her home, on a no-knock warrant for a man who’d already been arrested 10 miles away? Or the ones who beat a man and sat on his head in New York City, while enforcing social-distancing protocols? I guess not.
In Vietnam, “The structures that control epidemics are the same ones that control public expressions of dissent.” Good thing we don’t have any of that dissent-controlling here, right? Although the mayor of New York City did just declare public protest illegal, and cops did just arrest writer Jill Nelson for writing “Trump = Plague” in chalk on an abandoned building.
But in Vietnam, you can “barricade government critics inside their houses to prevent them meeting journalists.” That would be nothing like Steven Donziger, under house arrest in New York since prosecuting an environmental case against Chevron in Ecuador, the company having stated explicitly that its long-term strategy was to “demonize” him.
In Vietnam, though, “The enforcers can be quite sure that their behavior is not going to be challenged by an independent judiciary, because the Communist Party decides what the law is.” That sounds bad; should we get a weigh-in from US Attorney General Bill Barr, who just got through saying that it didn’t matter that the Justice Department dropped charges against former national security advisor Michael Flynn (who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in 2017), because “history is written by the winners”?
And while other countries have used phone-tracking and surveillance to trace infected people, Foreign Policy explains, Vietnam is different and blameworthy, because they’re able to do so “without the need to submit to legal or parliamentary oversight.” Worlds away, we are to understand, from the US—except that the US Senate just now voted down an amendment to the Patriot Act that would have protected Americans’ internet browsing and search history data from secret and warrantless surveillance by law enforcement.
The piece is clearly trying to say: Don’t envy another country’s pandemic response, because it comes at too high a cost. That might be food for thought, except that Foreign Policy doesn’t seem to want you to bother thinking very much at all.
ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy at firstname.lastname@example.org (or via Twitter: @ForeignPolicy). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in comments.