Indonesia’s “John Adams Moment”

 July 30, 2014

(Originally published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and can also be found also at: )

          There was a moment of time in our own history, when our new democracy peaceably and orderly passed the reins of power from George Washington, at the end of his second term, to John Adams. It had never happened before in history. The “John Adams Moment” firmly established the precedent  in the new, American democracy, of a Presidency limited to only 2 terms. That tradition lasted up until the time Franklin Roosevelt and was resumed thereafter by Constitutional Amendment. It was a transition moment when the country broke away peacefully from a military/civilian leader, Washington, to a purely civilian leader, John Adams. Our own “John Adams Moment” set the tone and the tradition for generations that followed.

Indonesia, following its recent divisive election, is at a similar, “John Adams Moment” in the strengthening of its own new democracy. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono  (SBY),  a military/civilian leader, will step down after his own 2nd term this coming October, and relinquish power to a new, duly-elected civilian President, Joko Widodo (Jokowi).  This is a historic, critical step in the development of Indonesia’s own, young democratic traditions.

The Indonesian democracy has developed out of the dark, bloody days of rioting and violence in the wake of the collapse of the Thai baht and the Asian Financial crisis in 1997-98. The financial implosion of Indonesia’s rupiah occurred along with the dismantling of the autocratic and highly corrupt Suharto regime. Since that time, Indonesia has re-invented herself in a little over a decade and a half, repaired her devastated economy, and has now emerged as a robust democracy in Southeast Asia, with a plethora of newspapers, talk shows, media sources, and strong voter participation.  It is impressive progress in less than two decades.

The recent Presidential election campaign was a hard-fought battle, but free of violence. And, although religion is never entirely absent from Islam’s foremost democracy, this was a contest fought overwhelmingly over secular issues.

Jokowi, represents a marked departure from Indonesia’s past. He started out as a small business owner, a humble furniture seller, and became a pragmatic, uncorrupt mayor. He is not from the usual clutch of political and business dynasties and their sleazy cronies. He represents something new for Indonesia. The 53-year-old is the first of a political generation reaching the national stage since popular protests in the late 1990s that toppled Suharto. Jokowi’s rise would have been inconceivable without the radical political decentralisation which is perhaps the outstanding success of Indonesia’s democratic journey. He began his political career as mayor of Solo, a medium-sized city in Java, the most populous island, before becoming an immensely popular Governor of Jakarta, the capital, in 2012. It is there that he forged a reputation for can-do competence and clean government that won the admiration of many and propelled him into the Presidential race.

Jokowi has a good record of dealing with the concerns of ordinary Indonesians: clogged traffic, poor sanitation and petty, bribe-taking bureaucrats. He is also more comfortable working with Christians or ethnic Chinese than most Indonesian politicians have been and are. Indeed, his opponents tried to turn his hostility to religious intolerance against him by claiming that he was in fact a Christian. Certainly, Jokowi is a new kind of Indonesian leader, but he is still a devout Muslim. In the three days before actual election in which Indonesian law forbids campaigning, Jokowi made a lightening pilgrimage to Mecca. But he also embraces religious pluralism. And, though no room exists on the Indonesian political spectrum for anything like economic liberalism, he is less of an economic nationalist than his opponent in the election, former Special Forces General, Prabowo Subianto, once Suharto’s son-in-law with a tainted human rights record, a throwback to Indonesia’s darker past.

Foreign investors are now pleased with the Jokowi victory. He understands the need to cut ruinous fuel subsidies and to boost education.

The big worry about Jokowi is that he might be out of his depth in high politics. That is partly because he lacks experience: his views on foreign policy are still barely known. His campaign was amateurish, relying mainly on the perhaps, naive assumption, that honesty and an impressive record would be good enough. It turns out that Jokowi was right; Indonesians did not buy the slick, orchestrated campaign of General Prabowo. Jokowi is a man of the streets and neighborhoods, whereas past Indonesian leaders have ruled from on high. He has no ties to the Suharto regime, unlike most of his predecessors, and that represents a clean break.

Jokowi has been underestimated before. Indonesia faces a geopolitical challenges with China over its Natuna islands in the South China Sea along with its ASEAN leadership demands and international economic challenges. Standing still will not be the easiest option. Indeed, his capacity to attract powerful technocratic advice could see Jokowi pursue a more proactive and internationalist agenda than his predecessors.

Jokowi’s endearing trait—his humility—turned into a liability during the campaign as his image as an outsider was compromised by his reliance on his party’s grande dame, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of modern Indonesia’s founder and a former President herself. She has appeared on occasion to be grudging in her support for Jokowi. This reliance is likely to fade in time as Jokowi makes his own mark.

There is a leadership trait which Jokowi possesses which is both visionary and courageous. As the world’s 4th largest country, and a Muslim-majority one at that, the ethnic Chinese have been the political scapegoats forever. During the Suharto years, a drive through Jakarta’s Chinatown, Kota, was remarkable for its lack of Chinese characters, symbols, architecture and even names in English—the ethnic Chinese were literally hidden from view. The bloody anti-Chinese riots (which General Prabowo is said to have encouraged) in Kota and elsewhere left deep cultural wounds.  Jokowi is the first Indonesian politician to actively begin the healing process. When he ran for the Governorship of Jakarta, Jokowi had the courage to have an ethnic Chinese, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) as his successful running mate.  That was a historic first for Indonesia and it bodes well for Jokowi’s reputation as a cultural healer, a nation-builder, and a diplomat. Interestingly, Ahok now succeeds Jokowi as the Governor of Jakarta.

In the end, Indonesians, made the right choice. Jokowi will be a disruptive figure in in that he will have to learn to work with, and begin to breakup, the old political oligarchy, upgrade the bureaucracy, work the corruption problem, develop civilian control of the military, and continue to strengthen this fledgling democracy.

This is Indonesia’s “John Adams Moment.”


(David Day is the Chairman of the Board of the Hawaii Indonesia Chamber of Commerce and an international business lawyer).

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What Could Have Been

In the wake of the state funeral for Vietnam’s legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap, we thought it appropriate to share with you some heartbreaker photos taken in August of 1945 in the mountains outside of Hanoi. They are heartbreakers only if you recognize what could have been, instead of the carnage that followed.

We do not ascribe blame for the failure to build on this relationship but only want to point out that it did not happen and perhaps, could have.

American OSS Deer Team with Ho Chi Minh & Vo Minh Giap August, 1945 Pac Bo, Vietnam

American OSS Deer Team with Ho Chi Minh & Vo Nguyen Giap
August, 1945
Pac Bo, Vietnam

In the  photo above, American OSS (Predecessor to the CIA) “Deer Team” members pose with (then) Viet Minh leaders Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap during a military training at Tan Trao, in the mountains north of Hanoi in August, 1945. Deer Team members standing, l to r, are Rene Defourneaux, (Ho Chi Minh), Allison Thomas, (Vo Nguyen Giap), Henry Prunier and Paul Hoagland, far right. Kneeling, left, are Lawrence Vogt and Aaron Squires. (Rene Defourneaux).

Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giam, and the Deer Team 1945

Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap (in the white suit), and the Deer Team

Toward the end of World War II, the U.S. Office of Special Operations (the OSS), the precursor to the CIA, started doing business with the communist-dominated Viet Minh, led by the ascetic and mysterious globe trotter Ho Chi Minh. The aim was to use the Viet Minh to drive the Japanese out of what had been French Indochina. But events were moving way too fast for coherent American policy to be made.

In return for the Viet Minh’s help against the Japanese, the OSS provided the Communist-dominated group with weapons, radio sets, medicines and training. The two groups quickly became very friendly and fought as comrades-in-arms in capturing the Japanese garrison at Tan Trao. They celebrated by getting drunk together. Along the way there would be such incongruous (in retrospect) actions as an OSS medic saving the life of the very sick Ho Chi Minh.

The Japanese, traumatized by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, surrendered much earlier than expected.  Ho’s forces declared independence the very same day that General MacArthur accepted the formal Japanese surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri, September 2, 1945.  In so doing, Ho’s Viet Minh looked to America for friendship and even included some phrasing from the American Declaration of Independence in their own, with Ho carefully checking the words of Thomas Jefferson with his OSS colleagues by radiophone from a shophouse in Hanoi’s Old Quarter as it was being drafted.

The Vietnamese Declaration of Independence that Ho Chi Minh drafted begins:

“To the compatriots of the entire country,

All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free…”


Ho Chi Minh delivering the Declaration of Independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, September 2, 1945 Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh delivering the Declaration of Independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, September 2, 1945
Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi

Ho was clearly influenced by the political writings and values of the American Founders. Up on the stage at Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, clear for all to see, OSS Major Archimedes Patti stood behind Ho. There are photos of Patti saluting the Vietnamese flag as the band played the Vietnamese and the US national anthems. Then, coincidentally, a clearly-marked U.S. plane flew over  Ba Dinh Square during the ceremony. Was it by accident or design? It remains a mystery. Either way, it was apparent to everyone in the square that day that Ho Chi Minh (and Vo Nguyen Giap) had powerful backers and that the forces of Ho Chi Minh were clearly the political and spiritual leader of the Vietnamese revolution against the country’s French overlords.

Meanwhile, Chiang Kai-Shek’s undisciplined and rapacious troops, defeated Japanese forces, some French military people and colons and a few bemused Americans all milled around in Hanoi waiting for resolution of the dangerous and confused situation in which Indochina found itself at the end of World War II.

The U.S. adventure in Hanoi ended quickly, and it swiftly became clear that the French would fight to regain their lucrative colonies in Indochina. After all,  because the mother country was, at the time, reduced to rubble–it was critical for France that she quickly re-open her colonial cash pipeline from Vietnam in the rubber, tin and other profitable Vietnamese exports of that era.

Following the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, the French began to return to Hanoi and Saigon and made it clear that they had no intention of abandoning the colony.  In an effort to block the French return, Ho Chi Minh sent several telegrams to Washington seeking assistance against the French. These telegrams were written by Ho personally, and typed on his own typewriter. The telegrams were addressed to President Truman, sent via the State Department, but, oddly, never delivered to Truman. Here is one of several Ho sent in 1946:

Ho Chi Minh Telegram to President Truman February 1946

Ho Chi Minh Telegram to President Truman
February 1946


 At the same time, bewildered U.S. policy makers in the inexperienced Truman administration were dealing with domestic pressures to send U.S. forces home and anxiety about upsetting the French. While the precise point at which the Truman Administration turned its back on Vietnam is unclear, we do know that France was desperate to re-start its colonial cash flow and de Gaulle, always playing hard to get, was dragging his feet during the negotiations on French participation in the precursor to NATO, the Western Union, initiated formally in 1948.

President Truman did not share Roosevelt’s strong democratic principles. He was more concerned with keeping the French happy as a major business and security partner, as well as helping stand that country back upon its feet again. Plus, there was already on the horizon the “Great Imagined Fear” of the Russians, and de Gaulle knew how to play his cards just right. De Gaulle, in mid-march 1945, had already said in discussion with the (then) Roosevelt administration:

“What are you driving at? Do you want us to become, for example, one of the federated states under the Russian aegis? The Russians are advancing apace as you well know. When Germany falls they will be upon us. If the public here comes to realize that you are against us in Indochina there will be terrific disappointment and nobody knows to what that will lead. We do not want to become Communist; we do not want to fall into the Russian orbit, but I hope that you will not push us into it.”

[by, say, letting the Vietnamese have democratic control over their own country].


Truman and the U.S. State Department made no response to Ho Chi Minh’s numerous telegrams seeking assistance against the French. Washington feared that in the chaos and economic distress of immediate post-war France that the communists would take power there. So it pulled back from what had seemed to have been its support for Vietnamese nationalism under the Viet Minh and began to support the French.

The die was cast for a future conflict and, as Minister of Defense during the Vietnam War, Vo Nguyen Giap, would play a crucial role against his old comrades from the United States.


To learn a little more about this history, check out the following articles:

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Vietnam Looking to Elbow a Place with China and India with Foreign Investors

Vietnam Looking to Elbow a Place with China and India with Foreign Investors

By David Day. August 2010

For Vietnam, stepping onto the world stage in recent years has meant admission to the WTO, a Nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council, launching the country’s first telecommunications satellite (Vinasat 1 built by Lockeed Martin) and hosting the APEC Summit in Hanoi.

Lockeed-Martin’s Vinasat 1

Vietnam continues to weather the global recession in reasonably well with foreign investment possibly doubling to $15 billion this year. Its largest export market is now the U.S. with over $12 billion last year. This Fall will see Intel’s new $1 billion chip assembly plant open outside Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam is now poised for yet another breakthrough. Political tensions in Thailand are helping Vietnam to get onto contingent plan target lists of foreign investors seeking political stability. Political stability is one factor working in Vietnam’s favor now. Another is labor costs. Vietnam is attempting to capitalize on the 30 to 40% labor differential with manufacturing plants in China. This is a huge incentive for China-based operations to begin looking to the south. The labor cost differential with China has been compounded by other problems nagging China operations: labor strikes and shortages.

Outside of the tech industry, where Vietnam has done very well in terms of attracting foreign investment, its aging colonial infrastructure has been a hindrance to all kinds of foreign investment.

There are two recent developments in Vietnam that will catapult the country forward in terms of attracting foreign investment at this critical juncture during the global recession. The first is the development of a number of major superhighway systems north of Hanoi that will link into highway systems in southern China. These new highways will allow a supply chain linkage between Chinese and Vietnamese manufacturing operations.

The second is a proposed Shinkansen-like bullet train between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The proposed bullet train, which would be completed by 2035, would travel the 1,600 km from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south in less than six hours. Vietnam’s current charming but woefully outdated trains take more than two days to make the trip. While this $56 billion project has recently been rejected by the National Assembly, Japan’s Transport Ministry continues to voice support for the project and has promised assistance should the Vietnamese government ultimately decide to proceed with the project once concerns of National Assembly members are adequately addressed (we believe that this is likely to occur despite the current clamor). Vietnam Railways Corp. was planning to use Japanese technology to build the high-speed train line. Sumitomo Corp. had teamed with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to bid on the project. Itochu Corp. was heading a competing group with Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.

Proposed Vietnamese “Shinkansen” Linking Hanoi & HCMC

Given the importance of a high-speed rail link between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and the challenges Vietnam Airlines, and its related carriers have in meeting the staggering business traffic demands between the two cities, a Vietnamese “Shinkansen” would be an enormous contribution to the national infrastructure. No question that Vietnamese officials are eyeing the success of the Tokyo-Osaka Shinkansen as a precedent for a sorely needed rail upgrade in their own country.

Financing the north-south linkage is another matter.

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China’s Confrontation in the Yellow Sea — Part of a Broader Strategy?


China’s Confrontation in the Yellow Sea — Part of a Broader Strategy?

May 6, 2009 by davidfday

This most recent PRC interference with a U.S. Navy ship in the Yellow sea these past few days appears consistent with an ongoing, stepped-up PRC policy looking towards an expansion of its territorial claims well into international waters. To be sure, China’s territorial waters claims are not new, it is just that we are now seeing more aggressive and confrontational action on the part of the PRC. This most recent China/U.S. naval confrontation in the Yellow Sea follows last month’s nearly mirror-image confrontations of the U.S. Impeccable in the South China sea. These events bear careful watching as they pose the risk of misunderstanding, miscalculation and injury not only to the U.S. and China, but to competing territorial claimants in the Region as well as international maritime players.

China's Claim to the South China Sea

Complicating this picture, we need to be mindful that Hanoi, having finally resolved a 30-year northern border dispute with China, is beginning now to focus on its age-old dispute with China over the South China sea’s Paracel and Spratley Islands. While, to be sure there are other national interests claimed over these islands, the Vietnamese are the most likely to pose intense resistance to China’s claims in the South China Sea.

Known Oil fields Overlayed with Competing Territorial Claims

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The “Vietnam Model” for North Korean Reform

Immediately following the death of Kim Jong Il, the U.S. and South Korean military forces went on alert simultaneously. This is the natural reflex on the tactical side to the perceived new instability on the Korean peninsula occasioned by the leadership transition in Pyongyang. This is a good, careful approach. There is, however, a strategic side to the Korean situation that also needs attention as well.

Setting aside the dark, doomsday potential for a collapse of the Regime in Pyongyang for a different discussion, what about the strategy for a hopeful future for North Korea? When the timing has been right, have we not seen former Communist regimes reinvent themselves and emerge with a hybrid of economic reforms that have worked reasonably well? Both China and Vietnam have moved successfully in direction economic liberalization and reform. Is there any hope for North Korea at all?

Jong Un with DPRK military leadership

In the past, it was often thought that North Korea’s Stalinist family dynasty and autocratic rule differed too much from the Communist Party oligarchies like that in Hanoi to allow a “Doi Moi”-like economic liberalization, such as we have seen in Vietnam, to take place. The current reality on the ground in North Korea is that Kim Jong Un is a young, likely more- impressionable leader with an unconsolidated power base. We need to remember that his Father had two decades to consolidate his own position and young Jong Un has barely had 2 years, if that. This all means that, notwithstanding his promotion this past September to a 4-star General (begrudgingly accepted in the Confucian military hierarchy by his fellow octogenarian 4-stars), Jong Un has a fragmented power base. His ability to lead and rule will require much more consensus-building and therein is the strategic opportunity for change.

Moving beyond the stumbling blocks of denuclearization on the peninsula, this change could necessarily include economic reforms which could be reinforced and encouraged by humanitarian assistance, sanction modification (following the Myanmar approach), and, in due course, economic assistance. This is the “Vietnam Model.” The key piece of this puzzle requires both technocrats and reform-minded leadership within the DPRK.

In Vietnam’s case, Hanoi, in the mid-1980’s had the benefit of a few brilliant economists who had a hand in the construction of the Party’s 1986 “Doi Moi” economic platform. The key architect was Dr. Nguyen Xuan Oanh, who came out of retirement as a former capitalist central banker under the defeated South Vietnamese regime and managed to turned himself into the Communist party’s favorite economist. I knew Dr. Oanh, a Harvard-educated economist. He was even South Vietnam’s Prime Minister for a few turbulent months in the coup-ridden 1960s. Somehow, after the fall of Saigon and eight months of house arrest, Oanh managed to persuade the communists that he was a technocrat and a patriot who had stayed on to serve his country. Rehabilitation allowed Oanh to become the architect of Vietnam’s “Doi Moi” economic reform platform in 1986. However, it was the combination of his education and prior government leadership that gave Dr. Oanh the political firepower with the Communist Party in Hanoi to listen and follow his direction for the future of the country.

So where is North Korea’s Dr. Oanh? This is the interesting piece of the puzzle that is difficult to see at this juncture. While it is early for North Korea’s own “Dr. Oanh” to emerge, the seeds for a Oanh-type economic reform leadership or expertise in North Korea already exist in the form of 2 groups: (1) during the 1990’s and prior, a number of North Korean elites were educated in economics in Australian universities before Australia shut down its North Korean visa program; and (2) there are a number of young, North Korean refugees that are currently studying economics in Seoul, the U.S. and the U.K., who are preparing themselves to assist in the North Korean “Doi Moi” in the future.

This “Vietnam Model” is a strategy that both Washington and Seoul need to encourage. It may well be North Korea’s only hope.

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Myanmar’s Dance

Myanmar sits between India and China, a key strategic position combined with extraordinary natural resources.

Historically, in its post-British colonial era, Myanmar has “danced” in its foreign policy and sought to maintain its neutrality, wary of foreigners. Myanmar’s dance continued throughout the Cold War as a strategy necessary to preserve its own sovereignty. This wariness extended to Western diplomats and China alike. However, as the General Than Shwe/Junta era began to take hold and the resulting U.S. sanctions began to bite, Myanmar “leaned” heavily towards China as its sanctions bypass route.

The new Thein Sein government started to shake the West with its political reforms and the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. These reforms also included legal changes that would now permit Aung San Suu Kyi to run for political office. Indeed, her party, the National League for Democracy, has seized upon this legal change, re-registered under the new law, and Aung San Suu Kyi herself has formally announced that she would run in the next elections.

Then there is the pushback against China commenced with the abrupt decision to suspend the construction of a controversial China-backed hydroelectric dam that would have flooded an area the size of Singapore. Given the magnitude of Chinese investment and influence in Myanmar, this has been a stunning move.

The question then becomes, what is the next step in Myanmar’s dance? That step will be heavily influenced by Myanmar’s bid to assume its leadership bid as ASEAN’s chair in 2014. However, Myanmar’s bid for the 2014 ASEAN chairmanship means that it will have to present itself as an ASEAN member and not China’s little client. In order to accomplish that by 2014, we are going to see a number of previously unthinkable reforms coming out of Naypyidaw. The notion that Suu Kyi will now run for election is but one example of the previously unthinkable.

Indonesia, interestingly, is playing a key role from its ASEAN leadership chair position, steering Myanmar in a reform-minded direction so as to position and prepare Myanmar for its own 2014 ASEAN chair. Coupled with Jakarta’s efforts, the current United States efforts on the” pivoting” front to re-engage with Asia, such as entering the East Asia Summit and cultivating stronger ties with Southeast Asia, also contains a strategy designed to encourage Myanmar into further reforms. To that end, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently dangled the bait that Myanmar would find a partner in the U.S. if further reforms were made. The possibility of removing sanctions and promises of cooperation will assist in expanding U.S. influence with Myanmar,and likely move the country into a more balanced relationship between the U.S. and China.

Myanmar took Clinton’s bait, Suu Kyi and her party are now planning to participate in the next elections, and Clinton herself is now “pivoting” and enroute to Myanmar. The winds are now shifting in the U.S./Myanmar relationship. New partners and new steps are now in play.

The China relationship is still out there. While there is a certain frostiness to the current relations between China and Myanmar, it must be remembered that Myanmar must live with China next door and its dance in the future will always need to maintain considerable weight on that foot.

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Yet Another China Foreign Policy Stumble: The South China Sea

China has had a number of foreign policy gaffes over the past couple of years and its very recent attempt at imposing a fishing ban in the South China Sea (known to the Vietnamese as the “East Sea”) is yet another stumble.  Attempting to protect and encourage the replenishment of fishing stock during the spawning season, China announced on May 11, 2011 a fishing ban to run from May 16 through August 1 over an area hotly contested by several South East Asia countries, most notably by Vietnam.

While replenishing the fishing stock may well be a noble ideal, China’s unilateral action is guaranteed to gin up a firey defiance by the Vietnamese, with fishermen ignoring the ban, boat seizures and violent confrontations– all too predictable.

Vietnam has a 1000 mile coastline to protect and its Eastern Sea is an essential part of its defense perimeter that it has, and will continue to jealously protect. China knows this all too well– given its historical battles and scrapes with Vietnam in these same waters over the millennia.

China’s unilateral muscle-flexing in the South China Sea is hardly simply to protect the  fishing stock which Vietnam’s marine industry depends upon. China had to know full well that its fishing ban would necessarily force a response from Vietnam  and give the PRC an opportunity to reinforce its imprimatur over the disputed waters.

For Vietnam, the Eastern Sea is its “line in the sand.”  Vietnamese public opinion will not stand for any moves by China to nip bites out of Vietnamese waters. China knows this but its policymakers blundered ahead anyway.

Defiance by little colorful Vietnamese fishing boats is one thing. China did not anticipate, however, the announcement by the Vietnamese Navy that it now intends to conduct live firing exercises off of Vietnam’s central coast directly into waters affected by the fishing ban.

Such are the perils of unilateralism–especially when you have a little sleeping tiger to the south.

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Wording of Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence Subject of Communications between Ho Chi Minh and His American Collegues in the OSS

65 years Ago -While Japan surrendered aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Vietnam Declared Independence with the words of Thomas Jefferson

By David Day September 3, 2010.

Happy 65th Independence Day (September 2, 1945) to all of my Vietnamese friends and colleagues in Vietnam and abroad.

Ho Chi Minh at the independence day of Democratic Republic of Vietnam, September 2, 1945

Most Americans do not know that it was on this date, as the formal Japanese surrender ceremonies were taking place aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, that Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from colonial rule. He stepped up to a rostrum in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square and, carefully borrowing the key portion of the precise text of Thomas Jefferson, delivered the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The English translation of this portion Ho’s exact text is as follows:

” ‘All men are created equal. They are endowed by their
Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life,
Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness….’

This immortal statement was made in the Declaration
of Independence of the United States of America m 1776. In
a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are
equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be
happy and free.” (–President Ho Chi Minh).

Most Americans do not know this history. They also do not know that Uncle Ho carefully worked over this portion of his text with his American OSS colleagues by communications with them from a shophouse in Hanoi’s Old Quarter where he worked on the draft Declaration. Some of his OSS colleagues were there in the crowd at Ba Dinh Square when he delivered this famous Declaration of Independence.

Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap (in white suit) with American colleagues in the OSS “Deer Team” at Pac Bo Vietnam in the Summer of 1945

Another interesting pinprick of history here is that elderly people (now) in Hanoi who were on hand to witness Uncle Ho’s Declaration of Independence have told me that during the course of Uncle Ho’s speech, they looked up in the sky above his head and could see the insignia on an American warplane flying overhead (to presumably witness this historic event or to show support).
We were friends with Uncle Ho then and today, he would be pleased that the United States and Vietnam are now friends once again.

Happy 65th Independence Day!


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