News & Articles

Việt Nam Notes – Saturday, 05 July 2020

News updates, opinions, essays, and criticisms from Viet Nam and elsewhere.

Compiled by Chuck Searcy

Hundreds of Vietnamese citizens are brought safely back home from Australia, New Zealand and South Asian countries

On July 3, a flight of more than 350 Vietnamese citizens from Australia and New Zealand landed at Tan Son Nhat airport and passengers were isolated.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said passengers included children under 18 years of age, elderly people, pregnant women, sick people, out-of-contract workers, people with no place of residence, students without accommodations because of closed dormitories, and other cases in particular difficulty. After landing at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, the citizens were put under medical supervision and isolated accordingly.  In recent months, thousands of Vietnamese citizens have returned from many countries including the US, Japan, South Korea, and African nations.

Vietnamese citizens in foreign countries go through carefully arranged departure procedures to return home to Viet Nam safely, without bringing
the Corona virus with them.  (Illustration)

Flights will continue, Vietnamese authorities said, to bring citizens back to Viet Nam, although arrangements are complicated because of medical situations in other countries, the wishes and aspirations of Vietnamese citizens, and the capacity to isolate localities where they originate.  A previous flight, for example, on July 2, 2020, required coordination among the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other Vietnamese authorities, Embassies in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and about 200 Vietnamese citizens from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives.  On the flight were children under the age of 18, international students who had completed their studies, Buddhist monks and nuns and others engaged in meditation returning home due to closure of meditation schools, travelers who got trapped with nowhere to go, and laborers whose contracts had ended who had gone many months without pay.  Because other international travelers were also on the flight, special procedures were arranged to allow citizens from Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives to transit in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for connecting flights.  Vietnamese Embassies at those stops sent officials to the airports to to guide and assist citizens in completing the necessary procedures.  [SOURCE]

Việt Nam will speed up research for COVID-19 vaccine

Taking a blood sample of a mouse to test the COVID-19 vaccine being
developed by Việt Nam. Photo suckhoedoisong.vn

Việt Nam will mobilise resources to accelerate the progress of creating a COVID-19 vaccine, the Ministry of Health said this week.  The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Việt Nam has shown positive testing results on animals, serving as an important foundation to progress and complete the vaccine, according to the ministry. Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Nguyễn Thanh Long said a number of countries had tested COVID-19 vaccines on mice and chickens before moving on to apes, and eventually human trials. Vietnamese scientists are working on developing a COVID-19 vaccine and plan to manufacture a large quantity of vaccines.  Việt Nam News reported that Deputy PM Vũ Đức Đam expressed hope that the WHO and other international organisations could help share Vietnamese COVID-19 testing products with other countries in the global fight against the pandemic. [MORE]

Who controls Gilead Sciences?

The US pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences, is producing a COVID-19 treatment which was rapidly approved by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and praised by the World Health Organization (WHO).  Former Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, was chair of the board and remains a top shareholder. That, in itself, may not be a cause for scrutiny or questions about the company or the integrity of the approval process.  However, it is causing much discussion among medical and pharmaceutical professionals, as well as Wall Street brokers.  NPR weighs in with this report, Might The Experimental Drug Remdesivir Work Against COVID-19? (NPR, 2020).

With a coronavirus vaccine at least a year away, some scientists are investigating existing medicines and compounds that might work as effective treatments. That’s one reason Remdesivir is in the spotlight. Keith Speights, who appears to be a healthcare technology investment advisor, thinks Remdesivir could eventually pay off for shareholders, but he also sounds a note of caution in this article:  Why Is Everyone Talking About Gilead Sciences? Chinese health officials scrambled to begin two clinical studies evaluating remdesivir in treating patients with COVID-19. Gilead provided the drug at no charge for these studies and gave input on how the studies should be designed and conducted. In late February 2020, the National Institutes for Health (NIH) began the first U.S. clinical trials of remdesivir in treating COVID-19. Gilead also initiated two late-stage clinical studies of its own in Asian countries and other countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases in early March. World Health Organization assistant director-general Bruce Aylward even said that remdesivir is the “one drug right now that we think may have efficacy.” Yahoo Finance reports that the coronavirus’ grip on the market continues. Since the beginning of February, the S&P 500 has shed 8.5% of its value, but amidst the bloodbath one specific group of stocks is holding up. These are the drug companies researching treatments, including Gilead Sciences (GILD).  In contrast to the broader market, GILD stock is up 23% year-to-date. [MORE]

Gilead’s allowance for compulsory remdesivir license needlessly limits supply

Brook K. Baker at Northeastern University, writing in IP-Health, says that Gilead “has experienced well-earned outrage since its announcement of a $3,120 price tag to insurers for remdesivir” with a slightly lower price of $2340 for U.S. government buyers and buyers in other developed countries. Baker argues that “for a medicine with no proven benefit on survivability, that has received huge public subsidies, and that can be produced for an estimated cost of $5.58 (for a five-day course of treatment) and which is already being sold for as little as $400 by generics – Gilead has a lot of nerve.” In addition to nerve, Baker says that Gilead has shown callow and callous favoritism, having supplied 60% of its initial remdesivir donations to the U.S. and now committing almost all the next three months’ production, 500,000 doses, to the U.S., leaving every other country in the world out in the cold.  There’s more.  [MORE] [MORE]

Internet back to normal in Vietnam as undersea cable is fixed

Vietnam’s Internet speed is back to normal after its international partners repaired the Asia Pacific Gateway cable (APG), according to Submarine Telecomms Forum.  Repairs to branches of the cable connecting Vietnam with Singapore and Hong Kong were completed a week ago, on Saturday night, two days ahead of schedule.  The APG cable runs 10,400 kilometers (6,460 miles) under the Pacific Ocean, linking Japan with Hong Kong, mainland China, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Earlier the disaster-prone Asia Africa Europe (AAE-1) and Asia America Gateway (AAG) cables also broke down and were repaired in the first week of June. AAE-1 is a 25,000-km submarine communications cable system running from Southeast Asia to Europe through Egypt.  The $560-million AAG, which handles more than 60 percent of Vietnam’s international Internet traffic, runs more than 20,000 kilometers (12,420 miles) from Southeast Asia to the U.S. through Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Vietnam, where more than 64 percent of the population is online, is linked by six submarine cable systems plus a 120 gigabit channel that runs overland through China. [SOURCE]

Vietnam’s public loudspeaker system: a means of communication to combat COVID-19

Anyone who has visited Viet Nam and stayed in a typical hotel on a busy street has probably been awakened by early morning announcements blared from loudspeakers nested in a maze of wires and cables on utility poles every few blocks.  Americans who were early arrivals here, when the U.S. and Viet Nam normalized diplomatic relations in 1995, at first assumed these were government “propaganda” messages to remind local people who was in charge.  Actually, while there may have been political announcements, we soon learned that most of the messages had to do with safety warnings, reminders for parents to vaccinate their kids, or admonishments to vote on the last day that the polling places would be open.  In Quang Tri Province, Project RENEW made use of loudspeaker announcements to remind children and their parents of the importance of caution against bombs and mines and the urgency of reporting such deadly ordnance when it was found on a roadside or in a school yard.

Visitors to Ha Noi and local residents easily recognize public loudspeakers nested in a web of cables and utility lines on many street corners. Photo:  Thuy Pham

In this article from New Mandala by Dr. Toan Dang, who has a PhD from Western Sydney University and a Master’s from the University of Queensland in Australia, the author notes that the loudspeaker system also played a positive role in alerting Viet Nam’s citizenry to the dangers of COVID-19 and the urgency of complying with all safety measures promoted by the Ministry of Health. Dr. Toan points out that “one unique way the Government responded was by heavily relying on communication through Vietnam’s public loudspeaker system, available in every community across the country as an old-style communication channel between ward level government and local residents.” [MORE]

Vietnam backs plans to develop nearly 7000MW of new wind power

According to Forbes Vietnam, the VN government has approved a proposal to add a series of wind power plants to the national power development plan, with a combined capacity of nearly 7,000 MW.  The decision was approved based on a proposal from the Ministry of Industry and Trade with the goal of ensuring power supply in 2021-2023 in the context of large power projects currently facing implementation delays. [MORE]

Sharp’s Energy Unit Builds 45-Megawatt Solar Farm in Vietnam

Bloomberg News reports that Sharp Corp. completed construction of a 45-megawatt solar farm in Ninh Thuan Province in Viet Nam.  The project raises Sharp’s solar capacity to 290 megawatts in Viet Nam, contributing to the government’s target of boosting solar generation capacity to 12 gigawatts by 2030.  [MORE]

Germany will require all petrol stations to provide electric car charging

Reuters reports that Germany will require all petrol stations to offer electric car charging to help remove refueling concerns and boost consumer demand for the vehicles as part of its 130 billion euro economic recovery plan.  According to Statista.com, as of March 2020 the U.S. had approximately 78,500 charging outlets and almost 25,000 charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles (EVs). (More than most of us would have guessed, I would guess.)  [MORE] [MORE]

Hanoi’s economy expands 3.39% in first six months

Nhân Dân Online reports that Hanoi’s gross regional domestic product (GRDP) during the first six months of 2020 rose 3.39% compared to the same period last year, The industry-construction sector expanded by 5.94% while the service sector increased only 2.59%, due to heavy affects from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the agriculture sector rose 1.61%.  In the six-month period, Hanoi also attracted US$1.2 billion worth of foreign direct investment (FDI), up 4.9% over the same period last year. [MORE]  Viet Nam also reported a trade surplus of US$4 billion for the first six months of this year, a sharp increase compared to the same period last year despite considerable impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO). [MORE]


Vietnam’s retail sales rise 6.2% in June

Total retail sales in the first six months of this year decreased by 0.8% over the corresponding period last year. (Illustrative image)

Nhân Dân Online also reports that Vietnam’s total retail sales of goods and services in June were reported at VND431 trillion (about US$18.6 billion), an increase of 6.2% compared to the previous month and up 5.3% over the same period last year, as announced by the General Statistics Office.  However, the retail revenue of goods and services in the second quarter of this year fell by 5.8% over the previous quarter and by 4.6% over the same period last year, mainly due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The total retail sales in the first six months of this year decreased by 0.8% over the corresponding period last year.  [MORE]

The balancing act: How Vietnam should manage the superpowers

For decades, Vietnam has been a geopolitically significant theatre of competition for the superpowers. Today, leaders in Hanoi must navigate and leverage the competing interests of China, the US and Russia to protect its citizens, national integrity and economy.  in this essay in the Southeast Asia Globe, Alex Shykov explores Viet Nam’s options, and the risks it faces.  Shykov is an Intelligence Analyst at Concentric Advisors. Previously, he was a resident James A. Kelly Korea Fellow at Pacific Forum and a Research Associate at the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR). He holds a Master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. [MORE]

Hawaii continues exploring options for removal of unexploded ordnance at Molokini

The state continues to explore options for the safe removal of unexploded ordnance at Molokini Crater in Maui County.  “Balancing public safety, while providing a high level of protection for the aquatic environment are the overarching considerations being discussed by the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Hawai‘i Department of Health (DLNR),” said state officials as they consider the safe remediation of two WWII-era bombs off of Molokini Crater in Maui County, in state ocean waters.  Recent social media postings have suggested, that the US Navy, with the State’s concurrence, plan to “blow up Molokini.” DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said, “We continue a careful and deliberative process to identify the best strategy to render this unexploded ordnance (UXO) safe while protecting the marine environment. This process began more than six months ago, and no final decisions have been made and will not be made without public engagement. It’s important we hear from stakeholders.” The state agencies are asking people to be patient, to let the process continue, and to arm themselves with accurate information, in order to knowledgeably contribute to the upcoming public discourse about how to render UXO around Molokini safe. [MORE]

Fragmentary intel on Russian plot to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan

Mark Thompson’s column called “The Bunker” is published regularly by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). Thompson labels his research and commentary “military intelligence for the rest of us.”  Here he asks the question: Did the Russians pay its allies in Afghanistan to kill U.S. troops there, as The New York Times reported June 26? “It’s amazing how quickly such shadowy intelligence can cleave opinion into two warring camps,” Thompson notes.  [MORE]

Vietnam, US war veterans meet at historic Ham Rong Bridge

War veterans from Vietnam and the U.S. joined together at the Ham Rong Bridge in Thanh Hoa Province this week to commemorate the 25th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Viet Nam.  U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink and Embassy staff, along with American veterans who live in Viet Nam, were welcomed by Vietnamese veterans who were former enemies a half century ago.  The site of the event, the Ham Rong Bridge – translated as “Dragon’s Jaw” in Vietnamese – is a famous wartime target which U.S. fighter jets tried numerous times to destroy, with little success.  The effort almost became an obsession and, in fact, turned out to be a very costly mission in loss of lives and aircraft.  On one day, April 4, 1965, U.S. F-105s attempted a daring raid which the American pilots described as “like trying to hit a needle in a haystack” or “to kill a fly with a sledgehammer.”  Two F-105s were downed by MIG fighter jets piloted by North Vietnamese (the bridge is located in the north, about 160km south of Ha Noi and about 400km north of the DMZ).  The bridge was damaged, but not taken out.  An interesting and detailed account of the bridge saga can be found at The Aviationist.  More photos can be seen at Vietnam-Plus [HERE].

Garrison Keillor and a modest proposal: Make today a new day

Garrison Keillor of the old Prairie Home Companion radio show still writes occasional whimsical prose and poetry and reminds us that some things in this complicated world can be made simpler.  Keillor writes, “If we decide that 2021 is a new start and we start looking forward with a clear eye, then we can get somewhere. If Mississippi can finally surrender the Confederacy and take down its flag, there’s hope for the rest of us. The city of Washington is an object of general scorn and abuse across the land. Let’s wipe the slate clean, rename it Emerson, and restart the idea of good government and common sense. We desperately need his optimism.”  [MORE]