Tag Archives: Vietnam communications

Hosting Asia’s Tech Geeks in Hanoi

Vietnam has been selected to host ASOCIO, the trade organization of 10,000 mostly-Asian information and communication technology companies based in 29 countries.  The event, scheduled in Hanoi for late October, is emblematic of Vietnam’s meteoric rise in technology.

The first time Vietnam hosted the annual convention, 11 years ago, the industry barely existed in the country.  In 2003, less than 5% of Vietnamese people had access to the Internet.

Since then, Internet usage has grown to 35%, and Vietnam’s hardware and software industries are experiencing annual growth rates in the 30% to 40% range.

ASOCIO says the organization chose Vietnam because of its rapidly rising capacity and prestige in information and communications technology — and cited Vietnam’s vision, policies and strategies.  Vietnam is positioning itself to become a major global tech center.

Vietnam’s Outbreak of Measles and Outrage

Says another: “How many more children have to die before you declare an epidemic?  If you still have some dignity, please resign and give the position to someone else with better qualifications and more willingness to do the job so that the people will suffer less.”

Other Internet comments suggest health officials are downplaying the crisis because of Vietnam’s  commitments to eradicate measles by 2017 — inspiring this caustic Facebook post:  “Through this we can see how talented our health minister is—too talented. Her motto is listening to no one, knowing nothing, seeing nothing.”

Criticism escalated when Tien seemed to minimize the undeclared epidemic by contending only 25 deaths were technically attributable to measles, even though scores children have died as a result of measles-related complications such as pneumonia.

The World Health Organization says it is “very concerned” about the outbreak, partly because WHO and UNICEF undertook an apparently less-than-successful vaccination campaign to eliminate measles from Vietnam by 2012.

In the age of the Internet, the message for Vietnam is the same as that for government agencies worldwide:  Google knows and Facebook shares.


What Flappy Bird Tells Us about Vietnam

If you don’t think Vietnam has arrived yet as a player in the global economy, consider the case of Flappy Bird.  The sensational smart phone app dominated downloads of games on android and iTunes until its creator yanked it from the Internet last weekend.

The Flappy Bird inventor is a Vietnamese software engineer named Dong Nguyen, who lives with his parents in Hanoi.  He withdrew the app — even though it was bringing in up to $50,000 a day in ad revenue — because he was tired of the notoriety that was ruining his tranquil life.

A few years ago, millions of people in Vietnam didn’t have electricity, land lines, computers or access to the Internet — much less smart phones, and nobody in the Western world could have imagined a 29-year-old Vietnamese geek inventing a silly game that would consume hundreds of millions of hours that could otherwise have been spent on something more productive.  Yet that is exactly what has happened since Dong released Flappy Bird to the global economy last May.

Dong’s critics — and there are many of them — question whether he withdrew the game from the market as a publicity stunt to get people to focus on his next act.  He says the game disappeared because it is too addictive and because the international attention caused him too much grief.

A broader explanation might be cultural:  Vietnam has changed so dramatically and so fast that sometimes its ways of life cannot catch up with technology and market realities.  One of the cultural attributes of traditional Vietnam is a tendency not to bring attention to oneself — to be unassuming, modest, shy.  Could that be part of the reason Dong wants to get his life back?

The lesson for Western investors is they are well advised to learn the difference between cultural modesty and lack of initiative.  Vietnam is full of Dong Nguyens — millions of brainy entrepreneurs prepared to transform their own country and, in the process, infuse the world with Flappy Birds.





Silencing Foreign Television in Vietnam

Vietnam’s mass communications regulators are risking cutting off their information-obsessed citizens from TV stations CNN, BBC, Discovery, CNBC and others by requiring them to pay for translation of all their programming into Vietnamese.

That may not happen in some cases, and the decree that took effect last week could simultaneously stifle millions in the entrepreneurial Vietnamese workforce from getting information they crave and undermine their passion to learn English.

It may be understandable that the government wants to preserve Vietnamese culture, including the language, but at what cost?  Vietnam government  French broadcaster Canal+ and Vietnam’s national TV broadcaster suspended retransmission of 21 TV channels, and Reporters Without Borders complained the decree is too costly and facilitates censorship.

The simultaneous translation decree applies to four categories: movies, news, educational programs, and entertainment (including sports and music).  Some stations — Cinemax, Fox Sports, and others — have already met the translation requirement and obtained licenses from Vietnam’s information ministry. Sixteen stations have yet to comply, and some probably never will.

Vietnam’s plunge into the 21st Century global economy can be painful for traditionalists.  Even so, for Vietnam’s millions of hungry capitalists, it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle.




How Vietnam Regulates Freedom

By definition, every nation has boundaries, including limits on free speech; you can say whatever you want on the Internet or elsewhere as long as you don’t break the law.

So it should be no surprise that Vietnam disagrees with a critical report issued this month by the US State Department as well as the European Parliament’s recent criticism of Vietnam’s record on free speech, press and association.

Yes, Vietnam has been putting pro-democracy bloggers in prison lately, but not because they were exercising their rights of free expression; it’s because they were breaking the law.  That is the essence of any government’s (including USA’s) point of view when citizens face sanctions for doing something of which the government disapproves.

Hanoi-based Voice of Vietnam radio interviewed  Nguyen Thanh Son, Vietnam’s  chief human rights officer, who said the critical human rights reports are false and biased.

“Vietnamese law clearly stipulates how human rights are ensured in the freedom of speech, assembly and association on the Internet,” he said.  “The country now has more than 700 print newspapers, 1,000 online newspapers and approximately 31 million Internet users.  These figures show that there is no limit to speech and Internet freedom in Vietnam.”

Then he added:

“Some Vietnamese citizens have made bad use of the rights to the freedom of speech in an attempt to destabilize the situation in the country.  They take advantage of websites to incite people and distort information about Party guidelines and policies and State laws regarding human rights.

“We have repeatedly told the US and Western nations that all law-breaking bloggers should be strictly dealt with.”

The reporter commented: “Freedom must be exercised within the law without infringing on others’ prestige or social security and order. Do you agree the freedom of speech in Vietnam is no exception?”

Son:  “I think so.  Freedom of speech, assembly and association on the Internet must be regulated by law in order to maintain social order and ensure security.”

Therefore, Vietnam (like all nations) faces a conundrum:  How do you regulate freedom?  If you regulate it, is it freedom?

Can Vietnam manage Its Generation Gap?

A blogger on ZDNet, the global online resource for IT professionals, observes this week that the government hoping to use the Internet to engage Vietnam’s tens of millions of young people is the same government that  jails bloggers for posting political dissent.

Vietnam is building an online social network for its youth, its prime minister told the Communist Youth Union in Hanoi last weekend.  He said the government needs to educate young people in patriotism, love for the nation, and love for the government.

Imprisoning bloggers may not be a good way to get the younger generation to love their government, but it illustrates the challenge every generation faces as it tries to control young people.  Rational elders usually figure out, sooner of later, that youths are hard to control but end up loyal to their country and respectful of their elders anyway.

The telecommunications gap between Vietnam’s young people (under 30?) and the ruling elite is staggering — and not only because technology has evolved rapidly.

Vietnam is only a generation removed from starvation poverty.  It’s ruling elders experienced first hand the tragedy of war and the pain of hunger.  Every one of them has a gripping personal story of sorrow.  Certainly they want to stay in power (and see bloggers as threatening) — but many of them also want to spare their country’s children of the suffering they experienced.

What have Vietnam’s young people experienced?  A global revolution in popular culture, and the freedom to exploit opportunity in one of the world’s most dynamic frontier economies.

A powerful generation clash became inevitable when Vietnam opened itself to free enterprise and international trade.  The young Vietnamese and their government love their country; and they will figure out how to honor each other as the telecommunications revolution exposes Vietnam’s growing pains.

Vietnam’s Tired Anti-American Propaganda

CBS started a controversy last weekend when it sent Amazing Race contestants to the B-52 wreckage in Hanoi that celebrates Vietnam’s triumph over US imperialism 40 years ago.  The American Legion said the episode promoted communist propaganda and disrespected Vietnam veterans, especially the men who were shot down in the aircraft decades ago.

But there’s an irony here.  Even as the wreckage memorializes the defeat of the USA, history shows the Americans achieved their central goal there: economic freedom.

CBS showcased one of Vietnam's ugliest sights
CBS showcased one of Vietnam’s ugliest sights

Vietnam is governed by a Communist Party that doesn’t tolerate much criticism, but free enterprise, more than communism, rules the economy.  And the cold-warriors that aimed to stop the spread of communism at the China border prevailed in the end.

Today, Western tourists who visit Vietnam’s many war memorials and museums subject themselves to intense propaganda.  These sites and the high school history books demonize Americans and glorify the Communist victors.  But the message is as obsolete as the wrecked aircraft that serves as its emblem.

In fact, Vietnamese people for the most part worship American culture and technology.  As a whole, they crave the fruits of free enterprize.  Diplomatic, and even military, relations between Vietnam and the US are warm and getting warmer.

I hope Vietnam’s leaders consider getting rid of — or at least toning down — the tired, hostile propaganda the permeates their otherwise spectacularly promising country.  What purpose does it serve to provide CBS with war wreckage as a backdrop when the network should be showcasing world-class art, wildlife, cuisine, temples, commerce, and beaches?

As for CBS, here are places the network could visit to showcase the Vietnam of today — Vietnam slide show — and if the network insists on the war theme, the site pictured below would be more appropriate.  It’s one of scores of cemeteries for Vietnamese war veterans, this one in the central highlands city of Buon Me Thuot.

Powershot 1360


Free Enterprise (But Not Expression) in Vietnam

Vietnam says 85% of its people will have access to broadband within two years.  What each individual does with that access will determine whether he or she ends up living in luxury or prison.

Government leaders know Vietnam’s continued rapid economic development depends partly on Internet access, but they don’t want citizens challenging authority, government policies or, especially, the one-party system that keeps the current regime in power.

So Vietnam is leap-frogging generations of communications technology, such as skipping fixed-lined infrastructure, and getting the latest smart phones in the homes of remote villagers who only recently got access to electricity.

But anyone who uses state-of-the art technology to bite the hand that feeds them, as bloggers do worldwide, risks the fate of Nguyen Dac Kien, the journalist who was fired last month from a state-run newspaper and threatened with prosecution for criticizing a Communist Party leader on his personal website.

Vietnam faces a big challenge managing the freedoms that the communications revolution has brought.  Vietnam’s economy can’t thrive without technology that facilitates free enterprize — but its one-party system may not survive if the same technology facilitates free expression.

Terrorists, Subversives and Vietnam’s Economy

Vietnam took an important step this week toward stabilizing the political climate that undermines its global economic aspirations.  The country released and deported a popular Vietnamese American activist who had been accused of conspiring to overthrow the Communist government.

Authorities said activist Nguyen Quoc Quan, accused of terrorism when he was arrested in Saigon last April, confessed to a downgraded crime of subversion and asked for leniency to be reunited with his family in California.  The US sought his release; supporters say he is a nonviolent advocate of democratic reforms in Vietnam.

Hanoi’s action represents a significant departure from past practice:  prison terms for dissidents — sentences that inspire headlines across the world highlighting Vietnam’s human rights record.  The latest was in January when 14 political activists were sentenced to prison.

Are these cases examples of political oppression or measures necessary for national security?  Regardless of your point of view, they are bad for business.  They raise anxiety among global corporations that wonder whether their investments in Vietnam are sound and  safe.

Although Vietnam is objectively one of the best investment opportunities among the world’s frontier markets, it has serious economic challenges.  The country, especially its economy, needs positive public relations on a global scale, and freeing Nguyen Quoc Quan is a step in the right direction.  It helps defuse the still-lingering hostility between Vietnamese Americans and the ruling government of Vietnam.  And it promotes healthy Vietnam-US diplomatic relations, military cooperation and trade.

Today’s Vietnam in Pictures


After travel this fall through 25 provinces in Vietnam — from the Mekong Delta to the Chinese border — I’ve compiled a 5-minute slide show.  Our trip was to evaluate the investment climate in this promising frontier market, and to grow our coffee brand (www.templehillsonline.com).

The photos will give you a feel for Vietnam today.

Click here for the photos. For captions, click “show info” at the top right.


Jeff Browne — 262-641-0737 (o); 262-271-7330 (c)

jbrowne@vietnomics.com http://www.vietnomics.com

The address for the slides: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vietnomics/sets/72157632231224520/show/


Vietnomics LLC, through partnerships in the US and in Vietnam, is a global sourcing consultancy that links US and VN investors and companies. Our advisors provide cultural training and services regarding sourcing, marketing, investing, government relations, factory evaluation, social investment and legal solutions. We provide quarterly updates and frequent blog posts (vietnomics.wordpress.com) about opportunities in Vietnam.