Thirty-five years after end of the Vietnam War, the journalists’ gathering here to celebrate their own separate anniversary seemed to pose the ultimate of ironies, reliving privileges they once practiced here, such as freedom of speech, that are still often denied native Vietnamese living on the streets below.
Still, there are no shortages of cheerleaders in Vietnam. Gushing praise for the leadership in Hanoi is sprinkled liberally across the pages of state-owned newspapers. To report anything else would risk accusations of unpatriotic behavior and even treason.
To minimise the risks of negative reporting, foreign correspondents have been barred from living in old Saigon since April 30, 1975—the day Russian-made tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace, signalling an end to South Vietnam.
Visits to Ho Chi Minh City by Hanoi-based journalists require special permission—letters to bureaucrats who can sit on a passport for weeks. Once obtained, costly government guides are appointed and the list of dos and don’ts ensures honest reporting is blunted by well-intentioned minders….
After invading Vietnam in 1979, and the pursuit of a phony war throughout the 1980s, Barton says China only made its peace with its ‘Little Sister’ in 1990. It’s a moniker widely loathed in Hanoi when used by the Chinese. But officials in the Vietnamese capital have added their own twist and often use it to brand Ho Chi Minh City as its ‘Naughty Little Sister,’ a term signifying the city’s traditional reputation for vice, hedonistic pleasures and recalcitrant attitudes to the North.
‘Today…the Dragon and the Tiger are rising in tandem, with each seeming to welcome the success of the other,’ Barton says in regards to China and Vietnam. ‘If the West wants to understand China and how best to engage with it, then it will find no more knowledgeable and serious guide than Vietnam. That fact alone means that in the “Age of China” we should be paying much more attention to Vietnam than we have been in the habit of doing.’