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March 17, 2023



Nikkei Asia recently published an article by Dien Luong entitled Vietnam and South Korea Have to Address Wartime Legacy Together. The article brought forward a situation dating back to the Vietnam War that few people outside of those countries had any knowledge. The two countries have become very closely connected through large Korean investments in Vietnam to manufacture a host of products including electronics.  For example, Samsung Electronics, Korea’s top exporter and the world biggest seller of mobile phones, is building most of its handsets in Vietnam.


Nonetheless, a ruling by a court in Seoul has raised questions about the strength of the relationship foundations of the two countries given a little-known event concerning the extent of South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  The civil court ruled that the Korean government should be accountable for the massacre of seventy unarmed Vietnamese civilians which comes as a shock to both countries.  Moreover, the Korean government was ordered to pay $23,600 to 62-year-old survivor Nguyen Thi Thanh, shown below, who lost several relatives in the massacre.  The presence of 320,000 Korean troops in Vietnam during the war was lost in the files of the two countries given the many billions of dollars that Korea has pumped into the Vietnamese economy.   

The irony of this situation is that South Korean groups have sought payments from the Japanese government for atrocities committed by Japanese troops during its occupation of the Korean Peninsula before and during World War II.  Moreover, movements in Vietnam have campaigned for reparations from the U.S. Government to be paid to Vietnamese affected by the spraying of Agent Orange as a defoliant.  The Vietnamese are not alone in the suffering resulting from Agent Orange, as U.S. troops spraying it from vehicles as shown here were equally exposed.  However, the greatest volumes of defoliant in this insane approach to warfare were delivered from aircraft which impacted many Vietnamese civilians.

On the other hand, Hanoi has never publicly asked for an apology from Korea for killing as many as 9,000 Vietnamese civilians during the war based upon a South Korean researcher’s effort of interviewing survivors and witnesses.  A Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson declined to say whether Hanoi would follow up on the court ruling, instead reiterating the importance of the countries’ strategic partnership in the spirit of “leaving the past behind and looking forward to the future.” The reaction of the Korean Government remains to be seen as to the action of one of their district courts. 


In my corporate life, I have had a deep involvement in Vietnam since 1996. We initiated two oil exploration and development ventures offshore Vietnam with the State Oil Companies of both Vietnam and Thailand.  Through those efforts we invested $1 billion in Vietnam, returned $3 billion to the Vietnamese government, donated over $3 million to charitable causes including Agent Orange victims and provided over $2 million to student education. 


Our educational projects began many years ago by building a small school in Cuu Chi District Province near Ho Chi Minh City, home to the famous Cuu Chi tunnel complex which was a well-known Viet Cong sanctuary.  The tunnels were the targets of endless U.S. B-52 bombings resulting in a long list of Vietnamese mothers who had lost multiple children in the war.  We waited for the Prime Minister’s arrival from Hanoi in the Communist Party Headquarters where memorial plaques honored those mothers which created a very somber atmosphere.  The Prime Minister’s involvement, on my right below, represented an entirely new world for our relationships and our way forward.  Creating educational facilities for future generations seemed to be most appropriate.

The other gratifying aspect of educational support is the enthusiasm of Vietnamese students to learn and better themselves as shown below with our financial officer following the presentation of a school grant to broaden their horizons.  Most of us have come a long way from the stupid interference of one sovereign power into the affairs of others which seems to be the disease of dictators and former colonialists.

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