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July 09, 2023





I have had a successful commercial involvement in Vietnam for some thirty-five years.  I like the country, the food and, more importantly, admire the Vietnamese for their resilience and interpersonal strength.  Yes, they have had serious issues with their neighbors and the western world.  Most of those difficulties arose out of a chasmic lack of understanding by their adversaries who have paid dearly by not studying the history of Vietnam.  The Diplomat recently published an article entitled Remembering Vietnam’s Great Famine by Christelle Nguyen which is a little-known chapter in the history of Vietnam that galvanized the population to support the Viet Minh independence movement and, later, the Communist Party of Vietnam.  The Great Famine of 1945 resulted in the deaths of up to two million people in northern Vietnam that is beyond the ability of most people today to comprehend as illustrated below.

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The Great Famine of 1945 took place in Tonkin and Annam under French and Japanese occupation when an unbelievable number of people starved to death in what is now Hanoi, the capital city of prosperous Vietnam.  The fundamental building block of Viet Minh propaganda was the need for proper land cultivation to prevent another famine.  If your French language capability is up to speed, you might want to read “d’Histoire D’Outre-Mer” though it may not be available at your nearest bookstore. 

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Following the defeat of the French by the Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, there is scant evidence of their former presence other than some of their colonial buildings, strong coffee, and beignets.  Recently, I had a conversation with an executive of a large French oil company regarding them joining us in a project in Vietnam.  The French executive admitted they would have to take the “new country” to their board of directors for approval.  Therefore, when the French left Indochine, it was pretty much a permanent adieu.

Nonetheless, the other foreign hands present in 1945 were the Japanese and a recent article in

Viet Nam News (note spelling difference in Vietnamese) said it all, PM Praises Japan’s Contributions to Viet Nam’s Growth.  Prime Minister Chinh made his remarks at a high-level economic conference in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Viet Nam-Japanese relations shown below.  He stated that sixty percent of Japanese companies want to do business in Viet Nam.  Moreover, Japan has contributed over US $ 22 billion in aid and investment over that period.  Prime Minister Chinh is also aware that our modest company of SOCO Vietnam has invested over $1 billion in Vietnam and generated over $3 billion in revenues to his government.

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Historically, China and Vietnam have had their issues that date back to the “Khan” Mongolian days when an invasion of Vietnam failed as did their invasion of Japan.  Perhaps there is a message in that bit of history.  The Chinese may remain a potential threat to Vietnam though “Emperor Xi Jinping” has surely consulted his own history books before he makes any untoward moves.  To make matters worse in the “Post Pandemic Era,” the economy of Vietnam is skyrocketing while China’s rate of economic growth seems to be contracting a bit.  “Asian Flu” symptoms are appearing because of an aging population facing empty skyscraper condominium complexes.  I would add that China strictly observes their own established offshore boundaries with Vietnam as do we when we conduct oil and gas operations in the South China Sea. 

On the other hand, China seems to be taking a rear-guard approach onshore through their heavily influenced and financially dependent Cambodia.  The Bangkok Post recently published Work Begins on 2nd Chinese-Invested Expressway in Cambodia.  If you look carefully below, ground is being broken in the capital of Phnom Penh to connect an expressway to the border of Vietnam. 

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Hun Sen, the former Khmer Rouge, and current ruler-for-life of Cambodia is shown below smiling as he shakes hands with the China Road and Bridge Corporation partner in the development of the expressway.  China’s Belt and Road Campaign has worked well in Laos and is thriving in Cambodia as well.  Somehow, the campaign seems to be much more than creating Chinese vassal states to include providing China ready access to the neighboring countries of Thailand with a high-speed railroad and a modern expressway to the back door of Vietnam by way of Cambodia.  Hun Sen seems pleased, but you can rest assured the Vietnamese are keeping an eye on this project.

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