US SecDef Mattis’ Vietnam Visit and Mother Mushroom’s release

Ms. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a well-known Vietnamese human rights activist, was released from a jail and extradited to the U.S. on 17th October. Her release has just come into the same timing of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to Vietnam, leading to a speculation of the two events’ correlation.

On the day of her release, Secretary Mattis toured Bien Hoa airport, a former Agent Orange storage site out of the Vietnam War in suburb of Ho Chi Minh City, where the U.S. will launch a program to clean contaminated soil early next year (photo from the US Embassy in Vietnam). Mattis told Vietnam’s Defense Minister, General Ngo Xuan Lich, “I came to show the support of the Defense Department for this project and demonstrate that the United States makes good on its promises.” The News of Ms Quynh’s release emerged soon after Mattis left Vietnam.

Neither the Pentagon nor the Vietnamese government did provide any comments on the timing of her release; it doesn’t seem like just a coincidence that Ms. Quynh, whose release the U.S. had sought for, was freed on the same day the U.S. reaffirmed its commitment to address a legacy of the Vietnam War.

Ms. Quynh, known as “Mother Mushroom”, was a prominent blogger on political and environmental issues. She was arrested in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in jail for “distributing propaganda against the state” in June 2017. The U.S. had, on the other had, criticized her detention and awarded her with “International Woman of Courage Award” in Mach 2017, which First Lady Melania Trump presented.

Secretary Mattis’ visit to Bien Hoa airport further advanced U.S.-Vietnam relations, which would work  to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Vietnam showed its consideration towards human rights by releasing Ms. Quynh, and re-emphasized its commitment to enhance the relations with U.S. in the run-up to its drastic leadership change, in which General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong concurrently assumes the post of President in the following week. Some observers say that her release will smooth Mr. Trong’s visit to the U.S. possibly later this year. Meanwhile, the U.S. displayed that the Trump administration’s continuing concern about human rights situation abroad.

Ms. Quynh’s unexpected release can be noted as a diplomatic achievement of the two countries’ deliberate efforts to secure mutual interests.

(Akihide Mori, Vietnam watcher)