The Asia Institute opened it Hanoi office on Friday, December 14, 2018, complete with a series of speeches by dignitaries and a symposium on Vietnam’s importance.

                         Symposium

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Moderator

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

Head of Division of Scientific Management and International Cooperation

Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Arts Studies

 Emanuel Pastreich

Director

The Asia Institute

Seoul

Jung Woojin

Director

The Asia Institute

Hanoi

 

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

What led you to plan for an Asia Institute office in Vietnam?

Emanuel Pastreich

The decision to open an office in Hanoi for Asia Institute has tremendous historical significance. We have witnessed many efforts to integrate Vietnam into some abstract international order before, and international institutions have served their limited role. But especially with regards to the United States, or other developed nations, none of the institutions leading those exchanges have treated  Vietnam as an equal, or imagined that Vietnam itself can be a central player in a larger architecture for peace and the betterment of humanity.

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

Why do you think Vietnam will play such a critical role? What led you to this realization?

Emanuel Pastreich

When I started my undergraduate studies at Yale University in 1983, I wanted to study Vietnamese, but there were no classes offered. Ultimately, I decided to study Chinese and to focus on Asia. That work would also lead to studying Japanese and Korean for many years and research and advocacy throughout Northeast Asia.

I wanted to study Vietnamese since high school because I was aware of the tremendous damage that the United States had done to Vietnam, and the blind cruelty that United States policy supported. The causes were diverse, but part of the reason lay with the total ignorance about Vietnam as a nation. People did not know that Vietnam had a proud history or that it had been subject to brutal colonialism. That ignorance meant that it was easy for them to accept myths and fictions.

We still have this problem even today at international think tanks. American experts talk about Vietnam buying weapons systems, or being part of a free trade system, but they know nothing about Vietnam’s tremendous tradition of good governance, about its intellectual tradition and its art and literature dating back thousands of years. They may suggest how Vietnam can adopt Western policies, but they will never imagine that diplomatic policies of the Ly Dynasty could be helpful to Europe or the United States. They have not even started to consider what treasures lie in Vietnam’s history.

We are extremely excited to launch the Vietnam office of the Asia Institute now. We see the tremendous intellectual vigor of Vietnamese scholars, government officials and students as a tremendous blessing. We expect to gain many inspiring ideas about what directions Asia, and the world, can go from our friends here.

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

What is it about Vietnam that suggests it is ready to play such a role?

 

Jung Woojin

I have found my teaching at Vietnam National University in the social sciences and humanities to be deeply rewarding and I have learned a tremendous amount from the other faculty, and from my students. Although Vietnam is not so visible from Korea, I think that there is an artistic and intellectual renaissance taking shape here which will lead the next generation of Koreans to study Vietnamese seriously.

As I listened to the earnest opinions of the Vietnamese that I met, I came to feel strongly that Vietnam could be a bridge between Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia. Vietnam shares the same cultural roots with China, Japan and Korea, whether it is Confucian ideas of government and ethics, or the Chinese characters, or the greater Buddhist philosophical legacy.

Moreover, Vietnam has faced similar challenges to those that my own Korea has experienced, such as being divided and being made the grounds for a proxy war. I wanted to interact with Vietnamese intellectuals, talk to young people and see what was happening on the ground here. It was almost like discovering a long-lost brother.

It is clear that Vietnam emerge as a leader in Southeast Asia, granted its powerful culture and its size of 92 million. The economy is growing very quickly and we see that the technological expertise is rising by leaps and bounds, much like we saw in Korea in the 1970s.

Vietnam is so competitive economically today that labor-intensive industries are relocating even from China, not to mention Japan and Korea, or Europe and North America. But that is just the beginning of what Vietnam can achieve. Here in Hanoi I have witnessed a new intellectual seriousness, a new generation of remarkable artists who will be leaders in the next generation.

We want to be here at this critical moment, engaging with Vietnamese and helping them to imagine what their future can be.

But that is not the Vietnam that I learned about as a child. In those days, I heard from my friends about how his uncle, or her older brother,had been sent to Vietnam to fight in that far-away war. Often the news was tragic. It seemed like a frightening place that I would not want to spend time in.

But recently, Koreans have started to think of Vietnam as a real partner at every level.  Korean friends travel there and find the people so open and energetic. They come back with suitcases loaded up with treasures and minds filled with precious memories of this remarkable nation.

The negative image of Vietnam, born in part from the anti-Communist propaganda we were subject to as children, has been replaced with an extremely positive one.

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

You have spoken about the importance of exchanges between youth at the Asia Institute.

Emanuel Pastreich

My daughter is 13 and she insisted on coming along on this trip. She loves Vietnam and I would not be surprised if she will spend time here in the future. I brought here two years ago when a close American friend married a Vietnamese. We also saw one of my students from Korea, a remarkable young woman who was the best in her class.

My daughter had so much to talk to my student about. They were fast friends and I think that through our work at the Asia Institute we can help to build those sorts of personal relationships between young people.

Jung Woojin

My work with Vietnamese here has led me to believe that Vietnam can contribute not only to the future of Southeast Asia, but also to the world.  Vietnam was able to move on from the terrible injustice of the war and push forward with industrialization and modernization. Now it is an increasingly open society, and reaching out to the world. Not many countries are able to do that. Vietnam refuses to be caught up in the past. They are waiting for the right moment to talk about that period.

Korea had a similar experience, although we remain tragically divided long after the armistice was signed in 1953. That brutal war left Korea as burnt out buildings and ash. We had no industry. All we had was ourselves. But through the will of the ordinary people we were able to rebuild our economy and achieve democracy.

The same thing is happening here in Vietnam. Enough time has passed since that tragic and meaningless war that Vietnamese can realize their own destiny. I want to be there. But there will be challenges for Vietnam as it goes through the next stage in its political and cultural development. That said, the potential is literally unlimited. I remember many of the mistakes that Korea made along the way and I think I can offer meaningful advice.

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

And for you Director Pastreich, what are your thoughts about the American relationship with Vietnam?

Emanuel Pastreich

As an American, please allow me to make a few comments about America’s role in the Vietnam War, and in the Korean War. The Asia Institute was established precisely to facilitate the true exchanges between people and to move beyond the sins of the past.

When Vietnam is ready to talk seriously about the Vietnam War, and to discuss the United States’ responsibility, we will support an open and transparent discussion about this tragedy and about the U.S. role. That can happen when Vietnam is ready and when they know which direction they want to go.

The United States has a tremendous responsibility in my opinion. I think the first step towards a long-term resolution is to treat Vietnam as an equal and treat the Vietnamese people as equals. We must never address Vietnam in a condescending manner. We should ask ourselves what we can learn from the spirit and the vision of the Vietnamese.

On the question of democratization and transparency, Vietnam has made a tremendous amount of progress. And there is much that Korea can offer. But we do not assume there is some Western model that Vietnam has to reach. Democracy in the West is in a tremendous crisis today. Vietnam could innovate and create an open society that is a model for the West, in my opinion. I invite you to be that ambitious, that visionary.

There are similarities between Vietnam today and Korea in the 1980s and 1990s in terms of liberalization and openness. But the zeitgeist is fundamentally different. For example, the United States today is not a model for democratization, and the West as a whole has lost its cultural vitality.

How will citizens participate in the process of governance in this digital age, how can we raise a new generation of leaders to respond to unprecedented challenges? Regarding these questions, Vietnam should not only learn from others, but it can, and will offer new visions and potential.

There’s much that we can do, especially in the case of Vietnam and Korea, to look back at our traditions and reinterpret them to respond to the needs of the future. We need to look forward to a society that makes use of new technology, but also  look back to the traditions of Confucianism and Buddhism, the hidden jewels for governance and education in both countries. In the 18th and 19th centuries there were powerful intellectual exchanges between Koreans and Vietnamese on the question of governance.

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

Where do we go from here?

Jung Woojin

The Cold War was the result of the needless ideological collision after 1945 that undermined the potential of the United Nations charter. Now we find the right wing in the United States, Japan and Europe trying to create another Cold War as a way of keeping us from realizing our full potential.

But we are not passive players in this game. Vietnamese, Koreans and thoughtful Americans and Japanese can come together to imagine another alternative and work right here and now to suggest a new order of peace and understanding. This effort at the Asia Institute is that important for us.

Emanuel Pastreich

The Vietnam office of the Asia Institute will be a space where Vietnamese, Koreans, Americans and others can gather together and discuss what is possible. We are not missionaries. We are here to learn from you. We will create a new open space that will be a model for the international community where can discuss the critical issues of our time, and speak honestly about what Vietnam’s role will be in global affairs.

We are familiar with the Helsinki Process, the broad debate held in Finland that produced the Helsinki Accords and led the way to rapprochement between the United States and the Soviet Union. But what our generation? Could there be a “Hanoi Process” that will produce the “Hanoi Accords” about the rule of law, freedom peace in the digital age? Professor Jung and I believe that Vietnam has come of age and it is ready to think big about its role in the international community.

You will offer new visions for what Vietnam’s role will be, serving alternatively as a bridge between Southeast Asia, China, Northeast Asia, or as a hub for discussion at the highest level about our Earth’s future.

We think there are parts of Vietnam’s cultural tradition that will be critical to artistic and intellectual experience in our century. Let us imagine a future in which American elementary school students learn the poetry of Lê Quý Đôn and some of them take him as a hero. That is the level of engagement we are talking about.

Jung Woojin

The United States and South Korea did not know what they were doing when they got involved in the Vietnam War. But now we see a tremendous willingness of Vietnamese to engage and to forgive. I think that scholars from the three countries can come together to write an accurate history. We have come to that point. Also, at the same time that I can give some advice to Vietnamese about how to achieve lasting democracy and how to deal with the United States and China, I can also learn from Vietnamese about how to achieve unification. Korea is still subject to a tragic division and I believe that the Vietnamese have the wisdom to advise us. In Korea, we are told to look to the German model of unification, but we could learn even more here as the cultural roots are much closer.

We want you Vietnamese to join us in a frank and inspiring conversation about how we can achieve lasting peace in the region, and around our brittle Earth. We want to establish Asia Institutes across Asia and we hope that you will help us. We are not trying to push some agenda. We are trying to give you a voice and to learn from you. That is the vision of the Asia Institute.

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

How is Vietnam treated in the West today?

Emanuel Pastreich

It is truly embarrassing to hear experts at Western think to talk about how Vietnam must import a Western democratic tradition. It is the United States that has been engaged in endless foreign wars and that has the highest percentage of citizens in jail, and one of the highest rates of police violence against citizens.

We learned that democracy emerged in the West in the decades before the French Revolution. But in fact, the biggest influence on the idea of a participatory approach to governance at that time, as opposed to rule by aristocrats, or by the church, was the influence of Confucianism. Many were deeply inspired  inFrance and Germany in the 18th century by the translation of Confucian classics that suggested a meritocracy beyond class and privilege. . That democratic tradition we label“Western” has very strong roots in the Confucian tradition of Asia. We have not even started to think about what the Vietnamese tradition offers us.  Certainly the Ly Dynasty had long tradition of civil service, government transparency, and accountability that might be models for the world.

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

What has impressed you the most about Vietnam, Director Jung?

Jung Woojin

The Vietnamese zeal for education is inspiring. No matter how poor the parents are, they will do all they can to send their children to the best schools. The young children I meet by accident on the street are so fluent in English. I think their level is much above what I see in Japan or Korea. The Vietnamese commitment to education will be the base for further development.

When the Mongols invaded Vietnam during theTrần dynasty with 350,000 soldiers, everyone assumed that the brutal Mongol army would overwhelm them as it had all the other nations of the region. But the Vietnamese General QuangKhải mobilized the common people to resist. After three campaigns, the Vietnamese were ultimately successful. That will and organizational skill can be helpful to people from around the world who want to learn how to be leaders.

Emanuel Pastreich

I am ashamed to say that although I have been a professor of Asian studies for 20 years, and I even wrote a chapter for the Columbia History of Chinese Literature about literary exchanges between Vietnam and China, I do not know that story at all about Vietnamese resistance to the Mongols. I have, we have, so much to learn.

 

Jung Woojin

Ho Chi Minh is another example of a remarkable Vietnamese leader. A many who was willing to sacrifice everything for his mission and live a humble life throughout a struggle for decades. And Ho was inspired by the Korean philosopher Dasan from the 18th century. For all we know, there will be Americans in some future age who are inspired to rebuild their country by Ho Chi Minh!

NguyễnThị Thu Hường

This fascinating discussion is just the very beginning of what will be a broad dialog between Vietnam and the world, one that will inspire the new generation of Vietnamese, and of committed people around the world , to show true leadership.  You have given deep insights into Vietnam’s history, tradition and culture that suggest the direction Vietnam can go in the future. Thank you once again.

Sign on the Asia Institute Hanoi Office

Sign on the Asia Institute Hanoi Office

Ribbon cutting for Asia Institute Hanoi office.

Ribbon cutting for Asia Institute Hanoi office.

Emanuel Pastreich and Dr. Bui Hoai Son, Director of VICAS, at the Hanoi office of the Asia Institute

Emanuel Pastreich and Dr. Bui Hoai Son, Director of VICAS, at the Hanoi office of the Asia Institute