The Two Halves Of Vietnam’s Vote

Half-“for,” half-“against,” and the turning of a blind eye to evil.

Trinh Huu Long
Trinh Huu Long

How should we interpret Ambassador Dang Hoang Giang’s speech and Vietnam’s vote at the United Nations regarding the resolution on Ukraine?

Many Vietnamese have said that the ambassador’s speech was appropriate in tone and content, that it reflected both a sense of justice and Vietnam’s national interests.  Vietnam’s vote to abstain is, after all, nothing out of the ordinary.

Others have said that while they were dissatisfied with Vietnam’s vote of abstention, such a speech was still quite progressive.

Still, others were upset, equating a vote to abstain with neutrality—and therefore, complicity— in the face of evil.

I believe all the opinions above are correct, and equally so.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that Vietnam has progressed in how it responds to an international issue. Ambassador Dang Hoang Giang’s speech used international law to condemn acts of violence in international relations and called on all sides to restore peace and resolve disputes via diplomatic means. [1]

Not only did it criticize paying lip service to meaningless laws, but the speech also went even further when it used Vietnam's own experience fighting against coercion and foreign aggression to promote just values.

Though he refrained from naming the Russian Federation and calling the country’s actions an invasion, it is impossible to interpret Ambassador Giang's speech any other way. If there is such a thing as diplomacy in foreign relations, then this speech can be taken as an example.

However, we should understand that Vietnam's progressiveness here is in relation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ initial evasive statement and the ongoing press censorship in favor of Russia. Calling Vietnam’s actions progressive is not incorrect, but it’s important to remember that the bar is low.

Secondly, despite Ambassador Giang's eloquent and profound statements, Vietnam’s abstention means that it is turning a blind eye to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

What does abstention mean at this United Nations meeting? UN rules require that two-thirds of member states vote for a resolution for it to be adopted. This two-thirds number is based solely on the number of votes “for” and “against”, and abstained votes do not count towards the total. [2]

The United Nations General Assembly Resolution clearly identifies Russia’s “aggression” as “unlawful” and a “violation” of the UN Charter, as well as international law, and squarely condemns one party: the Russian Federation. [3]

The words in the resolution are completely consistent with the spirit of Ambassador Giang's speech; the only difference is that the resolution mentions Russia by name and directly calls the country’s actions "aggression." So, instead of talking the talk and walking the walk, the Vietnamese government voted to abstain, which is essentially no vote at all.

To simplify Vietnam’s response, we can “translate” it as follows: We, Vietnamese, generally condemn and oppose acts of aggression, but if someone behaves aggressively, we have no opinion.

In other words, Vietnam did not abstain; it actually cast two halves of a vote: half-“for” and half-“against”.

It's the wishy-washy diplomacy of a country that knows neither its wants nor its values. You can act like this in matters more trivial and less obviously black-and-white, but to be wishy-washy in such straightforward matters of morality and humanity, well, then you can’t blame someone for questioning your character.

Few foreigners have taken the time to read or watch Ambassador Giang's speech; they only know that Vietnam’s abstention is a vote for evil. History will certainly remember that at this critical juncture, Vietnam stood on the side of evil.

This wishy-washy attitude towards basic decency should never be tolerated, no matter how much progress we make. The Vietnamese people have a right to expect and pursue better values for their country. No one is claiming that diplomacy is easy or that leading a country is a walk in the park, but on fundamental issues of humanity, we cannot cast half a vote.


This article was originally published in Vietnamese in Luat Khoa Magazine on March 3, 2022. The translation is done by Will Nguyen.

Opinion-SectionPoliticsUkraineRussiaUnited Nations

Trinh Huu Long

A journalist and democracy advocate at @luatkhoatapchi and @thevnmesemag magazines. He's also a co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, a nonprofit organization that runs The Vietnamese.