Tuesday, July 24, 2018, 16:44 (GMT+7)
Building “solid milestones in the people’s hearts and minds” in the thickly forested Central Highlands

Building “solid milestones in the people’s hearts and minds” in the strategic Central Highlands is a task of paramount importance as to the entire political system, particularly the Border Guard Force that plays a core role in managing and safeguarding territorial sovereignty and border security. In order to vividly depict the situation, the National Defense Journal would like to introduce a series of articles entitled “Building “solid milestones in the people’s hearts and minds” in the thickly forested Central Highlands” co-authored by Dinh Khang, Ho Dang and Dang Bay.

I. The impressive Central Highlands the land of revolution with tremendous potential

The Central Highlands are of strategic importance, dubbed the “roof of Indochina”. During our anti-American and anti-French resistance wars, our troops and enemies fought fiercely for control of the region. At that time, the Central Highlands, home to towering mountains and dense forests, served as a revolutionary base, which provided our revolution with a firm strategic foothold and directly provided supplies and reinforcements for the Central Coastal region, the Southern region and Sai Gon. Despite enemies’ fetters of slavery and atrocious oppression, ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands devoted themselves single-mindedly to Uncle Ho and the Party and did not spare their blood and bones to contribute to the cause of national liberation and Fatherland construction and defense. The Central Highlands have tremendous potential for socio-economic development. In agricultural terms, the region accounts for 74.25% of the country’s basalt red soil at 2 million hectares, making it an ideal place to grow cash crops such as coffee, rubber, cacao, black pepper and tea among others. The Central Highlands is home to over one third of Vietnam’s forests, which play important roles in terms of environment, biodiversity and climate. A lot of medicinal plants can be found in the region, such as Ngoc Linh ginseng, Amomum villosum, Kaempferia galanga, Homalomena pierreana, Flowery knotweed, which enhances the prospect of growing high-value medicinal plants. The Central Highlands have enormous hydropower resources thanks to steep terrain and strong currents, which have been exploited more and more effectively. The region is rich in indigenous culture as evidenced by a diversity of languages, writing systems, costumes, music and cuisine. Nowadays, the Central Highlands are home to a lot of tangible and intangible cultural heritages, including Rong houses (a type of communal houses), Long houses, lithophones, tomb sculptures, gongs, festivals, folklore treasures deeply imbued with national identity, and most notably, “the cultural space of the gongs in the Central Highlands”- a UNESCO-recognized intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

Border Guard Force of Kon Tum province disseminates the Law on National Borders to locals (photo: Van Ly)

The contemporary Central Highlands

Unlocking its potential, the region has established large-scale specialized production areas for cash crops with coffee as the centrepiece, making Vietnam  the world’s second largest coffee producer and exporter epitomized by the “Buon Ma Thuot coffee” brand worldwide. At the same time, it has set up production areas of such crops as rubber, black pepper, tea, vegetables, flower, adopted hi-tech farming methods, built geographical indications and trademarks and developed models of production and business cooperation involving world-famous trade names, thereby enabling the Central Highlands’ key agricultural produce to become part of global commodity chains.

In order to make breakthroughs in infrastructure and socio-economic development, the Central Highlands have focused investment on a number of key road works connecting economic hubs, particularly the Ho Chi Minh Highway as the main axis to link the East-West Corridor, the South Central Coastal region, the South Central region, international seaports and regional countries. Since 2011, the Vietnamese State has boosted investment in building national highways No.14, 19, 20 and 28 - part of the Ho Chi Minh Highway running through the Central Highlands. So far, the region has had a road network of approximately 40,000km in length with 2,517 km of national highways, 2,035 km of provincial roads and 35,347 km of rural roads. The total length of the region’s road network accounts for over 7.33 percent of the nation’s and nearly 48% of the network is concrete roads. These have made great contributions to the Central Highlands’ socio-economic development, security and defense.

At the same time, the Party and State have paid due attention to promoting education and training for the sake of ethnic minorities’ improved intellectual standards in the Central Highlands. Strides have been made in illiteracy eradication as evidenced by over 83% of the local school-age children completing primary education. Upper-secondary boarding schools have been established in the areas populated largely by ethnic minorities while special attention has been paid to the teaching of ethnic minorities’ languages. Currently, in the Central Highlands, there are 57 upper-secondary boarding schools for ethnic minorities, 5 universities, 4 teachers’ training junior colleges and 4 branches of outside universities, all of which are attended by over 31,000 full-time students. While the ratio of students to citizens stood at 137:10,000 in 2013, it was 180:10,000 in 2017. The quality and quantity of teachers and educational management cadres has been increased to meet the requirements of education popularization while much importance has been attached to school facilities. Compensation and benefit packages have been provided for teachers and educational management cadres in line with statutory regulations.

Regarding residential arrangements, local administrations in the Central Highlands have proactively implemented master plans for intra-regional relocation and resettlement. Accordingly, new hamlets, communes and residential areas have been established, such as Mo Ray, Ro Coi, Sa Loong (Sa Thay district), Bo Y (Ngoc Hoi district) in Kon Tum province; Ia Grai, Duc Co and Chu Prong in Gia Lai province; Ea Sup in Dak Lak province; Tuy Duc in Dak Nong province. In the meantime, the implementation of the Government’s Programmes 135 and 160 has been accelerated for infrastructure investment and production promotion in disadvantaged communes and border communes. Currently, those communes are home to 23 economic-defense zones and 87,000 households, 23,000 out of who was once part of free migration. Doing so has enabled the Central Highlands to make great contributions to the country’s socio-economic development, hunger eradication and poverty reduction as well as enhanced defense and security capabilities. Local administrations have put great store by improving the quality of public health care. Public healthcare networks have been expanded to border hamlets and communes with greater improvements in the quality and quantity of medical workers. So far, there have been either midwives or obstetric - pediatric nurses in all communes, over 79% of which have been staffed by doctors. In Dak Lak province, nearly 100% commune-level health stations are manned by doctors, over 66.25% of which can meet national medical standards. Local administrations have also paid due attention to free-of-charge medical examination and treatment for the poor and ethnic minorities under the Prime Minister’s Decisions 139 and 14, particularly administrative procedure reform to facilitate ethnics’ medical examination and treatment at public health facilities. Such epidemic diseases as malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis, goitre, cholera, bubonic plague have been curbed. As such, together with special attention by the Party and the State, sustained efforts by local administrations, armed forces and residents have enabled the Central Highlands to take a turn for the better as evidenced by local ethnic minorities’ improved living standards, political stability, socio-economic development, enhanced defense and security capabilities, as well as ensured territorial sovereignty and border security. The Central Highlands’ GRDP (Gross Regional Domestic Product) was over VND 165,472 bn, up 8.09% against 2006 (agro-forestry-fishery industry: up 5%; construction industry: up nearly 11%, service sector: up approximately 10%). The region’s industrial sector continued to grow as its export turnover reached US$ 2.662 m in 2017, up 22.71% against 2016.

Challenges remain

While the average per capita income in the Central Highlands reached VND41.6m in 2017, it was not uniform among social strata. The gap between rich and poor in the region has continued to widen, particularly among ethnic minorities in remote and border areas. This has resulted in growing and deteriorating smuggling, illegal border crossings and free migration. Statistically, the Central Highlands, which had a population of about 1 million, comprised of 12 ethnic groups in 1975, is now populated by over 5.5 million people, comprised of most of Vietnam’s ethnic groups. This mainly results from the mechanical growth of population, namely free migration, which poses challenges to socio-economic development, defense and security capabilities, as well as indigenous cultural heritage preservation. There is growing concern over overexploitation of forest resources, widespread deforestation for farming at a breakneck pace and the resultant narrowness of “the cultural space of the gongs”. This has led to damaging consequences for population distribution planning, national defense posture, political stability and social order and safety in the Central Highlands. It also gives hostile forces and opportunists a pretext to incite local ethnic minorities to unlawful assembly and complaint under the guise of democracy, human rights, ethnicity and religion in order to undermine our regime. The Central Highlands are home to nearly 1,8m religious followers, 3,500 religious dignitaries, priests and monks as well as about 840 belief establishments of major religions, including Catholicism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Cao Dai. Religious organizations and followers have always abided by statutory regulations, believed and strictly observed the Party’s line, the State’s laws and policies and local administrations’ regulations under the motto of “good life, good religion”, and made great contributions to the region’s socio-economic development and protection of territorial sovereignty and border security. However, a number of organizations under the guise of religion, such as Ha Mon, Falun Gong, Degar Protestantism, have still operated sneakily, adversely impacting locals’ social life. Hostile forces have exploited issues of religion, ethnicity and human rights and stepped up sabotage activities via wicked artifices aimed at disrupting social order and safety in the Central Highlands. Importance has yet to be attached to village/hamlet patriarchs. Traditional community institutions have been undermined to pave the way for “religious communities as new social institutions”. Therefore, it is not easy to preserve cultural identity and solidify the great national unity among religious communities. Meanwhile, the leadership capacity of a number of local administrations, particularly at grassroots level, remains limited while activities by politico-social organizations have yet to be riveting enough. Ethnic minority cadres have lacked professional competence for their assigned duties. That is why mass mobilization and the building of national defense associated with people’s security and all-people border defense in the Central Highlands is a matter of importance and urgency. In-depth research and appropriate measures are required in this regard.

Building “solid milestones in the people’s hearts and minds” in the thickly forested Central Highlands is synonymous with kindling the spirit of national self-respect and pride, patriotism and self-discipline among local ethnic minorities in ensuring border security. This attributes its success to the strong political system at grassroots level and accelerated socio-economic development. According to President Ho Chi Minh, “revolution belongs to the masses”, “the people act as the country’s roots”, “the tree is not durable unless its roots are firm / victory is derived from the people”. As a result, but for “the people’s hearts and minds” and the strength of “millions of ears, millions of eyes, millions of hands and feet” of ethnic minorities residing in border areas, it would be impossible to successfully fulfil task of firmly protecting territorial sovereignty and ensuring border security. Building “solid milestones in the people’s hearts and minds” in the thickly forested Central Highlands is a task of paramount importance in the both immediate and long term that requires widespread participation from local organizations and forces, particularly the Border Guard Force as the core. (To be continued).

Dinh Khang, Ho Dang & Dang Bay

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