Dương Trung Quốc, National Assembly Deputy and a historian, tells VOV Online that preserving the Red River ecosystem should be a vital part of plans to exploit it.
As a historian, how would you respond to Hà Nội preparing a new plan for using the Red River’s resources?
We all know that the old imperial city of Thăng Long, Hà Nội at present, lies on the bed of the Hồng (Red) River. It was more than 1,000 years ago that King Lý Công Uẩn, the first Vietnamese Emperor, left Hoa Lư, the old imperial city, and moved to Đại La in present day Hà Nội.
History books show that urban areas developed always on the banks of rivers. That is not true of Hà Nội. It is a city, but its development has not spread along the Red River’s banks.
In 1925 and 1926, Hà Nội was heavily flooded. Following this, the French colonial administration decided to build a big dyke to protect Hà Nội from flooding. This was the reason that for a long time, only one side of the Red River developed. Meanwhile, on the other side of the dyke, poor management by authorities coupled with a rapid population boom and haphazard urban development, a chaotic urban space was created.
So, with today’s rapid development of Hà Nội, it is important that a level playing field is created for developing both sides of the river.
As we all know, the Red River runs through Hà Nội City, offering an important water source as well as water transportation, not to mention beautiful scenery. The Red River has given us big benefits. But it also requires us to come up with good plans to avert natural calamities, including flooding.
What about the spiritual aspects of the river?
For many Vietnamese generations, the river has been closely linked to the idea of spiritual power, and we should treat it with respect.
It is undisputable that the river is a place for developing waterway transport, which links it to issues of national security.
One of the many reasons that the French wanted to attack Hà Nội is to reclaim their right to travel along the Red River and to go by boat from Việt Nam to the South of China – a very big market for France.
The Vietnamese Government as well as Hà Nội authorities should pay special attention to the Red River because it is related to the economy, culture and people’s feelings. We need to win the public’s support.
Would you agree that the Red River has not been treated properly despite its immense value?
Absolutely. I want to mention two main ideas. First, we have not properly exploited the river. Second, we have not properly invested in it. But while it is true that we have not optimally exploited the river for our benefit, its exploitation needs to be reviewed carefully, from upstream to downstream areas, not just the portion that flows through Hà Nội.
So how should we develop a master plan for the Red River?
I should say Hà Nội should give priority to preserving its ecosystem – a factor that will decide the quality of modern life here.
I’m sorry to say that we are pursuing an economic ideology that exchanges one thing for another. (like sacrificing the environment for economic growth). I feel that in developing a master plan for the Red River, we should adopt a long term vision with good reasoning and achievable objectives, so that Hà Nội grows into a city with a clean environment and a good ecosystem.
Do you support inviting foreign developers for the Red River Planning project?
Yes, I think using foreign expertise in the Red River Planning project is necessary. But our own efforts must be the foundation. We only need foreign support in areas that we are weak at. And have to think that is a good occasion for us to learn from them and to make ourselves stronger.
In my opinion, the planning work regarding Red River’s banks is a big issue that needs the mobilisation of all expertise in the country and only seek foreign support in areas that we are weak in.
What should be the main aspects of the Red River Planning project that will make it reflect the key characteristics of Hà Nội?
People often refer to the Red River as the “nhĩ hà” river (the helix enclosing Hà Nội). This is a natural shape of our Red River. I’m afraid to say that the natural shape of the river would be lost if a new, big dam called Cái is built in the upper reaches. I agree with many people that if the dam benefits the people and the nation, it should be built, but the principle of transparency and accountability must be strongly upheld. – VNS