Obituary: Le Mai

Le Mai, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Vietnam, was one of his country's more able diplomats. He had been expected to become Hanoi's first ambassador to Washington or even to succeed as Foreign Minister. In either of these positions, he would have contributed to the process of Vietnam's emergence from its long years of international isolation.

A fluent speaker of English, Le Mai first gained experience of the outside world during the early 1970s as a member of the Vietnamese team which held lengthy, arduous negotiations in Paris with the Americans to put an end to their involvement in the war. However, the agreement signed in 1973 did not bring the peace and reconciliation many Vietnamese had hoped for. Nor did Hanoi's eventual victory two years on.

Vietnam soon became embroiled in another struggle, this time with neighbouring Cambodia, leading to its invasion of the country in 1978. Although Hanoi claimed this move was an act of self-defence as well as a humanitarian gesture in liberating the Cambodians from the barbarous rule of Pol Pot, Vietnamese diplomats had a hard time over the next decade justifying their country's continuing military presence in Cambodia. It was this issue which put Le Mai's skills to the test.

He was appointed Vietnamese ambassador to Thailand at a time when hostility between the two countries was at its height. Yet, even in the strained atmosphere of Bangkok, he made friends in diplomatic circles and the international press through his non-aggressive handling of the Cambodian issue. His task became easier after 1986 when the leadership in Hanoi adopted a policy of economic reform and more political flexibility. This was a course Le Mai clearly agreed with and he continued to pursue it on his return to Hanoi in 1990 to be appointed one of Vietnam's Deputy Foreign Ministers.

In this role he worked to improve relations with all the neighbouring countries of South East Asia grouped together in ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations) as well as the United States. In negotiating with Washington, however, the main obstacle proved to be the issue of tracing those American servicemen still listed as missing in action following the end of the war. Once more Le Mai was called upon to exercise great diplomatic tact as one delegation after another from the United States descended on Hanoi demanding information.

Eventually he was to prove successful. Within the past two years, the Clinton administration has agreed to lift the long-standing American trade embargo on Vietnam and normalise diplomatic relations. At the same time Vietnam has been accepted as a member of ASEAN, with many diplomats in the region giving much of the credit for this achievement to the skilful diplomacy of Le Mai. Indeed they would have preferred to see him as Vietnam's Foreign Minister rather than the present somewhat stiff and doctrinaire incumbent.

On the other hand, during the past few years, Le Mai has made no secret of his poor health. Now it has proved fatal and the many friends he has made for Vietnam will be at a loss as to who to turn to, particularly as the country battens down its hatches in preparation for what looks like a very crucial Communist Party Congress.

Le Mai, politician: born Hue, Vietnam 1940; married (two children); died Hanoi 12 June 1996.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn