Operation Smile, an NGO which provides cleft lip and palate repair to children around the globe, has found itself on the receiving end of serious criticism from Vietnamese Facebook users after the organization announced it had invited Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan to an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its establishment in Vietnam.
Founded in the United States in 1982, Operation Smile has since provided over 220,000 free surgeries to children and young adults born with cleft lips, cleft palates, and other facial deformities in over 60 countries.
It first began operations in Vietnam in 1989.
To celebrate its 30th year in Vietnam, the organization has plans to hold an anniversary ceremony in Hanoi on November 10 and expects attendance from several local and international celebrities, including Jackie Chan, who has been Operation Smile’s global ambassador since 1994.
The decision to invite Chan to the event, however, has recently come under fire from Vietnamese social media users who responded to a post that the Hong Kong actor would be attending the event with extreme vitriol.
Angry reactions and comments claiming “Jackie is not welcome,” and “Jackie Chan must not come to Vietnam” were posted from users across the country, including several Vietnamese artists, journalists, writers, architects, and social network influencers who were not shy about echoing the criticism.
Chan’s alleged support for the illicit ‘nine-dash line,’ as well as admissions he made in his 2015 memoir about patronizing prostitutes, cheating on his wife, and being an abusive father seemed to fuel the fury.
The ‘nine-dash line’ is an arbitrary demarcation line used on Chinese maps to illustrate Beijing’s illegal and unilaterally declared claims to vast expanses of the East Vietnam Sea, including large swathes of Vietnam’s Continental Shelf.
Operation Smile Vietnam removed the controversial announcement from its Facebook page as of 2:00 pm on Thursday, but local netizens had no issues voicing their opposition to Chang’s planned attendance on several of the page’s other posts.
Speaking with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Thursday, Nguyen Viet Phuong, chief representative of Operation Smile Vietnam, stood by Operation Smile’s policy to avoid involvement in political matters.
“We are a voluntary, non-political, and non-religious organization,” Phuong affirmed.
He emphasized that Operation Smile has only one goal – to bring changes to life and new smiles to children.
Operation Smile appreciates all enthusiastic and sympathetic efforts made by anyone who wants to join hands with the organization to make practical contributions to society, Phuong said.
“Jackie Chan’s efforts in various global charities, including those in Vietnam, are recognizable,” he added.
On Friday morning, however, Operation Smile Vietnam officially announced in a Facebook post that the 30th anniversary celebration will no longer be hosting Jackie Chan.
“Although we always appreciate [Jackie Chan’s] contributions to the organization’s philanthropic activities, due to the unforeseen reaction of people in the country, while there have been no specific plans scheduled for his visit to Vietnam, Operation Smile will not be organizing any activities with the participation of Jackie Chan for the 30th anniversary of the organization’s establishment in Vietnam,” the announcement reads.
All previous posts involving Jackie Chan have been completely removed from the NGO’s Facebook page.
If Chan does attend the event, it will not be his first time in the Southeast Asian country.
“In 2009, he visited Vietnam to attend an Operation Smile surgery program where he brought optimism to our patients and their families,” Phuong said.
“That is something we really appreciate.”