association of 47 member and two observer countries, has held its biennial meeting in Asia. And it is the first time that communist Vietnam, not so long ago a virtual pariah state, has hosted an international summit. The summit, which will run until Sunday, opened in a splash of ceremony, with Vietnamese children singing and women in the traditional ao dai dress. Vietnam is not alone among francophone countries which have either failed to keep, or never had, French in common usage. In Egpyt, for example, just 0.4 percent of the population speaks the language competently. La Francophonie says it is not so much a guardian of the French language any more, rather a defender of political, cultural and linguistic pluralism in the face of creeping globalisation. Few say it publicly, but many see the group as a buffer against Anglo-Saxon - or even specifically American - values, thinking and economics. French President Jacques Chirac, on a state visit to Vietnam before the summit, soft-pedalled on the rights issue and sniped at lobby groups who had made a fuss about it earlier in the week.