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Why President Trump Will Be Much Happier as the Leader of Vietnam

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Photo credit: Slate.

President Donald Trump is coming to Vietnam on an official visit for the APEC meetings from November 10-11. He could have been in this country much sooner had he not avoided the draft during the Vietnam War.

I am not sure President Trump knows where Vietnam exactly is on the map (which is quite usual for a lot of foreigners), but he will certainly fall in love with the country when he comes here this time, especially after hearing what I am about to disclose.

Let me take this opportunity to send him a few words of regards and explain to him why I think so.

But before I forget, let’s start with the same premise: one must be a member of the Communist Party of Vietnam to become the country’s leader.

1. Forget about the Democrats: They are already extinct.

The last time Vietnamese people saw a glimpse of a “democrat” was back in … 1988, when the fake Democratic party (yeah, we had such things back then – they were basically puppets formed by the communists themselves) disbanded under the order of the Communist Party. Basically, President Trump, you and your chosen party will enjoy absolute power here.

The Vietnam’s Constitution clearly states that the Communist Party is the force which leads both the government and society. In fact, it is the only one ruling the country.

So, no worries about the opposition. You’re far, far away from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Nancy Pelosi. You will win every election, and win big. When I say “big”, that means more than 90% of the popular votes where every single eligible adult in the country will vote, not just the “landslide victory” last year in the U.S.

2. You have the entire Congress in your party’s hand, not just a simple majority.

There is no need to battle with anyone in Congress. “Repeal and Replace” could be done very easily, right then and there. As well as the tax bill. And the annual budget bill. Basically, everything and anything.

Congressional hearings are extremely rare for top leaders like you. Your cabinet members may be questioned by Congress, but in general, no one would throw stones in their faces like how the Democrats treat you, your staff, and the Republicans. Congress is also more laid back, as they only meet twice a year, each time for one month.

How could Vietnam achieve such harmony between the Executive branch and the Legislative branch?

Just imagine your Republican fellows occupy 95% of the seats in Congress and the remaining 5% are all your friends and good friends. This is because our unique election laws were designed to prevent non-communist candidates from running right from the first place. Nobody else but communist members and their close allies can go pass the three rounds of pre-election vetting, which of course are held by the communist-organized body called the Fatherland Front (such patriotic name, you will love it!).

3. You don’t have to deal with the media because independent news does not exist.

I know the media in the States is extremely annoying, and they just never leave you alone. Here in Vietnam, you are untouchable. What does that mean? It means you can do whatever and say whatever, not a single journalist dares to criticize you.

Heaven on Earth! Why is that?

Because you and your party control the entire media. So, there is no CNN, no Washington Post, no New York Times, leave alone Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah. Only Fox News, Breitbart and the likes are allowed. Not only that, those that are allowed must also report news as they were ordered by you and your party. Imagine, even Steven Colbert must listen to and follow every word of yours! That’s true respect, isn’t it?

Some crazy leftists at organizations like Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders may put your country at the bottom of the Press Freedom Index, but who cares, right?

4. Just in case anyone criticizes you, you can always lock them up, for years.

We have already put thousands of dissidents in jail already. In the past, we even made them…disappeared.

Really, if you find anyone who writes some short statement about you on Facebook or Twitter that annoys you, then your police can come and arrest such person right away, then put him/her in jail for, says two years or more without trials. The courts – which totally under your direct control – could also sentence a lawyer to seven years of imprisonment if he dares to sue you. Or, they could put another lawyer who always criticizes you (imagine the ACLU and their lawyers, I know how much you hate them) in prison for five years because…he has criticized you.

You often feel frustrated that it takes forever to lock up that woman, right? In Vietnam, we recently locked up a woman whom the government does not like very much in June – a female pro-democracy blogger called Mother Mushroom – for ten full years after a day of trial, sweet and simple. (By the way, your wife, Melania, gave Mother Mushroom the Women of Courage award earlier this year, though. So, I thought you would want to check with her on this, just to be safe.)

5. There is no court that would stop you from issuing or enforcing executive orders.

This is an interesting part. Of course, you must be very upset with those federal courts issuing restraining orders on your travel bans one after another. In fact, you also know that you must deal with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and others at some points. Furthermore, you cannot be certain whether Neil Gorsuch may turn his back on you one day and side with those leftists all the way on issues like abortion and affirmative action cases.

But, here in Vietnam, every single judge will be your party’s members (I mean the “sworn allegiance to” kind of members, not just registered voters), and they will always obey your party’s rules from the top down. That means whatever is your call, they will follow. No questions asked!

The so-called “judicial review” also does not exist in our country. A lot of executive orders and legal documents are clearly unconstitutional, but no one gives a damn. Let me give you an example.

Four years ago, our Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed two decrees, 72 and 174, regulating that criticizing the government on the Internet was prohibited and could be fined up to $4,700 USD (about twice the average annual income for a Vietnamese). Those two decrees were not only unconstitutional, but also directly contradicting international human rights law, and were widely condemned by the international community, including your country back then. But so far, no one had been able to challenge them in any court in Vietnam because simply put, our judicial system was set up in such a way that such efforts would be futile from the beginning: no courts will accept those filings. Problems solved.

6. The term “special prosecutor” is non-existent and will never come into existence.

Investigating our country’s top leaders is absolutely impossible. In fact, none of them has been in such situation since the Communist Party took power in 1945.

You would love this fact: Vietnamese prosecutors cannot investigate any communist member without the party’s permission. Thus, it is outright prohibited! Nobody is going to thumb their nose into your and your family’s business.

There is no Robert Mueller here, believe me. Never.

7. Tax returns? They are there, but rules don’t apply to you.

In Vietnam, everyone knows our leaders are rich. Maybe some of them are even as rich as you are. But no one knows exactly how rich they are, and no one dares to ask them to show their tax returns.

We have a huge (I mean really, bigly huge) problem with transparency. Another left-wing (perhaps fake?) organization called Transparency International ranks Vietnam at 113/176 on their Corruption Perceptions Index in 2016 with only 33/100 scores. But that’s a good thing for you, right?

If you are the top leader in Vietnam, you don’t have to bother with the media complaining about your frequent flights to Mar-a-Largo or how much money you have made off your presidency because no one will have the guts to ask. And those who do, you can just put them in jail. What a life!

8. Last, but not least: Endless golfing.  

This, nevertheless, is as important as anything I have mentioned above. You love golf, and we, the Vietnamese, do too. We basically have golf courses popping up at every single corner across our country. And, you can play golf as much as you want, just remember to not disappear for too long during your term. The public doesn’t even know you go play golf, let alone complain about it – because there is no “fake news” here to report on that, only your news, remember?

Is this the vision of the great country that you have been talking about, or perhaps, maybe dreaming of?

Then, President Trump, welcome to Vietnam!

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Vietnam: The Communist Party Declared Internet “A Battlefield”

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Vo Van Thuong - Head of the VCP's Central Propaganda Committee at the Press Annual Congress 12/28/18. Photo courtesy: Dai Doan Ket newspaper.

The Head of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Committee – Vo Van Thuong – declared, during his concluding remarks at the committee’s year-end congress on December 29, 2018, that “the internet (in Vietnam) has become a new battlefield” for the Party in the fields of politics, thoughts, and culture.

A day earlier, Thuong also made another remark at a different congress held explicitly by and for the press, telling journalists in the country to overcome having “vague political thoughts” as news reporters, especially when it comes to posting on social media.

For non-Vietnamese, Mr. Thuong’s position seems to be quite intrigued and puzzling. Why would he get invited to speak to the journalists in the country at their year-end congress? What does his message to the media representatives even mean?

On the other hand, for some over 800 editors-in-chief of all newspapers in Vietnam, however, Mr. Thuong’s words equate to an ultimatum as he is the chief of all of them. They would write as his committee directs, and take down those articles when the same committee disapproves.

The Central Propaganda Committee is part of the VCP’s cord internal structure, with a mission to establish “direction for political thoughts in the field propaganda, news media, publishing, arts, and culture” for the Party. In reality, this committee’s job is not only to control the political thinking and shape the ideology of the four million VCP members but also the society in Vietnam as a whole.

Its job is so essential for the survival of an authoritarian regime which is to ensure that there would only be one political doctrine for every single citizen to follow: communism. Anyone dares to propose other ideas for a different political philosophy, in many cases, face prosecution and long jail time. Any sign of dissent would be deemed as not accepting the ultimate leadership of the VCP in the country, and is a criminal act.

However, for more than a decade, the VCP has failed to take control of the internet and social media in Vietnam. As the result, the people indeed took such opportunity to create a vibrant online civic space where they openly criticized officials, exposed wrongdoings, and even organized themselves.

While the government repeatedly applied draconian and vague penal codes to arrest and imprison dissidents and activists for “propagandizing against the State” and “abusing democratic freedoms”, social media – especially Facebook and Youtube – continues to play a vital role in disseminating information which the VCP may disapprove of, such as reporting on human rights abuses and calling for democratization in the country.

The new cybersecurity law of 2018 is the latest attempt from the government to practice absolute control over the internet in Vietnam. It is then not a surprise for us to hear strong and determining words from the Head of the Central Propaganda Committee, declaring war on bloggers and freelancers on social media.

However, in the first few days of the year since the cybersecurity law took effect, the discussions on social media in Vietnam remain active and critical of the government.

The most recent “battle” between Vietnamese netizens and Mr. Thuong’s Central Propaganda Committee happened last week, concerning the news that the VCP’s Politburo has approved more money to fund the development project for a metro system in Ho Chi Minh City.

On January 4, 2019, most of the major newspapers in Vietnam published one same article online, stating that the Politburo has approved more than 50 billion VND for the construction of two metro lines in Ho Chi Minh City. Immediately, prominent bloggers and dissidents on social media like attorney Le Cong Dinh[1], questioned the legality of that decision.

In Vietnam, the power to approve funding of similar projects supposedly belongs to the most powerful governmental body – the National Assembly. However, in reality, the Politburo would be the ultimate decision maker.

In April 2018, when the people of Vietnam questioned the National Assembly’s reasons to pass the Special Economic Zone draft bill, the Chairwoman responded: “the Politburo has already decided, and the draft bill is not unconstitutional. We have to discuss and come up with the bill.”

Nevertheless, this time, the Politburo seems to have to forego a “battle” on social media. By the end of the day, all of the articles about the funding of the metro project were taken down, probably at the order of the Central Propaganda Committee.

***

[1] Le Cong Dinh was tried together with Tran Huynh Duy Thuc for subversion against the state in January 2010 where he was sentenced to five years imprisonment and three more years under house arrest.

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What Should Be On New President Nguyen Phu Trong’s Agenda?

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Photo courtesy: VTV1 live

On October 23, 2018, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong took the oath of office as the new president of Vietnam. He was the only candidate introduced by the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). Earlier in the day, the National Assembly confirmed Trong by 99.79% in a secret vote, effectively making him one of the most powerful men in the history of the VCP, right up there next to Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan.

Approximately one month after the funeral of the late president, Tran Dai Quang, the country is about to face a new era under the absolute leadership of Trong. Being both the leader of the VCP and the head of state, Trong now possesses the kind of power that has been unseen in Vietnam during the past several decades.

As state-owned media praises his accomplishments and compares him to Ho Chi Minh, for better or worse, Trong now has the opportunity to lead the country towards an unprecedented future.

However, great power indeed comes with great responsibilities. For the time being, President Trong’s agenda should take a serious look at a few urgent matters.

Vietnam’s Cybersecurity Law of 2018

International human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have rebuked Vietnam for its new cybersecurity law with harsh criticisms throughout this year.

In a country that ranks 175/180 on Reporters Without Borders’s Press Freedom Index, and which is listed as “not free” by Freedom House, the internet plays a vital role in providing Vietnamese citizens with an alternative public sphere to express themselves, to criticize the authorities, and even to mobilize opposition.

With the new bill, the government seeks to further restrict the people’s freedom of expression and their freedom to access the internet. The government plans to do this by targeting service providers and tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, requiring them to store users’ personal data inside Vietnam and to turn such data over to the police upon request.

The seemingly unlimited power of the police in enforcing the new law – which appears to lack any judicial oversight as detailed in the draft decree released in early October 2018 – raised the most concerns. It also prompted civil society groups to call on the government to indefinitely halt its effective date of January 1, 2019.

A few even suspected that Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law could very well be the late president’s brainchild. After all, it was during Tran Dai Quang’s tenure as the head of the Ministry of Public Security in 2014 that the national police force formed the Bureau of Cybersecurity.

Quang also authored the book “Cyberspace: Future and Action” published in 2015 by the MPS, where he outlined the very concept that has become the backbone of the new law, which emphasized the issue of national sovereignty in cyberspace.

Even in his last days, Tran Dai Quang still refused to take any action on the controversial bill. According to Vietnam’s laws, once the National Assembly passes a bill, the president will have 15 days to sign an order publicizing it to complete the process. Back in June 2018, Quang disregarded the plea made by close to 30,000 Vietnamese netizens via an online petition asking him to not publicize the new law.

However, the new President Trong may not be able to ignore the mounting opposition to the cybersecurity bill for much longer.

As the third cycle of Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is rapidly approaching in January 2019, one of the most controversial items to be discussed is expected to be this new law.

Moreover, just this month, Vietnam is one step closer to sealing the deal with the EU for a Free Trade Agreement, one that is believed to be the most ambitious trade deal in which the EU has made with a developing country.

The EU-FTA, nevertheless, comes with a human rights clause where a material breach could allow the other side to suspend the entire agreement unilaterally.

Both domestic and international rights groups have analyzed and concluded that the new cybersecurity law violated numerous international human rights standards. It is likely that Vietnam, under President Trong’s leadership, will have to address and provide a reasonable resolution regarding this issue before the EU Parliament meets in the spring of 2019 to consider whether it should ratify the FTA.

Wrongful Death Penalty Cases

The life of Dang Van Hien, a farmer who killed three workers from an investment company who were involved in land disputes with him and other farmers in his village in Dak Nong Province that dragged on for almost a decade, is now in the hands of President Trong.

The case has captured the attention of the entire nation, raising serious questions about the reality of land disputes and land grabbing in Vietnam.

Over 3,000 people signed an online petition immediately after an appellate court in Ho Chi Minh City affirmed Hien’s death sentence. People believed that there were extenuating circumstances in the case that should overturn the death sentence given to Hien, and they were calling on the president of Vietnam to grant him a reprieve.

In response to the people’s plea, about one month before his passing, Tran Dai Quang had taken notice of Dang Van Hien’s death sentence. In a letter addressed to both the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuracy Office, Quang requested them to review and report the case to the president’s office.

Dang Van Hien would be the fourth death penalty case which requires President Trong’s immediate attention. During the past decade, three wrongful death penalty cases have also captured national attention in Vietnam: Ho Duy Hai, Nguyen Van Chuong, and Le Van Manh. Under Vietnam’s laws, the president has the power to pardon death penalty inmates and grant a reprieve in criminal cases.

Since 2005, Le Van Manh underwent a total of seven court hearings, including three trials, three appeals, and one cassation trial. In total, he has been on death row for 13 years. Nguyen Van Chuong has been kept on death row for 11 years, while Ho Duy Hai was sentenced to death 10 years ago.

All the requests for cassation trials and reviews of their sentence were ignored, leaving these three men languishing on death row for more than a decade while their family members, with very limited means, have tried desperately to save them. As recent as October 10, 2018, World Day Against the Death Penalty, these families again attempted to raise public awareness by advocating for their release in Hanoi.

During Truong Tan Sang’s presidency (2011-2016), the former president granted reprieves for 179 death row inmates. In December 2014, President Sang also personally signed an order indefinitely halting Ho Duy Hai’s execution after a public outcry about his case erupted on social media.

These four well-publicized death penalty cases should become one of President Trong’s priorities. It is not only a matter of saving lives, but these cases also carry the Vietnamese people’s hope to see justice carried out.

The Ongoing Fight Against Corruption 

The VCP has meticulously crafted President Trong’s image as a “clean” politician.

It was his public dedication to fight corruption in Vietnam that distinguished him from his political foe, former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, during their rivalry for the VCP’s top leadership position, in which Trong came out as the winner in February 2016.

However, the strong demand for Trong to disclose his personal assets as required by law, first initiated by a group of former VCP members back in May 2018, has been making headway in recent months.

Feeling the pressure mounting during the days leading to his inauguration, the Party provided statements from members of the National Assembly on the same day he took office as the new president, asserting that they had reviewed his assets declaration, and that it showed that Trong was “absolutely clean.”

Corruption remains a critical problem for Vietnam and it will require President Trong’s immediate attention as it is believed to be the roots of other social and political issues in the country. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2017, Vietnam was rated 35/100, putting the country among the group of “highly corrupted” nations.

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Vietnamese Government Celebrates National Day By Violating Its Own Constitution

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Today| marks the 73rd year since Ho Chi Minh stood at Ba Dinh Square on September 2, 1945, and proclaimed that all people shall enjoy their natural rights in the pursuit of happiness. Thus, it is quite hard to imagine that the current regime – who is supposedly following Ho Chi Minh’s teachings – has decided to mark such an auspicious occasion with a stern, yet illegal, warning to all citizens: do not go out and protest.

But that is precisely how the Vietnamese authorities have decided to honor the birth of their nation this year, by loudly ordering the people not to participate in any form of public demonstration on Vietnam’s Independence Day.

Throughout August, high-ranking officials in the Vietnamese Communist Party have taken turns assaulting the human right to assembly, a right enshrined in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution.

First, it was To Lam, head of the Ministry of Public Security (in charge of the national police force). Lam assured the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on August 13, 2018, that the police would take all possible measures to prevent people from participating in protests after he was admonished by Committee members for the mass protests that took place in June.

A few weeks later, Hanoi city leader and high-ranking police official Nguyen Duc Chung also vowed that he would not allow “any crowds to publicly gather” under his watch during Independence Day weekend.

Several state-owned media outlets during the past week “coincidentally” published articles condemning both the June 10th protestors and the call on social media accounts for a nationwide protest on September 2nd. The government seems to blame overseas groups, some of which have been declared “terrorist organizations” in recent years by Vietnamese authorities.

News has also surfaced both on social media and on official news agencies that the police have arrested a small number of individuals disseminating information “against the state”, including one who was caught trying to enter Vietnam through Cambodia with several weapons.

Minister To Lam has publicly congratulated the police forces of Binh Dinh and Phu Yen provinces for arresting the armed individual whom the government believes to be a member of Viet Tan, one of the aforementioned overseas groups. Viet Tan denied this accusation on the same day the individual was arrested.

While no protest broke out today, the political sphere remains tense, and Vietnam is not in much of a celebrating mood compared to previous years.

The Special Economic Zones draft bill is still dangling over citizens’ heads. The people are continuously wary of their country becoming ever more dependent on China.

The government is not exactly helping, with the national bank announcing last Thursday that the Chinese renminbi could soon be used in trading activities along the country’s northern border, starting in October.

There were also reports of the internet being down – again – due to cable issues during the last week of August (the fourth time in 2018 thus far). In Vietnam, internet outages often “coincide” with periods of social and political turmoil, as was observed when Vietnamese protested the Taiwanese steel mill, Formosa Ha Tinh, back in May 2016.

Earlier this month, activists were also brutally assaulted by police officers for simply gathering at a small concert in a Ho Chi Minh City cafe. Many of these activists were also placed under surveillance this holiday weekend.

Are the reactions from the Vietnamese government in August just overblown paranoia or do they have reason to fear the people?

It is difficult to say.

However, we do know from the writings of several state-owned newspapers that the government is extremely wary of anything remotely resembling the “color revolutions” or the Arab Spring in Vietnam. They prefer to take pre-emptive measures, using all means to prevent demonstrations, even if doing so would mean breaking their own laws and constitution.

Moreover, the Vietnamese government does not distinguish between peaceful dissidents and those who call for a violent overthrow of the government, and the case of one of their most famous political prisoners, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, is the best example.

Thuc was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment back in 2009 for “subversion against the state,” and the evidence used to uphold the conviction included his writings pleading with the government to take rapid and immediate action to preserve economic growth and avoid over-dependence on China.

Before his arrest, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was one of Vietnam’s most successful entrepreneurs, with the government unable to find any evidence of wrongdoing within his multi-million dollar business after raids. Western countries have offered Thuc political asylum on multiple occasions, but he refuses to leave his country to live in exile.

His latest defiant act—a hunger strike—protesting what he calls “an unjust judicial system,” again put the Vietnamese government in a predicament: they could not justify his imprisonment to the increasingly informed public. September 2, 2018 marks the 20th day of Thuc’s hunger strike.

Up until last month, Thuc had received the longest sentence for a political prisoner: 16 years imprisonment, followed by 5 years of house arrest.

In August, the record was surpassed by Le Dinh Luong, who was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, again for “subversion against the state.” Luong was known by his peers as an activist who campaigned against the environmental destruction caused by corporations and development projects.

The VCP has managed – especially in recent years – to ensure that its human rights records rival that of its big Communist brother, China, with more suppression and harsher sentences against activists.

But will more suppression lead to a stable and peaceful society as the VCP hopes for, or will blurring “peaceful dissent” with “subversion against the state” further chip away at the government’s legitimacy? The answer remains unclear.

What we do know, however, is that history has never been on the side of regimes that refuse to engage in dialogue with dissenters, that refuses to heed the people’s discontent. One need only look at Vietnam’s own history to see this fact in action.

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