Vietnam Will Soon Follow China’s Social Credit System?

Quynh-Vi Tran
Quynh-Vi Tran

Nguyen Anh Tuan, CEO of Boston Global Forum, during his presentation at the Vietnam Internet Forum 2019 recently took place in Hanoi on March 20-21, 2019, proposed that governments should use AI technology to grade their citizens’ social credit.

The online business newspaper Cafe Biz Vietnam reported, Nguyen Anh Tuan suggested that blockchain technology should be used to reward “good citizens.”

And while his definition of a “good citizen” described those who uphold the universal values of human rights and the rule of law under such standards set by the United Nations, the very idea of proposing a “social credit system” to grade citizens in a country like Vietnam worried people that it would be the same model China is currently implementing.

It is probably a bit unrealistic at the moment to expect the government of Vietnam – who is among the worst violators of citizens’ rights in the world – to uphold international standards on human rights and the rule of law.

Reporters Without Border continuously ranks the country among the bottom five on its World Press Freedom Index, a fact that was raised by the members of the UN Human Rights Committee during the country’s review under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) earlier this month.

CIVICUS insists on continue listing Vietnam as a “closed” society where views of political dissents are not tolerated and severely punished.

Right now, 218 political prisoners are serving a sentence in Vietnam.

At the very same time that Nguyen Anh Tuan was presenting his speech, Vietnam sentenced another man, Le Minh The, to two-year-imprisonment for posting on Facebook and calling for democratization and separation of powers.

Nguyen Anh Tuan was not a name unfamiliar to the Vietnamese public. He was the founder of Vietnamnet, a state-owned media online newspaper which, at one time, was the leading online news site in Vietnam. He was once considered by the government of Vietnam as one of its up and coming stars, especially in the field of information and technology.

After leaving his post as the editor-in-chief of Vietnamnet in about 2011, Tuan moved to expand his career in the United States. He attended school at Harvard Business School, served on the boards of various foundations before founding his own Tran Nhan Tong Foundation, and later the Boston Global Forum in 2012.

His introduction on the website of Boston Global Forum states:

“Tuan is recognized globally for his pivotal role as a Vietnam Government reformist, who has successfully fostered freedom-of-expression, vigorous open debate and private enterprise in a nation that has become a leader in commerce, culture, and the innovation as well as a close ally of the West.

Tuan served on the Harvard Business School Global Advisory Board from 2008 to 2016. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Free-for-All Concert Fund in Boston.”

His accomplishments are well-praised by American scholars and politicians throughout the years. Curiously, however, not one of them mentioned even once the worrying human rights situation in Vietnam while discussing Tuan’s contributions to improving the quality of life for Vietnamese people.

While Tuan no longer has any relationship with Vietnamnet, this very newspaper has been promoting heavily for the new cybersecurity law during the past year.

A quick search on Google for Vietnamnet together with the term cybersecurity law in Vietnamese (luật an ninh mạng) will yield dozens of articles in a few seconds.

Concerns grow day by day over the new cybersecurity law of 2018 which many people see as a direct violation of Article 19 – Freedom of Expression – under the ICCPR.

This new law allows police authorities to request internet service providers, both international and domestic, to turn over users’ data as soon as they open an investigation without warrants and with no judicial oversight.

Last summer, in protest of Facebook’s potential collaboration with the Vietnamese government and the new cybersecurity law, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Facebook users started to sign up for Minds, another social media platform.

However, once the Vietnamese users found out that Nguyen Anh Tuan of Boston Global Forum was among the members of Minds’ Advisory Board, they quickly grew cold of the new platform.

Given the latest presentation from Nguyen Anh Tuan on AI technology and the proposed “social credit system,” it is, perhaps, that the Vietnamese users were correct in having their skepticism over any technology with his name on it all along.

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Quynh-Vi Tran

Quynh-Vi was a litigation lawyer in California before becoming a democracy advocate and journalist in 2015. She is also a strong advocate for abolishing the death penalty.