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Ranked 32nd Most Powerful Country in the World, Communist Vietnam Set to Assume Greater International Role in 2020

Ranking comes on heels of defense white paper release detailing foreign policy, assumption of ASEAN chairmanship and UN seat

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U.S. News and World Report ranked Communist Vietnam the 32nd most powerful country in the world in 2019, placing it ahead of nearly all of its peers in the region, with the exception of Singapore, which came in 20th. Of the 80 countries included in the survey, Indonesia ranked 47th, the Philippines 51st, Myanmar 53rd, Thailand 54th, and Malaysia 58th.

The magazine defines powerful countries as those who “consistently dominate news headlines, preoccupy policymakers and shape global economic patterns” and forms its rankings “based on an equally weighted average of scores from five country attributes that related to a country’s power: a leader, economically influential, politically influential, strong international alliances and strong military.”

Communist Vietnam rose two spots in the rankings from 2018, bolstered in particular by its high score for “strong military”. The country’s weakest attribute was its lack of “strong international alliances”, an area which is unlikely to improve, according to the country’s recently released defense white paper.

Communist Vietnam released its 2019 defense white paper November 25, in both English and Vietnamese. It has released such reports irregularly, in 1998, 2004, and 2009. Photo: VNExpress

The paper was the first of its kind released in more than a decade, and at its official launch November 25, Deputy Minister of National Defense Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh highlighted the “4 No’s” that would guide Communist Vietnam’s foreign policy: “Vietnam will not join any military alliances, will not associate with one party to oppose another, will not allow foreign countries to set up a military [base] in the country…” and “will not use force or threaten the use of force in international relations” unless it is under attack.

In an interview with VNExpress, Vinh defended the country’s policy of no military alliances, stating that “Being a part of such an alliance means you have to completely align with one side and possibly have to confront the other, which means more enemies. Vietnam does not stand by any side but peace, reason, justice, and international laws.”

In writing the white paper, the Central Military Commission (CMC, the highest party organ in Communist Vietnam on military policy) and the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said they consulted with representatives of former senior military leaders, as well as with members of the public who expressed reservations about non-alignment.

The CMC and the MND defended their position, equating non-alignment with independence: “Countries that are members of such an alliance will be placed under the leadership of one country, normally a large and powerful one, and will have to adhere to that union’s principles, even when they are not entirely compatible with the country. Member nations of such a bloc will no longer be independent and have the autonomy to decide things on their own.”

Vietnam watchers have acknowledged that the country’s one-party regime is in a difficult position politically, and an active alliance with either the US or China would bring about its own set of challenges, some existential.

The country’s policy of pacifism, self-defense, non-alignment, and multilateralism, however, belies the strong language it uses against encroachment in the East Sea and even stronger language wielded against “hostile forces” in the domestic realm.

Without explicitly calling out China as the culprit of “unilateral actions” and “power-based coercion”, a section in the white paper makes Vietnam’s opposition clear:

New developments in the East Sea, including unilateral actions, power-based coercion, violations international law, militarisation, change in the status quo, and infringement upon Viet Nam’s sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction as provided in international law, have undermined the interests of nations concerned and threatened peace, stability, security, safety, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

Communist Vietnam uses even less-restrained language for its domestic opponents, whom it considers to be at virtual war with:

The hostile forces who conspire with reactionaries and political opportunists inside the country have no given up their plots against the Vietnamese revolution. They focus on destroying political, ideological foundation with a view to eliminating the leading role of the CPV and the socialist regime in Viet Nam, “depoliticising” the VPA, sowing division in the entire nation’s great unity, and driving a wedge between the people and the CPV and the VPA.

“Hostile forces” and “reactionaries” “against the revolution” are blanket phrases that the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP or CPV) reserves for those who seek to end the Party’s monopoly on power. State media routinely uses these terms to describe activists, dissidents, and those who advocate multi-party democracy and liberal values. That the Vietnamese communist revolution ended in 1986 with capitalist market reforms has not abated the usage of these anachronistic and binary terms.

The VCP also implicitly acknowledges the threat social media and online sources of information pose to “national defense”, and similar to other authoritarian, one-party states, conflates Party security with national security. A cybersecurity law that sparked nationwide protests in 2018 went into effect at the beginning of 2019, and the end of 2019 has seen an upsurge of Vietnamese citizens arrested for writing Facebook posts critical of the communist regime.

According to the white paper, Communist Vietnam’s defense spending totaled approximately 5.8 billion USD in 2018, equivalent to 2.3 percent of GDP, an increase from 2.23 percent in 2010. For comparison, the United States spends 3.2 percent of GDP on defense, while China spends only 1.9 percent.

The full English copy of Communist Vietnam’s 2019 defense white paper can be found here, courtesy of Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at The University of New South Wales, Canberra.

Communist Vietnam is also set to assume the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from 2020-2021, where according to Thayer, the country will be “in a position to exert strong leadership on Code of Conduct issues [in the East Sea] through bilateral consultations with other ASEAN members and by setting the agenda and issuing the Chairman’s statement at all relevant ASEAN meetings and at all ASEAN Plus meetings.”

Though ideologically aligned with China, Communist Vietnam has often been the lone member of ASEAN to speak up forcefully against Chinese activities in the East Sea, a trend which looks to continue. Vietnam’s deputy foreign minister, Nguyen Quoc Dung, commented at a lecture at The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore that he “hope[s…] during our chairmanship China will show restraint and refrain from these activities [that violate Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone],” adding that “it wasn’t that other ASEAN countries supported China’s actions, but that they did not protest in the same way.”

Disputed claims in the East Sea (also known as the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea). Photo: The Economist

The ASEAN chairmanship rotates through its ten members annually, in alphabetical order. Communist Vietnam last served in the position in 2010.

Concurrently, 2020 will also see Communist Vietnam serve as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), a position which it bid on and won by unanimous vote. The two-year term will begin in January 2020, and joining the country on the UNSC will be Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, and Tunisia.

According to The Diplomat, “during [Vietnam’s] campaign for the seat and in comments thereafter, officials have indicated that [their goals] would generally include areas such as promoting sustainable development and advancing preventive diplomacy, drawing on Vietnam’s own historical experience with war and peace as well as contemporary events such as its hosting of the second Trump-Kim summit.” Communist Vietnam last held a seat on the UNSC in 2008-2009.

Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: COVID-19 Crisis Deepening While The National Assembly Convened To Elect State Leadership

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A medical worker in Vietnam during the Covid-19 outbreak in July 2021. Photo: VNExpress.

The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s political developments of the past week.


COVID-19

  • Last week witnessed the daily COVID-19 tally reach an all-time high on Saturday, with 7,968 cases reported. The total number of cases surpassed 100,000 on Sunday, July 25.
  • According to data from Johns Hopkins University, only more than 4.5 million doses have been administered, which is equivalent to 4.6 percent of the population, with only 0.39 percent of the population having been fully vaccinated.
  • Hanoi, the capital city, started a 15-day social distancing period on Saturday, July 24.
  • Ho Chi Minh city started to impose a night curfew from Monday, July 26, prohibiting residents from leaving their homes after 6 PM without a legitimate reason.

Vaccination scandals

Vietnam’s public always speculates that government officials, their relatives, and big corporations have unfair access to vaccines. Last week, two scandals gave them legitimate reasons to believe that.

  • A woman announced on her Facebook page that she received a COVID-19 vaccine shot last week with help from her “grandfather.” The hospital that administered the shot explained that her father registered for her. The father happens to be a lecturer at the Academy of Military Medicine who taught one of the doctors administering vaccines. It’s a popular practice in Vietnamese culture for a woman who has children to call her own father “ông ngoại” (maternal grandfather), following the way her children call him.
  • The Ho Chi Minh City government “lent” 5,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to the giant corporation Vingroup, city officials said on Saturday. They explained that this was done due to Vingroup’s large assistance to the government’s pandemic response and that they would do so again for other enterprises for the same purpose.
  •  The two above-mentioned vaccination scandals angered the public as people questioned the fairness of the government’s vaccine rollout policy. Some public members were enraged at the Vingroup “lending agreement” because they believed the government did not have the authority to lend these vaccines since they were donated to Vietnam under the COVAX program.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly convened to rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s decisions on personnel

The pandemic is usually not a reason for a national legislative body to stop working. But while online meeting procedures have not been introduced yet, the National Assembly convened its first session of the new term on July 20 after the election in May to largely rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s major decisions on personnel.

  • The National Assembly always convenes shortly after the general elections to elect state leadership, including its own. On July 20, members elected Vuong Dinh Hue as chairperson of the body and 17 other top positions.
  • As expected, the National Assembly  Standing Committee has nominated Nguyen Xuan Phuc as state chairman (a.k.a state president).
  • On July 26, the National Assembly is expected to elect the state chairperson, the prime minister, the vice state chairperson, the chief justice of the Supreme People’s Court, and the prosecutor general of the Supreme People’s Procuracy. These people are expected to be the same officials who were elected to the same positions in April.
  • The National Assembly on July 23 voted to pass a resolution to maintain the current 22 ministry-level departments of the administration.
  • The National Assembly has also decided to shorten its first session due to the COVID-19 pandemic and end the session on July 28 instead of July 31.

Facebook users sentenced to years of imprisonment

Nguyen Van Lam, 51, was sentenced by Nghe An’s People’s Provincial Court to nine years in prison and three years of probation for “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. He was accused of using Facebook to spread information that is deemed to be anti-state.

More cases:

  • Tran Hoang Minh, a Facebook user, was sentenced to five years of imprisonment allegedly for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Penal Code, according to RFA. The Hanoi People’s Court convicted him based on the accusation of publishing 51 pieces of content on Facebook concerning the Dong Tam incident. Minh had no defense lawyer nor relatives present during his trial. It’s unclear whether or not he will file an appeal.
  • A former attorney in Hanoi, Nguyen Thi Thuy, was convicted of the same crime on July 21 and sentenced to 20 months of imprisonment: “In the process of protecting rights of Ngu, Thuy said he was wrongly accused and illegally arrested. She later wrote two documents that hurt the prestige and honor of several Party and State leaders and sent them to ministries and agencies, thus exerting pressure on them to follow her proposal.”
  • Nguyen Van Son, a relative of the detained blogger Le Dung Vova, was charged with concealment of crimes, Hanoi Police announced on July 22. He is accused of assisting Dung while he was in hiding before his arrest on June 30.

Former mayor of Hanoi prosecuted for illegally interfering in bidding activities

From VietnamPlus:

“The Investigation Police Agency under the Ministry of Public Security on July 24 executed a decision on commencing legal proceedings against Nguyen Duc Chung, former chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee, for the charge of “abusing position and power while performing duties” in the case related to the municipal Department of Planning and Investment and relevant units.”


U.S. trade agency drops tariff threat against Vietnam over currency practices

From Reuters:

“The U.S. Trade Representative’s office on Friday said it had determined that no tariff action against Vietnam was warranted after its central bank agreed with the U.S. Treasury not to manipulate its currency for an export advantage.”


US Defense Secretary to visit Vietnam

From VietnamPlus:

“US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will pay an official visit to Vietnam on July 28 and 29 at the invitation of Vietnamese Minister of National Defence Gen. Phan Van Giang.”

From VnExpress:

“A former U.S. vessel donated to Vietnam Coast Guard arrived in the country earlier this month, according to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.”


Learn more about Vietnam:

In Vietnam, the Party’s Rolling Crackdown on Dissent Continues

Stewart Rees/The Diplomat/July 23

“Proponents of an EU trade pact said it would nudge one-party Vietnam towards greater respect for human rights. The evidence so far points in the other direction.”

Vietnam Still Trolling Donald Trump With Economic Successes

William Pesek/Forbes/July 22

“Vietnam just made a deal with the U.S. Treasury Department: we won’t weaken the dong if you take us off the dreaded “currency manipulator” list. It’s actually a bigger victory for Hanoi than Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính’s government may realize.”

New research: “The Growing Salience of Online Vietnamese Nationalism”

Luong Nguyen An Dien/ISEAS/2021

“The growing salience of online Vietnamese nationalism has posed serious challenges and dilemmas for the regime. The authorities have had to encourage nationalistic patriotism without letting Sinophobia spiral out of control or turn against the regime.”

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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: COVID-19 Nationwide Crisis; Country’s Map May Be Redrawn

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Medical workers during Covid-19 lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Zing News

The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s political developments of the past week.


COVID-19 in Vietnam

  • Movement restrictions across Vietnam amidst outbreaks: Sixteen southern provinces are expected to undergo two-week movement restrictions as three-quarters of new cases were in the south, particularly in Saigon. In the north, Hanoi is also entertaining more restrictions. People are advised to stay at home, and non-essential establishments are closed. 
  • The Vietnamese government said Pfizer would provide the country with 20 million more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which would be used primarily for children of 12-18 years old, and Pfizer may consider transferring the vaccine technology to Vietnam. Vietnam also said that the Pfizer dose would be offered to people vaccinated with AstraZeneca in the first dose. 
  • Vietnam is imprisoning people on COVID-19 related charges: Last week, on July 16, a man was charged with 18 months in prison for “breaking strict Covid-19 quarantine rules, spreading the virus to others and causing financial damage to the authorities.” However, this was not the first time a Vietnam Airline flight attendant also received similar charges and was sentenced to a two-year suspended jail time in late March. 

Vietnamese hospital cremates body of Korean virus patient without notice

From Korea Times:

  • A hospital in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, has cremated the body of a Korean national who died from COVID-19 there, without giving prior notice to the bereaved family members in Korea, provoking protests from them and the Korean Consulate General in the city. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sunday, a Korean man in his 50s died in the hospital after undergoing medical treatment for about 10 days following him testing positive for the virus in early July.

The Vietnamese government is tightening free speech 

  • According to Nikkei Asia, the government proposes a new draft decree that contains new regulations specifically targeting live-streaming activities on social media platforms, including Facebook, Youtube, and Tiktok. 
  • This new draft decree is forcing international social media platforms to hand over to the government the information of popular individuals who live streaming with more than 10,000 followers or subscribers. The government also wants to tax those making money from these platforms. 
  • Meanwhile, concern has been raised over Vietnam’s purchase of Israeli company Cellebrite’s phone-hacking technology. Attorney Eitay Mack, who conducted the investigation into the Israeli company, protested the company’s and the Israeli Defense Ministry’s decision to sell such technology to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, citing concerns over crackdowns on journalists and pro-democracy and human rights activists. 

Incoming National Assembly’s first meeting since the 2021 election 

  • Next week, on July 20, the 15th National Assembly will hold its first meeting session after the 2021 election ended in late May. 
  • Originally, the first session was held from July 20 to August 5, but the session was shortened to end on July 31 due to complications of COVID-19 outbreaks in Vietnam. 
  • In this first session, the representatives in the National Assembly will confirm 50 important officials who will hold the positions over the next five years, such as the chairperson of the Assembly, the president, the prime minister and his deputies, chief justice, chief of the Procuracy, etc. The identity of these leaders is already known at this point, and confirmation is largely just procedural. Vietnam conducted a similar event in April to elect the same individuals to the same positions. It has made the whole process of election, nomination, and confirmation started in May highly confusing to even the Vietnamese public, not to mention international observers.
  • The first session will also discuss financial and economic issues related to public investment for the next term.  
  • It is also reported that 435 out of 499 National Assembly representatives have been vaccinated against COVID-19. It is unclear whether they have been fully vaccinated or only vaccinated with one dose. It is also unclear which types of vaccines were used for the National Assembly representatives. 

EU Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) denounces Vietnam’s arrest of civil society leaders

  • Two weeks ago, journalist Mai Phan Loi and lawyer Dang Dinh Bach were arrested for alleged tax evasion. They were both involved in registered civil society organizations in Vietnam and were both board members of the VNGO-EVFTA Network, which aims to raise awareness about civil society’s involvement in the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. 
  • Last week, on July 15, the EU DAG denounced the arrests of the two individuals, citing concerns that the Vietnamese government is actively silencing those who try to raise human rights concerns. 
  • Earlier this year in January, the EU DAG already affirmed that “civil society engagement and scrutiny of the EVFTA is not an optional element of the agreement,” and urged the European Commission to ensure that this element is fully implemented. 

US ambassador to Vietnam nominee promises to press Vietnam on human rights

From Reuters

  • In a US Senate hearing on July 13, Marc Knapper, the Biden administration’s nominee to become the new US ambassador to Vietnam, vowed to press the Vietnamese government “to respect the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief.”

South Korea requests Vietnam’s involvement in North Korean dialogue

From United Press International

  • Last week, on July 15, during a phone call with the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong, South Korean President Moon Jae-in asked Vietnam to “play a role in promptly resuming dialogue with North Korea,” according to South Korea’s Blue House. 
  • In response to Moon’s request, Trong reportedly said that Vietnam “supports the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and dialogues for peaceful consultations.”
  • Moon also asked for Vietnam’s opinion on the situation of pro-democracy crackdowns in Myanmar, to which Trong replied that Vietnam will “continue to work for the restoration of peace and stability in Myanmar.”

Will the Vietnam map be redrawn?

  • According to the state-controlled Tuoi Tre News, 20 Vietnamese provinces might be merged into other provinces due to their limited population or acreage. 
  • Some of the provinces include Da Nang, Ha Nam, Vinh Phuc, Hung Yen, Nam Dinh, Bac Kan, Cao Bang, Kon Tum, Ninh Thuan, and Lao Cai, among a list of twentieth provinces.
  • Vietnam’s administrative provincial boundaries have been adjusted repeatedly over the past 50 years. By the end of the Vietnam War in April 1975, the country had 72 provincial units. A massive merging process was implemented shortly after that and the number of provincial units reduced to 38 in 1976. However, many provinces have started to be split since 1978 while a few others have been merged to other entities, making the number of provinces 63 in 2008.

Learn more about Vietnam 

New research: The South Vietnamese Flag and Shifting Representations of the Vietnamese American Experience

Tuan Hoang/Rising Asia Journal/July 13, 2021 

“The sight of the South Vietnamese flag in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021, has aroused curiosity and criticism. Missing in the commentaries, however, is the multiplicity of its symbolism to Vietnamese Americans who had come to the United States as refugees or immigrants. Although its visual symbolism is forever tied to the history of the former Republic of Vietnam, its underlying meaning has changed to reflect the experience of Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon, not before.”

New research: A Multi-level Approach to Vietnam Foreign Policy: From Security Preoccupation to Middle Power Role

Le Dinh Tinh/Strategic Analysis/June 13, 2021

“Prior to 1995 when Vietnam joined ASEAN and normalized relationship with the United States, the overriding concern was security as could be well explained by realism. Vietnam has made several critical, strategic moves since 1995 and by 2030 the country may be able to act internationally as an emerging middle power. Taking a multi-level approach and empirical evidences of 35 years of Doi Moi (renovation), this article attempts to clarify as to how Vietnam has been in a better position to ensure the security goal by embarking on an ambitious development strategy and expanding its international role.”

New research: Vietnam’s Foreign Policy in an Era of Rising Sino-US Competition and Increasing Domestic Political Influence

Carlyle A. Thayer/Asian Security/July 31, 2017

“This article examines the dramatic shifts that Vietnam’s foreign policy has undergone over time, from a country tightly allied with Socialist partners like China and the Soviet Union to one that has diversified its strategic partners and forsworn alliances in order to protect its strategic autonomy…. As public opinion and elite factionalism play an increasing role in Vietnam’s foreign policy, managing Vietnam’s external ties has become increasingly difficult. This article concludes that public opinion regarding relations with China has become so toxic that it poses a serious challenge to the political legitimacy of Vietnam’s one-party regime should it fail to deter Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.”

Bittersweet: Vietnam’s Mixed Progress on E-Government During COVID-19

Truong Thuy Quynh and Pham Thi Thuy Duong/The Diplomat/July 16, 2021

“The government is in fact taking steps to remedy the system’s shortcomings, from timely adoption of more advanced technologies to smoothing the way for government-private sector collaboration.

On July 11, Ho Chi Minh City introduced a new system that allows facial recognition and location tracking via smartphones to supervise self-quarantine, hoping to ease the pressure on centralized quarantine venues. The city is also using STAYHOME and HCMCovidSafe, smart wristbands produced collaboratively by governmental agencies, tech corporations, and scientists. Such cooperation has sparked the hope for a synergy in ICT capacity building in Vietnam in the near future.

Nevertheless, problems like a lack of coordination within the governmental apparatus, digital inequality, an immature digital culture, and a dearth of ICT-qualified personnel within the public sector may remain pressing in the aftermath of COVID-19. All the experts we spoke to agreed that these issues should now rise to the top of the policy agenda, alongside infrastructure building and technological upgrades.”

Vietnam to pilot virtual currency as crypto thrives in gray zone

Lien Hoang/Nikkei Asia/July 12, 2021

“After years of warning its citizens not to “gamble” on virtual money, the Vietnamese government has decided to explore creating its own digital currency.

The surprise policy move came buried near the bottom of Prime Minister Decision 942, which lays out a strategy for digitizing the government by 2030. Released last month, it directs the State Bank of Vietnam to research, “develop, and pilot the use of virtual currency based on blockchain technology.”

Why we should care about fate of the Mekong

An Pich Hatda/Nikkei Asia/ July 12, 2021

“More than 70 million people rely on the river, partly or entirely, for their livelihood, and its central role in the economies of the Lower Basin countries cannot be understated. Taken together, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam represent around half the Mekong region’s entire production of rice and fish, a third of tourism, and a large percentage of the region’s energy demands, according to a recent study by the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

But the Mekong’s enduring role as a source of life and livelihoods is facing multiple threats. These threats have been compounded by the COVID pandemic that has created unprecedented economic hardship and worsened environmental degradation.”

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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: More Writers And Activists Silenced While The Country Struggles With Record COVID-19 Cases

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Writer Pham Chi Thanh. Photo: Asianews

The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s political developments of the past week.


Pro-democracy writers and activists persecuted

Last week, multiple pro-democracy writers and activists were charged, and some were also convicted under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code, which prohibits “anti-state” writings, and Article 331, which criminalizes “abusing social media in order to erode the state’s rights.” The list includes the conviction of Pham Chi Thanh, a satirical writer, the arrest of Do Nam Trung, a human rights activist, and the charge filed against Le The Thang, a member of an independent journalism platform called Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper). 

Who are these writers and activists?
  • Pham Chi Thanh is a satirical writer who frequently criticizes Vietnamese political leaders through his online medium, a blog and a Facebook page, and books. He used to be the deputy editor of the state-controlled platform Voice for Vietnam but lost this position in 2007 when he wrote an article criticizing China. Human Rights Watch reports that he has been in a bad health condition since his arrest in 2020. On July 9, he was sentenced to five years and 6 months in prison, and five years of probation.
  • Do Nam Trung is a frontline human rights activist who focuses on democracy advocacy. In 2014, he was arrested and sentenced to 14 months in prison for anti-China and anti-authoritarian activism. Upon his release in 2015, Trung continued his activism, which led to harassment and serious threats from the government. In the early morning of July 6, he was arrested again. Under Article 117, which is “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” one can be sentenced to between five to 20 years in prison. 
  • Le The Thang is a photographer and a filmmaker of the independent journalism platform Bao Sach. He was charged along with four other members of Bao Sach, Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, and Doan Kien Giang under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code. Article 331, which prohibits “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe the interests of the State,” stipulates prison sentences between six months to three years or probation of up to three years. 
What are the writers and activists’ lawyers saying?
  • So far, only Ha Huy Son, Pham Chi Thanh’s lawyer, has talked to the press. 
  • The lawyer argues that Article 117 cannot be applied to Pham Chi Thanh as he was only criticizing Nguyen Phu Trong, the then-president and secretary-general of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), while Article 117 covers “anti-state” writings. 
  • The lawyer further argues that law enforcement cannot equate an individual with the state, even if such individual is the president or secretary-general of the VCP. 

Meanwhile, Vietnam continues to deny any violations of press freedom. Last week, Vietnam Plus, a state-controlled media platform, said that press freedom in Vietnam is an “undeniable objective reality” in response to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ‘s ranking on freedom of the press. 

  • In its 2021 ranking, RSF ranks Vietnam 175 out of 180 countries, only ahead of a few countries, like China and North Korea. 
  • The state-controlled media is calling RSF’s classification “biased, unobjective, and completely groundless.” 
  • The state-controlled media defends Vietnam’s press freedom by citing “diverse types and content of the press,” the fact that international media outlets can operate within the country, as well as the fact that Vietnam has widespread internet usage. 
  • However, they completely ignored the fact that independent journalists and writers are being arrested and have been charged almost every week since late last year with questionable charges, that there are no independent journalists and journalism platforms allowed to operate in Vietnam, and that non-state platforms such as BBC Vietnamese or our own Luat Khoa Magazine and The Vietnamese Magazine are largely blocked out of internet access in Vietnam. 

New draft regulations on the Internet awaiting public consultation

According to Baker Mckenzie, Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications just released a draft amendment of the well-known Decree 72, which is the main set of regulations concerning the internet, social networks, and gaming services.

The Ministry is awaiting public recommendations before officially enacting the decree amendment. This period of public consultation lasts for two months, with a deadline of September 9, 2021. 

Here are some important points about Decree 72, according to Baker Mckenzie: 

  • The new set of obligations specifically for offshore social network services;
  • Broader scopes of illegal content under Article 5.1 that are subject to content takedown mechanism;
  • New regulations on the provision of data center service and cloud service;
  • New regulations on live-streaming services; and
  • New obligations for social network providers regarding child protection (e.g., age verification, content filter, and takedown).”

COVID-19 in Vietnam 

  • In total, as of last week, the country has 28,470 confirmed cases and 112 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. While the number seems modest, Vietnam has only fully vaccinated 0.28 percent of the population. 
  • Vietnam received 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine Moderna from the United States under the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (COVAX), an initiative of the World Health Organization to ensure access to vaccines for every country in the world. The Moderna doses that Vietnam just received reportedly came from the United States as a part of 80 million vaccine doses being sent out to foreign countries under the Biden administration. 
  • So far, Vietnam possesses four types of COVID-19 vaccine: AstraZeneca (5.8 million doses), Sputnik V (2000 doses), Sinopharm (500 thousand doses), and Pfizer (90 thousand doses). Moderna would be the fifth vaccine to be administered after the government approved Moderna two weeks ago. 

Learn more about Vietnam 

Important date: It has been 26 years since Vietnam and the United States normalized their relations on July 12, 1995 (Vietnam time).

The US Military Should Return to Vietnam

Charles K. Djou and Matthew B.Powell/Defense One/July 08, 2021

“As a part of the Vietnam War effort, the United States built several major military facilities in Vietnam in the 1960s; all are strategically positioned to deter China’s aggression in the South China Sea and assure regional U.S. allies. The U.S. and Vietnam should consider the return of American military forces to these facilities in the next 5 to 10 years; such a move would also bolster Vietnam’s ability to resist coercion from China. After a series of high level diplomatic overtures in the last decade, the U.S. and Vietnam should now engage in more active and detailed staff level discussions about a return of U.S. forces to Vietnam.”

How Vietnam’s ‘influencer’ army wages information warfare on Facebook

James Pearson/Reuters/July 09, 2021

“Force 47, as the Vietnamese army’s online information warfare unit is known, consists of thousands of soldiers who, in addition to their normal duties, are tasked with setting up, moderating and posting on pro-state Facebook groups, to correct “wrong views” online.

According to a Reuters review of provincial-level state media reports and broadcasts by the army’s official television station, Force 47 has since its inception in 2016 set up hundreds of Facebook groups and pages, and published thousands of pro-government articles and posts.”

Vietnam learns to exploit nationalist rage over Chinese maps

Dien Luong/Nikkei Asia/July 09, 2021 

“Over the years, Vietnamese authorities have become well aware that any move to repress nationalism, anti-China sentiment in particular, only alienates the very audience whose support they need to shore up. In that context, Vietnamese authorities have displayed an acute sensitivity to nationalist sentiments expressed online, often using them to serve their own agenda.”

U.S. Considers Whether to Take Step Toward Tariffs on Vietnam

Eric Martin, John Boudreau, and Saleha Mohsin/ Bloomberg/ July 07, 2021 

“During the closing days of President Donald Trump’s administration in January, the U.S. labeled Vietnam’s currency actions unreasonable and restrictive to American businesses, but refrained from hitting the nation with punitive tariffs.

The trade investigation remains open, however, and if the U.S. decides to formally propose levies on goods imported from Vietnam, it would need to allow time for public comments and hearings. That means that the initial step of publishing a proposed product list would need to happen in the next several weeks, according to trade experts.”

Do Cambodia’s Human Rights Groups Ignore Ethnic Vietnamese?

David Hutt/The Diplomat/July 06, 2021 

“The issue of ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia is complex. For more than a century, Vietnam has been the bete noire of Cambodian nationalists (of which more later). According to official census data from 2013, there are around 63,000 ethnic-Vietnamese people in Cambodia, but the true number may be much higher. One organization puts it between 400,000 and 700,000. While some ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia today are new migrants, many have lived in the country for generations. Yet official discrimination means that a significant number are unable to claim citizenship or proper legal documents – around 90 percent, according to the Phnom Penh-based Minority Rights Organisation. This means they are denied the rights of voting, land ownership, and even access to schools, and so are essentially stateless.”

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