Vietnam Briefing: Military General Appointed To Lead Party’s Propaganda

Trinh Huu Long
Trinh Huu Long

It was a week of Tet (Lunar New Year), containing COVID-19, a new draft decree on personal data protection, and an unexpected appointment of a military general to the top seat of the Communist Party’s propaganda commission.


COVID-19

  • Vietnam is expected to secure 60 million doses of vaccines, Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long said on February 19. One day earlier, the health agency announced that 204,000 doses of the vaccine will be available in Vietnam by February 28.
  • The cafes, street restaurants, and historical sites closure order in Hanoi has remained unchanged, but in fact, many cafes and restaurants are still open.

It’s been a long time since a military general led the Communist Party’s propaganda machine

One needs to look back to the 1980s to see military generals running the Communisty Party’s propaganda departments. Le Quang Dao, Dang Quoc Bao, and Tran Do were the ones holding this position back then. General Tran Do later became known as the high-ranking member of the Party who called for a multiparty political system in Vietnam in the 1990s; he was expelled from the Party in 1999.

Not until last week, however, had another general been appointed to the position. Sen. Lt. Gen. Nguyen Trong Nghia was named the chairperson of the Party Central Committee’s Commission for Popularisation and Education (also known as the Commission for Propaganda) on February 18. He previously served as vice chairman of the General Department of Politics of the Vietnam People’s Army.

One unusual thing to note: He’s not yet a member of the Politburo, making him the first non-Politburo-member to chair the commission since the 1990s.

Propaganda experience: RFA reported: “Nguyen, 59, had previously overseen the creation in 2017 of a 10,000-member army cyber unit, Task Force 47, which monitored political comment online, countering statements opposing Vietnam’s ruling party.”

Context: The military has already occupied two out of 18 seats in the Politburo, which is also an unusually high number because over the past 20 years only the Minister of National Defence has held the position. If Gen. Nghia is going to be appointed as a member of the Politburo in the coming years, that would make a record three generals in that Party body.


Here comes another attempt to detail the Cybersecurity Law

It’s been almost three years since Vietnam’s National Assembly passed the highly controversial Cybersecurity Law. No guidance on the law’s implementation has been given as the central government usually does in the case of decrees, circulars, and decisions.

A draft decree was made available to the public for comments at the end of 2018, but it quickly disappeared after a huge backlash from domestic and international actors.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Public Security’s website announced another draft decree to address personal data protection.

You can find the full text of this document in Vietnamese here (Google Drive link). The draft decree is available for public consultation from February 9 to April 9.

We have taken a look at the text and here are nine takeaways.

Spoiler: The draft decree has a lot to do with the government dealing with foreign services, such as Facebook and Google. It is not necessarily good news for these companies.


Vietnam – Myanmar relations amidst political instability in Myanmar

Three things you need to know about Vietnam’s position on the political tensions in Myanmar after the military overthrew the elected government led by the National League for Democracy.

  • First, the government called on the international community to further support the transition to democracy in Myanmar, matching the wishes and interests of the people of Myanmar, as reported by VietnamPlus. This statement was made on February 15 by Ambassador Le Thi Tuyet Mai, Permanent Representative of Vietnam to the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other international organisations in Geneva, during a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
  • Second, four days later, Ambassador Le Thi Tuyet Mai made another statement at a session of the WTO, saying Vietnam wanted to strengthen its trade ties with Myanmar. According to VietnamPlus: “Vietnam hails Myanmar’s achievements in structural reforms and impressive economic growth in the past year, and wants to continue bolstering the economic-trade and investment ties with the nation in the time to come, a Vietnamese diplomat said.”
  • Third, Vietnam’s military has significant investments in Myanmar in cooperation with the country’s military. A rights group named Justice for Myanmar released an investigative report in December 2020 accusing Viettel – a Vietnamese military telecommunications corporation – of assisting the Myanmar military in war crimes and crimes against humanity through Myanmar’s Mytel company.

China’s police chief visits Vietnam

Mr. Zhao Kezhi, the Minister of Public Security of China, visited Vietnam and was received by top government officials: CPV General Secretary and State President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Minister of Public Security To Lam, and Minister of National Defense Ngo Xuan Lich.

China’s Xinhuanet reported:

“Zhao, during the meeting, expressed hopes that the two sides could enhance the synergy between the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and Vietnam’s ‘Two Corridors and One Economic Circle’ plan, expand and grow the economic, trade and investment cooperation, so as to better benefit the people of the two countries.”


84 percent of Vietnamese choose the United States over China

This is according to a survey released by ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute in Singapore on February 10, making Vietnam the second country in ASEAN that favors the United States the most.

Survey question: If ASEAN were forced to align itself with one of the two strategic rivals, which should it choose?


New report by the US Congressional Research Service on relations with Vietnam

The US Congressional Research Service released a report on the US-Vietnam relations on February 16, 2021. This report is meant to inform US lawmakers on matters relating to Vietnam.

Quotes:

“China’s actions in the South China Sea have led the United States and Vietnam to intensify security collaboration. In 2016, the Obama Administration removed remaining US restrictions on sales of lethal weapons and related services to Vietnam. Applications to export all defense items, lethal and non-lethal, are subject to a case-by-case review by the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. The Obama and Trump Administrations prioritized bilateral maritime assistance, including providing 24 new coast guard patrol vessels, aerial drones, coastal radar, and two decommissioned U.S.”

“Although the Trump Administration continued the annual bilateral human rights dialogue and criticized Vietnam’s human rights record in various annual reports and selected statements, it did not appear to assign a high priority to human rights in its overall approach to Vietnam.”


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Trinh Huu Long

A journalist and democracy advocate at @luatkhoatapchi and @thevnmesemag magazines. He's also a co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, a nonprofit organization that runs The Vietnamese.