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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: VCP’s Leadership Formed Amidst COVID-19 Resurgence

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The final ceremony of the VCP's 13th national congress. Photo courtesy: Communist Party of Vietnam online newspaper

We are happy to introduce our weekly Vietnam Briefing that will be published every Monday (Vietnam time). We will produce the briefings by carefully selecting worthy news stories from verifiable and trusted sources, including Vietnam’s independent and mainstream media, civil society groups, as well as our own sources. In line with the publication’s code of conduct, we will practice no self-censorship and we pledge to be truthful, honest, and fair.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us: editor@thevietnamese.org.


COVID-19

The situation has been worsening over the past week. After new cases were recently reported in Hai Duong, Hai Phong, Hanoi, Bac Ninh, Quang Ninh, Dien Bien, Ha Giang, and now Binh Duong, Ho Chi Minh City and Gia Lai also have identified patients with COVID-19. In addition, one staff member of Tan Son Nhat International Airport was found to have COVID-19, according to the Ministry of Health. The airport remains in operation though. This data was updated at 10:00 pm on Sunday.

Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is fast approaching (February 10-16) and many people are trying to find ways to return home for family gatherings. Unfortunately, the coronavirus is also finding ways to continue to infect people.

Fireworks for the Lunar New Year’s Eve have been canceled in various parts of the country, including Ho Chi Minh City. In Hanoi and Hai Phong, each city will have just one show instead of 30 and 12, respectively.


Meet the new leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party

The Communist Party’s 13th Congress ended last Monday morning, February 1, 2021, one day earlier than planned due to COVID-19 concerns.

The main part of the Congress’s agenda was to elect a new leadership for the party. Two hundred members of the Central Committee were elected by the Congress on Saturday, January 30, and the Committee convened the next day to elect members of the Politburo, the general secretary, and members of the Central Disciplinary Commission.

The results were announced the same day. Current general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong won re-election. The next three seats in line are current prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the head of the Party Central Committee’s Organization Commission, Pham Minh Chinh, and the secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee, Vuong Dinh Hue. Together, they are often called “The Gang of Four,” or the “Four Pillars,” holding the top seats of the Party and State.

The public in Vietnam is often informed of the results well in advance by some Internet influencers who seem to have insider information. Now, the rumor is that Nguyen Xuan Phuc will be the president, Pham Minh Chinh will be the prime minister, and Vuong Dinh Hue will be the chairperson of the National Assembly.

Of course, we have to wait until June or July, 2021, after Vietnam’s general election on May 23, 2021, to know if the rumors are correct. However, in the past, these rumores have often proved to be true.

Hard numbers: Only 19 out of 200 members of the Central Committee – the elite club of the party – are women; and only one woman was elected to the Politburo, reducing the number from three in the previous term.


After the Party Congress

As we mentioned in an earlier article, the Communist Party’s Politburo would routinely convene right after the Party Congress to assign positions to its members. Now we have started to know at least two of those positions.

February 6, 2021: In Hanoi, Vo Van Thuong was appointed the standing secretary of the Party Secretariat – a small but powerful Party body that is responsible for overseeing the daily activities of the Party, directly assisting the Politburo.

Who is he? Thuong, 51, was born in the southern province of Vinh Long. He is a young and rising star in the VCP, and he will take the fifth position in the Party leadership. He previously served as the head of the Central Propaganda Commission, and was formerly the standing deputy secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee, the secretary of Quang Ngai Province Party Committee, the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth Union, as well as having served in other positions. 

Context: No member from the South faction (in the South of Vietnam) won any of the top seats in the so-called Gang of Four (Party’s general secretary, president, prime minister, and chairperson of the National Assembly).

February 6, 2021: In Hanoi, Tran Tuan Anh, who currently heads the Ministry of Industry and Trade, was appointed commissioner of the Party’s Central Economic Commission.

Who is he? Anh has been the head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade since 2016. He was previously the deputy minister of that same ministry and also was the deputy commissioner of the Central Economic Commission. Anh was also the vice president of the Can Tho City People’s Committee and he also served as Vietnam’s consul general in San Francisco, in the United States.

What is special about him? Now 57, Anh is notably a son of Vietnam’s former president Tran Duc Luong (1997 – 2006).


Now, Vietnam’s general election

The Communist Party’s election is now over, and the next general election will take place on May 23, 2021 to elect members of the National Assembly and local government representatives.

The current chairperson of the National Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, wasted no time and immediately sprang into actions. She publicly announced that the national legislative body aimed to have 25 – 50 outside-of-the-party members; 207 members from the central government, 293 members from local governments; 50 members under 40 years old; at least 18 percent of members from ethnic minorities, and at least 35 percent women, according to Thanh Nien newspaper.

Who formally decides the numbers? The Standing Committee of the National Assembly. It will meet on February 22, 2021 to discuss the matter further.

Backlash: Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan’s statement immediately drew backlash from social media users who criticized her and the ruling Communist Party – the only legally operating political party in Vietnam – for trying to fake a general election.


China’s construction of military bases near the border with Vietnam

One of the most popular political news stories of last week was reports that China had been constructing two military bases close to the border with Vietnam. The following is a quote from Tuoi Tre News:

“Vietnam is verifying reports of a Chinese surface-to-air missile base being constructed near the China-Vietnam border,” Le Thi Thu Hang, spokesperson of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a press conference in Hanoi on Thursday. The missile base is reportedly located in Ningming County in southwestern Guangxi, China, about 20 kilometers away from China’s border with Vietnam. The unverified information also stated that the missile base is situated about 40 kilometers away from another construction site, believed to be a military heliport.”

More details with satellite images have been published by Dai Su Ky Bien Dong, a nonprofit research group dedicated to the South China Sea issue.


Tran Huynh Duy Thuc ends his hunger strike

Political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc ended his hunger strike on February 3, 2021. His family announced the news via a Facebook page named after him. 

He started his hunger strike more than two months ago, demanding the government consider his petition to reduce his sentence of 16 years imprisonment and release him in accordance with a new provision of the 2015 Penal Code. From his family, he only consumed milk during his strike. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was convicted in 2009 for “conducting activities against the state” under Article 79 of the then-Penal Code.

He told his family members via a phone call that he had achieved his main goal of the hunger strike which was to “keep a light burning during our country’s revolution.”

Neither the family nor the government provided any information about whether or not his appeal petition is under consideration.

Know more about him here:

Rights groups snub Vietnam prisoner over hunger strike (Asia Times, January 17, 2021)
Profile: Tran Huynh Duy Thuc (The 88 Project)


Still no news about imprisoned democracy activist Pham Doan Trang

Neither her attorney or family members have had any contact with jailed democracy activist Pham Doan Trang since she was arrested by Vietnam’s police on October 6, 2020. She has been held incommunicado in Hanoi since her arrest.

Family members of Pham Doan Trang’s have visited the No. 1 Detention Center in Hanoi weekly to give her personal supplies, but they have not been allowed to meet her and no communication has been allowed.

Vietnam’s Criminal Procedures Code allows investigative agencies to hold those suspected of national security crimes incommunicado until the investigation is completed.

Pham Doan Trang is a co-founder of The Vietnamese and Luat Khoa magazines. You can learn more about her here and about the Party’s crackdown on the opposition movement under General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong here.

Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: A Busy Week Of Cracking Down On Freedom Of Speech

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From left to right: Doan Kien Giang, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao. Graphics: RSF

We release the Vietnam Briefing every Monday morning, Vietnam time.


Three Vietnamese journalists arrested over reporting on ‘toll booth’ schemes

Quote from RFA:

“Police in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho City on Tuesday arrested three independent journalists connected with the publishing of articles online last year criticizing toll booths set up under a controversial infrastructure funding program, state media sources said.  

Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao—all writers for the popular Facebook page Clean Newspaper, which discusses Vietnamese social issues—were taken into custody in connection with an investigation into the activities of journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh, who was arrested in December.”


Vietnamese journalist gets eight years for ‘anti-state’ writings

Quote from RFA:

“A court in Vietnam sentenced a journalist to eight years Friday for writing anti-state stories and sharing them on social media, her lawyer told RFA.

The People’s Court in the south-central coastal province of Phu Yen convicted Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu of violating article 117 of the Vietnamese penal code for ‘creating, storing and disseminating information and materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.’”


Vietnamese Facebook user jailed for two years for ‘abusing democratic rights’

Quote from RFA:

“A court in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho City on Thursday sentenced a Facebook user to two years in prison for posting articles and livestream videos criticizing Vietnam’s communist government online, family members and media sources said.

Le Thi Binh, born in 1976, was arrested in December and charged with ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code. Her elder brother, Le Minh The, had completed a two-year jail term on the same charge in July.”


International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) filed new submission to the UN, detailing the government’s use of laws to suppress freedom of expression

Quote from ICJ:

“The ICJ highlighted in particular how new laws have been enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that aim at or can be used by State authorities to control information about the pandemic. These laws contain provisions incompatible with human rights law and standards as their vague language makes them prone to abuses. In addition, some   prescribe excessive sanctions, including severe criminal penalties, which are incompatible with the principles of necessity and proportionality.”

Read the full text here.


On foreign affairs

PM wraps up working trip to attend ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting (April 25): “On the Myanmar situation, Chinh affirmed that Vietnam, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2020-2021. and the Council’s president for April 2021, has worked to create favorable conditions for the ASEAN member nations to collaborate closely at UN forums in mobilizing support for the bloc’s efforts in approaching and finding suitable solutions to the Myanmar issue.”

Vietnamese President chairs UNSC’s high-level open debate (April 19): “In his capacity as President of the United Nations Security Council in April 2021, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on April 19 chaired a High-level Open Debate on ‘Cooperation between the UN and regional organizations in enhancing confidence-building and dialogue in conflict prevention and resolution’, which was held in both online and in-person formats.”

Japan targets Vietnam for first ASEAN oil-sharing deal (April 21): “The deal is part of Japan’s attempt to build oil-sharing arrangements with Associations of Southeast Asian Nations members. Under one proposal, each participant would build up individual reserves of crude oil, along with gasoline, diesel fuel and other petroleum products, to prepare for disruptions in supplies.”


A busy week of the South China Sea issue, too

Vietnamese, Chinese defence ministers hold talks in Hanoi (April 25): “ Both sides agreed that the year of 2020 witnessed complicated developments in the world and regional situation with great risks of instability, creating new challenges to the trend of peace, cooperation and development and greatly impacting the security and development environment of all countries.”

China, Vietnam agree to boost trust amid South China Sea tensions (April 25): “China and Vietnam have agreed to work together to improve trust amid simmering tensions between the two neighbours over their territorial claims in the South China Sea.”

Vietnam building up its maritime militia (April 25): “Vietnam is building up its maritime militia in the South China Sea in an apparent challenge to Chinese efforts to dominate the disputed waterway, according to a Chinese military magazine.”

Indonesia, Vietnam renew calls to finish EEZ negotiations (April 25): “Indonesia and Vietnam have renewed calls to finish ongoing negotiations on the delimitation of the maritime boundary between their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) near the South China Sea to provide clarity and avoid incidents in the waters.”

Japanese destroyer in Vietnam on friendly visit (April 20): “The visit is part of efforts to boost defense and security cooperation between Vietnam and Japan and maintain the countries’ strategic partnership, officials said.”

India offers help to Vietnam in warship-building & maintenance (April 20): “India on Tuesday offered all possible help by its defence and other shipyards to Vietnam in construction and maintenance of warships, build.”


New research on Vietnam’s politics

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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: VCP Has Finalized The List Of Candidates In The Very Election They Are Running For

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The Vietnam Fatherland Front held their third round of hiệp thương in Hanoi on April 15, 2021. Photo: mattran.org.vn

We release the Vietnam Briefing every Monday morning, Vietnam time.


The Vietnamese Communist Party is finalizing the list of eligible candidates for the  upcoming general election

The way elections in Vietnam work is to pre-determine the results, and the way to achieve that is to determine the list of candidates.

Vietnamese citizens can’t just register themselves as candidates and expect their names will go straight to the candidate listings on the ballots. If they want to be candidates, they have to go through a vetting process called hiệp thương, which is conducted by the Vietnam Fatherland Front, the extended political arm of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). After the third and final round of hiệp thương, the list of candidates will be released and voters can vote for only these candidates.

The Fatherland Front’s local committees of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city did exactly that just last week. Similar events were held in other provinces as well.

Context:

  • At least two independent candidates have been arrested before the third round of hiệp thương.
  • Dozens of candidates in Hanoi withdrew before the final list was adopted.
  • Almost no dissidents or activists are running for election this year. This is a major change compared to the last election in 2016, when at least 30 of them ran (and failed to make it to the final list).

A prominent activist, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, was arrested

Quote from VietnamPlus:

“Hanoi’s police have taken a woman into custody as they investigate allegations of ‘making, storing, distributing, or disseminating information, documents, and items against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’ under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.  

The Investigation Security Agency under the municipal Department of Public Security said on April 8 they had arrested Nguyen Thuy Hanh, born in 1963 and living in Thuong Dinh ward, Thanh Xuan district.”

Context:

  • Nguyen Thuy Hanh has been a prominent advocate for democracy and human rights in Vietnam since 2011. She also participated in several anti-China movements.
  • Hanh ran for election in 2016 as an independent candidate but failed to make it through the VCP’s vetting process.
  • She founded and managed a well-known charity called the 50k Fund (Quy 50k) to assist family members of political prisoners financially for several years before shutting it down in late 2020.

Read her profile in The 88 Project’s database and an op-ed about her.


Vietnam unveils tools for taxing and tracking big tech

Quote from Nikkei Asia:

“Vietnam is proposing a pair of regulations that would compel global tech players such as Alibaba and Google to hand over more taxes and data, in a move to increase government oversight in one of the world’s fastest-growing digital markets.”


US stops short of branding Vietnam a currency manipulator

Quote from Reuters:

“The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday said Vietnam, Switzerland and Taiwan tripped its thresholds for possible currency manipulation under a 2015 U.S. trade law, but refrained from formally branding them as manipulators.”


US names new ambassador to Vietnam

Quote from VnExpress:

“U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday nominated Marc Evans Knapper as the new ambassador to Vietnam.  

The Senior Foreign Service member, who will succeed Daniel J. Kritenbrink, is currently serving as the deputy assistant secretary for Japan and Korea in the State Department.  

He has previously served in the U.S. embassies in Seoul, South Korea, Baghdad, Iraq, and Tokyo, Japan, and the State Department’s Office of India Affairs and Office of Japanese Affairs.”


What’s special about April for Vietnamese?

April is a special month not only in Vietnam but also in Vietnamese overseas communities. It marks the end of the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975. The event widely divides Vietnamese people around the world with the winning side, which is the ruling Communist Party, celebrates and the losing side mourns. The losing side is millions of people in the South and Vietnamese former refugees as well as their families now settled in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. Discussing the loss of the losing side and the nature of the fall of Saigon is still largely taboo in Vietnam.

However, this day is not only about the war, it is also the end of the first and the only Vietnamese democracy in history thus far, the Republic of Vietnam.

Curious about it? Here are the books you might be interested in:


Learn more about Vietnam

Why the #MilkTeaAlliance movement has little appeal to Vietnamese youth

Dien Nguyen An Luong/South China Morning Post | April 16, 2021

“Against that backdrop, outsiders may wonder why Vietnam’s internet-savvy youth have remained an outlier in the #MilkTeaAlliance. How have Vietnam’s leaders afforded to stave off such a movement? Will anti-government sentiment materialise any time soon in the country? A closer look at how social media and geopolitics have become increasingly interwoven provides some clues.  While some observers have talked up its role, there has been a growing body of evidence that social media alone could not have fanned the likes of Arab Spring-style uprisings.”

Vietnam’s Great Debate Over Democracy

Trien Vinh Le/The Diplomat | April 15, 2021

“Inspired by the development stories of East Asian countries that have experienced the benefits of embracing democratic principles, there are official and informal opinions that Vietnam needs a second Doi Moi centered around political reform. If new political institutions and practices are allowed to emerge and lead to new ways of governing and fresh policy ideas, the economy can pivot to more open and more innovative activities based on science and technology. It is appropriate to ask how the current government system can usher in a new era of economic transformation when so many at the top benefit from the old model based on exploitation of labor and natural resources.”

Vietnam restores regional balance to top leadership

Le Hong Hiep/Nikkei Asia | April 14, 2021

“In an attempt to address southern politicians’ grievances, the party appears to be taking steps to gradually restore the regional balance.  Soon after the 13th congress, the party installed Vo Van Thuong, a politician from the southern province of Vinh Long, as the standing member of its secretariat, the No. 5 position in the party’s hierarchy. Last week, the National Assembly also elected three southerners into senior state and government positions, including Vo Thi Anh Xuan from An Giang Province as vice president, Tran Thanh Man from Can Tho city as deputy chair of the National Assembly, and Le Minh Khai from Bac Lieu Province as one of the deputy prime ministers.”

How a Vietnam-Malaysia Fishing MOU Could Ease the Wider South China Sea Dispute

Ralph Jennings/VOA News | April 16, 2021

“Malaysia and Vietnam intend to sign a memorandum of understanding that experts say could eventually help ease a decades-old, six-party dispute over sovereignty in the resource-rich South China Sea.  Maritime law enforcement agencies from the two Southeast Asian countries aim to sign the memo this year and resolve at least 15 years of trouble over the movement of Vietnamese fishing vessels, the official Bernama news agency in Malaysia reported in early April. Bernama quoted the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency director-general saying he’s confident the deal, now in its final stages, will solve the issue of Vietnamese fishing boats that enter Malaysian-claimed waters.”

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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: Meet The New State Leadership

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Pham Minh Chinh and Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Photo Courtesy: Nhu Y/plo.vn

We release the Vietnam Briefing every Monday morning.


The rumors were right. Meet the new state leadership

We reported correctly in our first briefing on February 8 that there were rumors that current Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Pham Minh Chinh, the head of the Party Central Committee’s Organization Commission and Vuong Dinh Hue, the secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee, would be named president, prime minister, and chairperson of the National Assembly, respectively.

What is happening in the last session of the National Assembly is proving the rumors are right.

Vuong Dinh Hue took over the chairperson position of the National Assembly on March 31 after his predecessor, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, was released from duty the previous day by the legislative chamber’s resolution. The Communist Party quickly appointed the then-minister of finance, Dinh Tien Dung, to replace Hue as the party chief of Hanoi on April 3.

The National Assembly also relieved Nguyen Xuan Phuc from the prime minister post and Nguyen Phu Trong from the president post on April 3, paving the way for elections of Nguyen Xuan Phuc to be president and Pham Minh Chinh to be prime minister this week. Phuc was already nominated to the post on April 2.

When this entire process ends tentatively by the end of April 5, the political tradition of having a “gang of four” sharing four top seats of the party and the state will be restored.


Another journalist is arrested

Nguyen Hoai Nam, a former investigative journalist working for the mainstream media, was arrested on April 2 in Ho Chi Minh City. He is currently under pre-trial detention and is charged with “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, lawful rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.”

Who is Nam? VnExpress says he was a former reporter at Thanh Nien (Youth), Phap Luat TPHCM (HCMC Law), Vietnam Television and Phap Luat Viet Nam (Vietnam Law). The news agency added that Nam had posted on his Facebook account several articles challenging police investigations into violations at Vietnam Inland Waterways Administration, which it said had  resulted in the arrest of its former deputy head Tran Duc Hai in 2019.

According to VnExpress: “The reporter implicated 15 people who had allegedly committed violations regarding the case, 12 more than determined by police. He went on to accuse the investigators of ‘letting the criminals off the hook.’”

The nature of the charge: 

  • The charge is based on Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code, previously known as Article 258 of the 1999 Penal Code.
  • The criminal provision is widely condemned by both domestic and international human rights groups as vague and as used by the government to silence critics.
  • Activists ran a campaign called the “258 Campaign” to advocate for the abolition of the provision.

Four citizens convicted of spreading anti-state propaganda

Publicly saying bad things about the Communist Party might well result in being imprisoned for years in Vietnam. That’s what happened to four citizens in Khanh Hoa Province on March 30.

Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, 45, was sentenced to  nine years in prison, Ngo Thi Ha Phuong, 25, to seven years and Le Viet Hoa, 59, to five years, VnExpress reported.

Another person, Vu Tien Chi, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Lam Dong Province.

Just like Article 331 and Article 258, this criminal provision has received a high degree of criticism from human rights groups inside and outside of Vietnam.


Read more about Vietnam:

The US Department of State’s human rights report on Vietnam

“The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, and led by General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Chairwoman of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. The most recent National Assembly elections, held in 2016, were neither free nor fair; there was limited competition among Communist Party-vetted candidates.”

Drinking coffee in the US? Worry about forests in Vietnam, study says

Mongabay | April 2, 2021

“The U.S.’s thirst for coffee drives forest loss in central Vietnam, while Germany’s craving for cocoa is doing the same in West Africa, a landmark study that tracks the drivers of deforestation across borders found.”

Vietnam Should be More Proactive in Global Governance

The Diplomat | March 30, 2021

“After its COVID-19 successes, Vietnam is well positioned to play a more energetic role on the global stage.”

The Vietnamese Recovery Is Made in America

Wall Street Journal | March 30, 2021

“Vietnam’s economy is growing again, on the back of a strong rise in exports. The Southeast Asian nation looks to be one of the most clear-cut international beneficiaries of the U.S. stimulus package.”

How The Vietnamese State Uses Cyber Troops to Shape Online Discourse

ISEAS | March 3, 2021

  • The operations of Vietnam’s public opinion shapers and cyber-troops reveal that the online discourse is manipulated to enforce the Communist Party’s line. 
  • Vietnamese authorities constantly grapple with the vexing question: How to strike a delicate balance between placating critical public sentiment online while ensuring that it does not spill over into protests against the regime. 
  • When it comes to methods, targets and motives, there appears to be significant crossover between public opinion shapers and the government’s cyber troops. 
  • The Vietnamese state cyber-troops have been encouraged to use real accounts to massreport content. This helps explain why it is the only Southeast Asian state to publicly acknowledge having a military cyber unit. 
  • The lack of political and technological wherewithal presents an uphill battle for these cyber-troops in influencing Vietnam’s online information environment.

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