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.
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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.