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Vietnam Briefing: Dong Tam And The General Election

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One of the defendants in Dong Tam trial, Bui Thi Noi, at her appellate hearing. Photo courtesy: Lao Dong newspaper. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

It’s a new week and Vietnam Briefing’s mission is to keep our readers up to date on developments in Vietnam. As we missed the briefing last week, here is the key news of the past two weeks.


Vietnam has started to roll out COVID-19 vaccines

The Vietnamese government started administering the first COVID-19 vaccinations doses on March 8. Frontline workers, including doctors, nurses and technicians at designated hospitals combatting COVID-19 are among the first to receive the vaccines produced by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.


High court affirms verdict on Dong Tam case

The appellate trial of the Dong Tam case (March 8-9) went just as everyone expected: no overturning of any sentences and no amendment to the lower court’s verdict. The sentences of the six defendants remain the same, including two death penalties.

A fair trial? It’s hardly a thing in Vietnam. Take the word of Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch: 

“There are still many unanswered questions about what happened during the Dong Tam raid that authorities have never been willing to clarify.” 

“We are also deeply troubled by the information brought out in the defense lawyers’ report, stating that police used torture on some defendants to force them to confess, raising fundamental concerns about the fairness of the entire trial.”

A historic case, yes. The Dong Tam case is undoubtedly one of the most important and consequential events in Vietnam’s post-1975 history. Those who wish to study the country’s history of land struggles and party-controlled judiciary should take a very close look into the case as it is among the most well-documented events and it provides an intensive account of the issues.

Learn more about the case:


The National Assembly is in the final days of its current term. Yet, it may elect new state leaders just before the election.

In an unexpected, but not unprecedented, move, the Communist Party’s Central Committee is sending three candidates to the National Assembly’s last session of the term for confirmation of three top state positions: president, prime minister, and chair of the National Assembly.

The Party and state media provided no information about who the candidates are, but you don’t need them to name names in order to know who these people are. Vietnamese people often read between the lines and listen to internet influencers – some they believe have inside information – to know what’s going on.

So who are they? Current Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc for president, Pham Minh Chinh for prime minister, and Vuong Dinh Hue for National Assembly chair. VCP General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong is not seeking reelection for the presidency, although he is now running for a National Assembly seat.

What’s special about that? It’s not about who for what, it’s about timing. If elected in April during the last session of the current National Assembly, which is almost certain, the candidates will only serve a few months until the end of the current term. After the general election on May 23, the new National Assembly will convene in July and repeat the same process of electing the same people to the same positions. That’s what happened in April 2016, right before the last general election, which was held more than a month later. And we don’t think there are many people who can explain why the VCP has to rush to do such a repetitive process. The logic behind this remains a mystery to the public.


Man arrested after declaring intention to run for office

This is not something that happened the last time we had an election in 2016 (yes, I know how hard it is to call it an election, but let’s use the word for now). A 61-year-old man named Tran Quoc Khanh was arrested on March 9 and accused of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the Penal Code.

He is known for his frequent Facebook activities including live-streaming on human rights and corruption in Vietnam. The arrest was conducted by Ninh Binh Provincial Police shortly after Mr. Tran declared his intention of running for a National Assembly seat.

Something to note: Unlike the exciting election season in 2016 when dozens of activists and independent candidates campaigned for office, despite all failing, there are almost no independent candidates running for office this time.


Here is what the incoming National Assembly may look like

Remember what we mentioned about this two weeks ago? Here is an infographic from the state news agency’s article titled “Expected structure of deputies of the 15th National Assembly.” Yes, the election is more than two months away, but the government has already “expected” the results.


Freedom House drops Vietnam’s freedom score

This time every year, the US-based human rights group Freedom House announces its widely-cited work: Freedom in the World Index. And unlike the recent years, Vietnam’s score dropped 1 point in the 2021 index, down to 19/100 and remains in the “Not Free” group of countries.

What was Vietnam’s response to this? Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said on March 11 that Vietnam has consistently protected and promoted human rights. That’s the government’s usual way of dealing with such queries from reporters who work for the international media. We have no knowledge of any reporter from the Vietnamese media asking about such issues, and we doubt anybody ever does.


Vietnam joins China, Russia and India to block UN Security Council’s condemnation of Myanmar’s coup

The United Nations, especially its Security Council, has been reluctant to make any strong statements on the military coup in Myanmar. On March 9, they failed to agree on such a statement, and Vietnam, as a non-permanent member of the council, jointly blocked the effort with China, Russia, and India.

Context:

  • Vietnam is the fourth biggest foreign investor in Myanmar as of January 2021, with 19 projects and approximately US$1.5 billion invested there.
  • Vietnam’s military has close ties to Myanmar’s military businesses, such as Mytel.

Vietnam commemorates the 33rd anniversary of the Gac Ma incident

March 14 has been a sensitive date in Vietnam over the past 12 years since the public started to learn about the bloody incident of Gac Ma. 

The Gac Ma incident happened on March 14, 1988, when Chinese warships fired on a group of mainly unarmed Vietnamese troops in Gac Ma Reef (Johnson South), killing 64 of them. Gac Ma (Johnson South Reef), Colin and Len Dao (Lansdowne) Reefs are part of the Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands where the two countries both claim sovereignty. It’s rumored that Vietnam’s then-Minister of National Defense ordered that there be no resistance to the Chinese.

Why sensitive? Not many things in Vietnam are as sensitive as the country’s relations with China. The Vietnamese government censored information about the Gac Ma incident for over 20 years until the early 2010s. Even now, many state media outlets do not mention China in their stories about Gac Ma Reef, although the government has increasingly tolerated open discussions about the topic.

What to watch? Citizens, mostly dissidents and activists, spread information about the Gac Ma incident on social media, criticizing the government’s handling of China, and they also go to cemeteries and temples to commemorate the soldiers who lost their lives on that day. They often face government harassment due to these activities.

Go deeper: Here is some useful material to understand more about the issue, including a video clip of the 1988 incident.


French warship visits Vietnam

Shortly after completing a patrol in the South China Sea in February, the French Navy sent a warship to Vietnam on March 9, where it spent four days in Cam Ranh Port (southern Vietnam) for helicopter repairs.

The South China Sea is certainly a place global superpowers can’t afford to ignore due to its strategic position in terms of security and trade, especially when China has aggressively claimed sovereignty over most parts of the sea with its nine-dash line.

Cam Ranh Port is a familiar name to those who study security in the region. It is a strategic deep water bay in the south of Vietnam and it played a crucial role in the Vietnam War. This is where the Soviet Union, and later Russia, stationed troops from 1979 to 2002.


Events to watch:

Mainland Southeast Asia: power, protest and participation

March 23, 2021 3 pm, Auckland, Wellington

Three expert scholars will contextualise developments in Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam, followed by a discussant response and Q&A 

Speakers: Thitinan Pongsudhirak (Thailand), Wai Wai Nu (Myanmar), Nguyen Khac Giang (Vietnam). Discussant: Natasha Hamilton-Hart. Chair: Emeritus Professor Roberto Rabel 

Hosted by the Centre for Strategic Studies: NZ


Learn more about Vietnam:

Vietnam: Successfully Navigating the Pandemic | IMF, 10 March 2021:

Despite COVID-19, Vietnam’s economy has remained resilient, expanding by 2.9 percent in 2020—one of the highest growth rates in the world—and with growth projected to be 6.5 percent in 2021, thanks to strong economic fundamentals, decisive containment measures and well-targeted government support, according to the IMF’s latest annual assessment of the country’s economy.

How Economic Reforms of the 1980s Changed the Face of Vietnam | National Interest, 12 March 2021: 

“Back when the Heritage Foundation published its first index [of Economic Freedom] in 1995, Vietnam scored 41.7 points. By 2005, this had risen to 48.1 points and in 2010 it climbed further to 49.8 points. What is remarkable is the huge increase in economic freedom since 2015, when Vietnam was awarded a score of 51.7. Since then, Vietnam has added another 10 points to reach 61.7 points today—an increase of 20 points since 1995!”

Vietnam, ASEAN, and the US-China Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific | The Diplomat, 13 March 2021:

“China may not feel comfortable if Vietnam pursues stronger security ties with the U.S. and its allies, but it is China’s aggressive behaviors in the South China Sea that have pushed Vietnam into this course of action. China should adjust its approach or risk pushing Vietnam and other regional countries further toward the United States.”

“Politically, certain reforms may also be explored, but mainly to streamline and increase the efficiency of the political system, not to democratize it. Vietnamese leaders believe that political stability is a precondition for economic development, and they will not tolerate any developments that may destabilize the political system.”

Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: Pham Doan Trang’s Trial Expected To Begin In November; Vietnam Slowly Reopening Its Economy After Long-Running COVID-19 Lockdowns

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Photo credit: Pham Doan Trang/ RFA. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Vietnamese court to try Pham Doan Trang and two farmer activists this November

The Vietnamese Magazine reports:

  • On October 14, 2021, attorney Dang Dinh Manh, one of Pham Doan Trang’s lawyers, posted on his Facebook that the People’s Court of Hanoi will try the prominent journalist and writer on November 4, 2021. Also, according to Manh, the same court will try two of the Duong Noi land activists, Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, one day earlier, on November 3, 2021.
  • Earlier, on October 6, the Hanoi People’s Procuracy Office notified Doan Trang’s family that they had decided to transfer the case to the People’s Court of Hanoi after recommending her indictment on August 30, 2021. 
  • As of October 15, the government has not officially recognized or appointed any of the lawyers to be her legal representatives. As a result, both Doan Trang’s family and her attorneys have not received her indictment and still do not know what evidence the government has or the details of the charges against her. Doan Trang’s attorneys will file a motion to delay her trial so that they can better prepare for her defense
  • Pham Doan Trang marked her first year being held incommunicado last week. She is being charged with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” which falls under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. She faces the possibility of a 20-year sentence if convicted.

Jailed Vietnamese land activist tortured to extract a confession

RFA reports:

  • Jailed Vietnamese land activist Trinh Ba Tu was brutally tortured in detention as part of a bid by authorities to force him to plead guilty to charges of “anti-state activities,” according to his elder sister, Trinh Thi Thao. The alleged action by the Vietnamese authorities has prompted calls by human rights groups for an immediate investigation into his case.
  • On October 14, Thao told RFA Vietnamese that she met with her brother’s lawyers on Monday and learned that he had been badly beaten during an interrogation following his June 24, 2020 arrest. Tu laso reportedly required hospitalization for a kidney inflammation. “My brother Tu said that the prosecutor insulted him during the interrogation—the prosecutor’s name is Minh and he’s a prosecutor from Hoa Binh Province,” Thao said.
  • After receiving treatment, Tu was returned to detention and told to sign a false statement confessing to the crime of “creating, storing, disseminating anti-State materials” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code. The accusation is related to his online posts criticizing the government’s brutal handling of a long-running land dispute with Dong Tam villagers. “During the investigation process, investigators promised Tu that if he pleaded guilty, he would be jailed for only six years, but that otherwise he would have to serve eight,” Thao added.
  • Tu and his mother, Can Thi Theu, who was arrested the same day and similarly charged, were both sentenced on May 5 to eight years in prison and three years on probation. His brother Trinh Ba Phuong and land activist Nguyen Thi Tam were separately arrested on June 24 on the same charges of “propagandizing against the state.” Phuong and Tam remain in detention pending trial, which is expected to begin on November 3.

A Protestant follower in Vietnam was arrested for “insulting” the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh

VOA Vietnamese reports:

  • On October 14, Tra Vinh Province police arrested Thach Rine, a Khmer Protestant, for posting an edited portrait of late Communist leader Ho Chi Minh on his Facebook account, which was regarded as “defamatory” by the Vietnamese authorities.
  • However, according to some observers, the alleged arrest of Thach Rine was due to his religious beliefs and his activism for the human rights of indigenous Khmer Krom people. The local police had reportedly been watching Thach’s online political activities and periodically harassed and detained him. 
  • On July 1, 2021, the Belgium-based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) criticized the Vietnamese government for the detention of Thach Rine for wearing a T-shirt with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals logo advocating for indigenous people’s rights.

Vietnam arrested and charged another member of the U.S.-based Provisional Government of Vietnam

RFA reports:

  • On October 15, Vietnamese authorities arrested and charged a man with “carrying out activities to overthrow the government,” making him at least the fourth person this year apprehended for joining the Provisional Government of Vietnam, a U.S.-based exile Vietnamese organization branded by Hanoi as an overseas terrorist group.
  • Nguyen Doan Quang Vien, 39, of Lam Dong Province and Ho Chi Minh City, had asked to join the Provisional Government of Vietnam after learning of its existence on social media in 2017, according to a police investigation.
  • Authorities have this year arrested and convicted at least three people for allegedly joining the political group. In August, the court sentenced Tran Huu Duc of Nghe An Province to three years in prison and Ngo Cong Tru from Phu Yen Province to 10 years. Police detained another member, Le Thi Kim Phi from An Giang Province in September, but she has not yet been sentenced.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • Several Vietnamese cities began to relax the months-long strict lockdowns and reopen their economies, while citizens were required to continue to follow pandemic preventive guidelines: Starting from 6 a.m., October 14, Hanoi will allow on-site dining and reopening of parks, hotels and public transportation as companies, offices and businesses resume operations as normal. Meanwhile, from October 6, the city of Da Nang will resume almost all of its production, tourism and service businesses, including indoor activities such as museums, cinemas, sports centers and amusement venues. The slow reopening takes place amid Vietnam switching from its zero-COVID policy to “living with the virus.”
  • Ho Chi Minh City police summoned members of Revival Ekklesia Mission, a Protestant organization, including juveniles aged from 11 to 13 years old, over its alleged accusation of “transmitting dangerous infectious diseases.” According to RFA and VOA Vietnamese, the church founders and its members were summoned on October 14 for further investigations regarding the incident on May 26, when a coronavirus cluster in the religious group was detected and believed to infect a large number of people. The local authorities later indicted the group for failing to follow health guidelines and causing the virus to spread, but its founders said that they had always properly complied with antivirus measures.
  • South Korea to donate over 1.1 million vaccine doses to Vietnam, writes The New York Times: “South Korea plans to ship almost 1.6 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to Vietnam and Thailand this week, the foreign ministry announced Tuesday, as the Southeast Asian nations struggle to contain the spread of the virus. […] About 1.1 million doses will go to Vietnam and 470,000 to Thailand, South Korea’s government said.”
  • Vietnam received nearly another two million Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines from the United States, bringing the total number of doses that the country received from the United States to 9.5 million. The U.S. Department of Defense also provided Vietnam with 111 ultra-low temperature freezers for vaccine storage, according to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.
  • Vietnamese factory workers hesitate to return to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening the problem of global supply chains, writes Bloomberg: “Now staff-starved companies are imploring workers like My to return for what would normally be peak production for winter clothing and Christmas gifts. The government is offering transportation back and companies are upping pay and benefits, but little is working.” It was estimated that around 1.3 million migrant workers had returned to their hometowns between July and September due to the COVID-19 pandemic and harsh lockdown mandates.

Vietnam’s coal-fired electric generation may double by 2030 under draft power plan

Reuters report:

“Vietnam may double the amount of coal-fired electric generation it installs by 2030 under a draft power development plan submitted to the prime minister for approval this week.

The draft plan guarantees that Vietnam will become more reliant on coal to power its fast-growing economy at a time when financiers and insurers are refusing to back new projects because of fuel’s large climate change impact.

Coal-fired power plants will account for up to 31.4% of as much as 143.8 gigawatts (GW) of installed generation capacity planned in 2030, according to a copy of the so-called Power Development Plan 8 (PDP 8) reviewed by Reuters.”


Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

COVID-19 Made Life Even Worse for Japan’s Foreign Trainees

The Diplomat/ Moeka Iida/ October 15

“The trainee program depends upon the recruitment of young people from less developed economies who are desperate to work in advanced environments and eager to earn Japanese yen. However, there is a risk of exploitation even before these young recruits leave for Japan. Vietnamese trainees must pay a slew of pre-departure fees to brokers and sending organizations that push many to secure loans and mortgage assets. Although this amount varies, trainees can pay up to 1 million yen (around $9,000), plunging them into substantial debt.”

How Asia’s Rice Producers Can Help Limit Global Warming

The Diplomat/ Oliver Frith, Reiner Wassmann, Bjoern Ole Sander/ October 13

“There are already several validated management options to mitigate methane emissions in rice, which maintain or improve yields, enhance profitability, and increase climate resilience. For example, integrating locally adapted best management practices with water-saving techniques, such as Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD), reduces methane emissions by 30-70 percent. In Vietnam, this has also improved farm profitability by up to 13 percent (around $100 per hectare).”

Time is right for Vietnam’s digital transformation

Asia Times/ Minh Ha Truong/ October 7

“The timing couldn’t be better. With a population of 97 million, the Internet penetration in Vietnam is high, standing at 70% and increasing by 6.2 million in a single year. The nation is set to see its mobile transactions increase by 300% between 2021 and 2025 due to the strong growth anticipated in mobile payments.”

Vietnam and Economic Reopening: Roadmap Needed

Fulcrum/ Tuan Ho/ September 16

“Facing economic slowdown pressures while still unable to control the pandemic, Vietnam is currently at a crossroads regarding its pandemic fighting strategy. While Prime Minister Chinh has suggested that Vietnam is shifting away from a ‘zero Covid’ strategy and preparing to ‘live with it’, the delay in reopening Ho Chi Minh City implies that some Vietnamese leaders are still embracing the idea of completely suppressing the pandemic, out of both public health concerns and possibly considerations about their political prospects. Their decision was also based on concerns that reopening the economy prematurely may be counter-productive.”

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Vietnam Briefing: Pham Doan Trang Marks First Year In Jail; Vietnam Faces Labor Shortage As Migrant Workers Flee Industrial Cities For Home

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Photo credit: Thinh Nguyen, Luat Khoa Magazine/ TravelMag. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Journalist Pham Doan Trang marks her first year in jail

  • Around midnight on October 6, 2020, journalist Pham Doan Trang was arrested by the Vietnamese authorities and subsequently prosecuted on charges of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
  • According to Doan Trang’s family, and one of her defending lawyers, Le Van Luan, the People’s Procuracy of Hanoi completed an official indictment against her and submitted her case to the People’s Court of Hanoi on August 30, but it did not notify her family and lawyers about the decision until October 6. Meanwhile, investigation results and the official indictment against Doan Trang have still not yet been made available.
  • Pham Doan Trang has been held incommunicado since her arrest and denied personal visitations by her family and lawyers.

Vietnamese woman suing the authorities for alleged human rights violations

RFA reports:

  • On Tuesday last week, Hoang Thi Phuong Lan, a Vietnamese woman who was violently forced by local authorities to take a coronavirus test, said that she would file a lawsuit against the government.
  • “I have the right not to let anyone touch my body, and what they did was absolutely wrong from a legal standpoint, and it also went against the regulations on pandemic prevention and control,” Lan said during a livestream video on her Facebook. “It was wrong that they decided to give me a fine even after they were able to get my specimen. Therefore, I am taking legal action,” she said.
  • According to Lan, she also received the local government’s decision to fine her two million dong (around US$88) for health law violations. Lan added that she was offered no opportunity to negotiate with local authorities on the decision.
  • However, Lan’s case is only one example of many incidents where Vietnamese authorities are caught on video committing coercive measures and violence against citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • As of October 10, 2021, Vietnam has recorded more than 836,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, while the total death toll in the country has surpassed 20,000 fatalities. Less than 15 percent of the country’s population has received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Vietnamese authorities reportedly killed and cremated a local man’s pets as part of a COVID-19 preventive measure, causing a public outrage, reports VnExpress. Last Friday, Pham Minh Hung, a migrant worker in Long An Province, confirmed that his 13 dogs were killed by the local authorities in Ca Mau Province as he drove his wife and all of their pets on his motorbike while following his wife’s sister-in-law and her family to their hometown in Khanh Hung Commune, Ca Mau Province. At a checkpoint as they entered the locality, they tested positive for COVID-19 and were later transferred to an isolation facility for treatment; their pets were killed shortly afterwards over fear of the virus spreading. Another three dogs and a cat, which Hung previously gave to his accompanying relatives, also met the same fate.
  • Vietnam plans to reopen key tourist attractions for vaccinated tourists from approved countries, reports Reuters. From December this year, vaccinated tourists from countries with low COVID-19 risk will be allowed to visit the country’s popular destinations, including UNESCO world heritage site Halong Bay and Hoi An, the highlands town of Dalat and beach destination Nha Trang. The move is seen as an effort by the Vietnamese government to boost its heavily affected tourism sector, which has been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Ho Chi Minh City’s industrial workforce has shrunk as migrant workers returned to their hometowns, reports VnExpress: “Only 50 percent of employees have returned to work at industrial parks and export processing zones, causing a severe labor shortage. Pham Duc Hai, deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control, said on Monday that of around 288,000 workers, only around 135,000 have turned up.”
  • Return of migrant workers to Mekong Delta provinces sparks fears of potential COVID-19 outbreaks, reports VnExpress. According to local authorities, the insufficient isolation capability of localities, the substantial number of returning workers and limited medical capacity have become major concerns for receiving provinces in the event of an outbreak. 
  • COVID-battered supply chains set Vietnam on a shaky road towards recovery, writes Nikkei Asia: “But a potential recovery remains precarious, said Tuan Chu, an economist at RMIT University Vietnam, pointing to two labor risks. Thousands of jobless migrants fled Ho Chi Minh City as soon as lockdown eased on Friday. The city counted 288,000 workers in industrial areas before the exodus, compared with 135,000 now. Besides worker scarcity, Chu said this mass migration could trigger a rise in virus cases in the provinces. Will authorities invoke lockdowns again if the caseload explodes? That is a worry that also may keep job-seekers from returning to economic zones, he said.”
  • The public is calling on the government to set price controls for COVID-19 test kits as shortages, alleged price gouging and government corruption may have caused price surges, reports RFA: “Though rapid test kits cost around 35,000 dong (US$1.54) on the international market, a lack of supply in the Southeast Asian country forced provinces and cities to bid against each other, causing wholesale prices within the country to skyrocket, said Dang Hong Anh, chairman of the Vietnam Young Entrepreneurs Association.”
  • COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in Vietnam: On October 6, Australia delivered over 300,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses to Vietnam while promising to assist the country in purchasing another 3.7 million doses. Meanwhile, on October 8, the United States Embassy in Hanoi announced that 397,800 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had arrived in Vietnam, with more vaccines to arrive in a few days, bringing the total number of vaccine donations from the United States to Vietnam to nearly 8.5 million doses. 

Vietnam arrests a Facebook user for criticizing the government’s controversial COVID-19 policies

RFA reports:

  • On October 4, Vietnamese authorities arrested a Facebook user and subsequently charged him with “abusing freedom and democracy” for writing a series of online posts they said had defamed the country’s leaders.
  • Vo Hoang Tho, 36, a resident of Vietnam’s southern city of Can Tho, had allegedly published 47 posts on his Minh Long Facebook page criticizing government efforts to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in the one-party Communist state, according to state media.
  • The Vietnamese government’s controversial COVID-19 policies to contain the pandemic, which include community lockdowns and other harsh restrictions, are widely unpopular in Vietnam. Tho’s arrest was just the latest in a continuing crackdown on Facebook users who use the popular social media platform to voice dissenting views.

Vietnam calls on China to be accurate and objective with history regarding the Chinese television series “Ace Troops”

VnExpress reports:

  • On October 7, state media reported that Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang had called on China to look at history ‘accurately and objectively’ while responding to questions about “Ace Troops,” a Chinese television series, with allegedly inaccurate and wrongful historical depictions.
  • The allegedly historical inaccuracies were detected after comments made on social media platform Baidu regarding a trailer for “Ace Troops” described the story as being set in the 1980s when “the Vietnamese army was getting stronger […] and launching invasions into China.” Chinese website Manyanu said the series was about “Chinese soldiers in a self-defence counterattack against Vietnam,” which is regarded as contrary to facts by the Vietnamese netizens.
  • Hang said Vietnam requests that China properly abide by the mutual understanding of the important partnership between Vietnam and China, regarding “friendly and objective propaganda that fosters societal foundations beneficial for the development of both countries’ relations.” She also added that Vietnam’s consistent stand on historical issues is to “look towards the future” and to look at history “accurately and objectively.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam’s Hidden Debt to China Expose its Political Risks

The Diplomat/ Zachary Abuza, Phuong Vu/ October 8

“Vietnam has famously eschewed China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but it has been the recipient of over $16.3 billion in Chinese project financing from 2000-2017. A new report on Chinese economic assistance programs sheds some light on Vietnam and suggests that the country is increasing its debt burden to China far beyond what is commonly thought; creating political risk and impacting Vietnam’s potential policies toward its neighbor to the north, which is already prone to bullying and intimidation.”

Counting the cost of Vietnam’s Covid collapse

Asia Times/ David Hutt/ October 7

“By late September, many of the lockdown measures were lifted in Hanoi, the capital. On October 1, Ho Chi Minh City’s industrial parks, construction projects, malls, hospitality facilities, and restaurants for takeaways were allowed to resume operations.

While there is currently anger over how the communist authorities have handled the pandemic this year, seen in complaints and grievances posted on social media, not everyone believes that the ruling party’s reputation will suffer much in the long run.”

Nominees and ‘Backyard Companies’: How Vietnamese Officials Conceal Their Illicit Wealth

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ October 7

“As such, the absence of Vietnamese politicians and government officials in the Pandora Papers does not mean that Vietnamese officials are less corrupt than their foreign counterparts. A more plausible explanation is that they have other ways, though less sophisticated but still effective in the Vietnamese context, to hide their illicit wealth. One common measure is to use nominees to hold assets in Vietnam on their behalf.”

From Delay to Desperation: The Story of Sinophobia and COVID-19 Vaccines in Vietnam

The Diplomat/ Travis Vincent/ October 6

“Yet the public does not see eye to eye with the communist government’s approval and purchase of Chinese vaccines. On top of that, many expressed distrust of and discontent with the government’s lack of transparency about the availability and allocation of vaccines, as well as the gravity of the pandemic situation in the economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City, which is now leading the country for both COVID-19 cases and fatalities, after an almost virus-free year.”

Vietnamese rights activist marks first year in jail

Asia Times/ Stewart Rees/ October 5

“There is currently little to be positive about for proponents of free speech in Vietnam. Despite this, in February Vietnam announced its intention to run as a candidate for membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 term.

If Vietnam is serious about its desire to contribute to the development of global human rights it should look to put its own house in order first. Unconditionally releasing Pham Doan Trang would be a good place to start.”

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Vietnam Briefing: Vietnamese Public Outrage Over A Woman Being Coerced Into COVID-19 Testing; Migrant Workers Rush To Flee Ho Chi Minh City After Travel Restrictions Are Lifted

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Photo credit (left to right): RFA (screenshot)/ AFP. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

A Vietnamese woman coerced into COVID-19 testing infuriates the public

  • On September 28 video footage showing Vietnamese police and security forces breaking into a woman’s apartment in Vinh Phu Ward, Binh Duong Province to force her to get tested for COVID-19. As the video began to spread on social media in Vietnam it caused outrage among the public.
  • The woman, Hoang Thi Phuong Lan, was seen being forcibly escorted to the COVID-19 testing venue by two police officers who pinned her arms behind her; her child was heard crying in the background as the police led her away. According to Lan, she was teaching an online class at that time and had already tested negative for COVID-19 at home. Lan added that she did not want to take the test again in a crowded area, expressing concerns about potential virus transmission. Also in the video, an officer was heard criticizing her for her “lack of discipline” and threatening to fine her. She later tested negative for COVID-19.
  • On September 29 at a meeting with Lan, authorities of the ward where she lives made an apology for their inappropriate actions, citing “a sense of urgency” while they were “on a mission.” She rejected the apology, saying that the apprehension “harmed” her health and “offended” her dignity. Previously, Lan had posted the video of her coercion on Facebook, consulting the public for legal procedures to sue the alleged officers.
  • On the same day, an article regarding the incident was posted on Tuoi Tre Online, a state-owned news outlet, quoting a lawyer as saying that the local authorities’ actions were “in violation of human rights.” The article was briefly online before being removed from its webpage, with no official reason given for the removal.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • As of October 3, 2021, Vietnam has recorded over 800,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 19,000 fatalities. Meanwhile, the country has seen a significant drop in coronavirus cases and related deaths with an average number of daily cases standing at around 7,400 for the past week, while the national average daily fatality rate has been 105. More than 10 percent of the Vietnamese population has been fully vaccinated.
  • Vietnam’s COVID-19 hotspot Ho Chi Minh City could have around 40 percent unrecorded cases of its official tally, reports Reuters. In an official report, positive rapid tests of around 150,000 people have not been accounted for in the tally of total confirmed cases in the city. Ho Chi Minh City has so far recorded over 370,000 coronavirus cases; if 150,000 more cases were included in the official number, it would reduce the city’s death rate from over 3.8 percent to 2.75 percent.
  • Ho Chi Minh City ends citywide virus lockdown after 3 months of restrictions on movements, reports Associated Press. Beginning on October 1, the city’s residents will be able to leave their homes, while restaurants will be allowed to offer takeaway services and other essential businesses can reopen. However, social distancing measures will still be enforced, schools and public transport remain closed, and gatherings of more than 10 people outside are banned.
  • At the same time, thousands of migrant workers were seen fleeing Ho Chi Minh City after COVID-19 lockdown in the city was lifted, reports Nikkei Asia. Long and harsh lockdown measures have taken a toll on Vietnamese migrant workers’ health and their livelihoods. Many of the laborers were required to sleep in factories to maintain production output while others were left jobless and forced to live off their savings. Relaxed restrictions allow factories in industrial parks, export processing zones and high-tech parks to resume their operations, on the condition that all workers must be fully vaccinated.
  • As migrant workers rushed to leave Ho Chi Minh City for home, scenes of heavy congestion and clashes between laborers and police had been seen at several checkpoints in the city’s suburbs, reports RFA. Multiple videos circulated on social media showing that many workers broke through barricades and fought with police, while others knelt in the street and pleaded with the police to let them through as they had run out of money to stay in the city. State-run media in Vietnam has largely ignored the disturbing situation of migrant workers; on the other hand, they have been reporting on the local authorities’ timely assistance in helping people return to their hometowns.
  • Vietnam to miss GDP target this year as COVID-19 squeezes its economy, writes Nikkei Asia: “The growth figure for the third quarter, anticipated by the end of this month, is being widely projected at under 2% — worse than the same quarter of 2020. A wave of infections and a strict COVID-19 lockdown squeezed the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, and experts warn the impact could weigh on the economy beyond the third quarter unless the country manages to accelerate vaccinations.”
  • Vietnam received an additional 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from the United States, reports VnExpress: “A batch of 1,499,940 million Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses has been delivered to Vietnam by the U.S. through global vaccine access mechanism Covax. The new batch followed three previous vaccine donations from the U.S. to Vietnam through Covax, totalling to 7.5 million doses so far, according to a Saturday press release by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.”
  • Vietnam and Russia reached an agreement on COVID-19 Sputnik V vaccine supplies, according to the Vietnamese ambassador to Moscow. Previously, Vietnam had domestically produced a test batch of Russia’s Sputnik V and expected to receive another 20 million doses from Russia this year.
  • On September 29, one million doses of the Chinese-made Hayat-Vax COVID-19 vaccine also arrived in Hanoi, reports VnExpress. The vaccines’ arrival, which marks the first Hayat-Vax doses to land in Vietnam, belongs to a commercial contract of 30 million doses signed by Vietnamese pharmaceutical firm Vimedimex.

British warship stops in Vietnam after transiting through the Taiwan Strait

RFA reports:

  • British Royal Navy frigate HMS Richmond has arrived in Vietnam on a four-day friendly visit after transiting through the Taiwan Strait, which angered China. On September 27, China condemned the frigate’s passage through the Taiwan Strait, saying the United Kingdom is “carrying out a meaningless display of presence with an insidious intention.”
  • The British Royal Navy posted a picture of the frigate docked in Cam Ranh Bay on Friday, followed by a video on its Twitter page saying in Vietnamese: “Hello Vietnam! So proud for Richmond to have an opportunity to visit your beautiful country.”
  • A statement from the British Embassy in Hanoi said, “the ship’s presence underlines the U.K.’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, at the heart of which lies the U.K.’s partnership with Vietnam.” It also said the HMS Richmond and Vietnamese partners will conduct “bilateral cooperation activities,” without giving further details.

Sea rises due to human-made climate crisis threaten Vietnam’s low lying areas

The Guardian reports:

“Like much of the region, Vietnam is threatened by flooding and sea rises caused by the human-made climate crisis. More than 15% of the country is below five metres above sea level – compared with just 4.2% in the UK. Of the world’s larger mainland nations, only the Netherlands has more low-lying land.”


Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Trans-Pacific Partner Membership And The Love Triangle Of Vietnam – Taiwan – China

The Vietnamese Magazine/ Tan Trung Nguyen Quoc/ September 30

“A couple of days after China’s and Taiwan’s announcements on the CPTPP, President Xi Jinping had a phone call with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. This action raised some questions on whether Vietnam would act as an agent of China inside the CPTPP to prevent the accession effort of Taiwan.

If it has to, the Vietnamese government is very unlikely to side with Taiwan; no country has ever dared to, including the United States.

But upon understanding the socioeconomic situation between Vietnam, Taiwan, and China, it is also reasonable to argue that Vietnam gains nothing by explicitly objecting to Taiwan’s membership in the CPTPP. The economic ties between Taiwan and Vietnam are too significant to be sacrificed.”

In Rare Three-Party Conclave, Vietnam Pushes Back Against Growing Chinese Influence

The Diplomat/ Sebastian Strangio/ September 28

“The unusual meeting of party heads speaks to the rising concern in Hanoi that its two erstwhile clients are being drawn slowly into China’s widening orbit. In recent years, Laos and Cambodia have become magnets for Chinese capital and business people of varying degrees of probity, who have established interlocking relationships with the two countries’ respective ruling elites. This has been franked by increasingly close ties with the Chinese government, which have lavished Cambodia and Laos with “no-strings” financing and infrastructure developments.”

What Vietnam’s President Sought to Achieve at the 76th UNGA

The Diplomat/ Le Dinh Tinh/ September 28

“Phuc goes to New York this time to set the stage for the wrapping up of Vietnam’s 2020-2021 tenure as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Vietnam’s membership will be remembered for its heightened focus on critical topics such as protection of civilians and essential infrastructure works in conflict areas, the safeguarding of women and children during armed conflicts, the settlement of bombs and mines left by war, U.N. peacekeeping operations, climate change, and peace and security challenges.”

Vietnam bids to woo Cambodia, Laos from China

Asia Times/ David Hutt/ September 27

“Most Southeast Asian countries are now well-rehearsed in the art of geopolitical hedging, particularly by trying to play the United States and China off against one another and never taking sides in order to extract ever greater economic and political benefits from both.

In a similar fashion, Laos and Cambodia are now also hedging between their historic ally Vietnam and their new superpower partner China.”

Webinar: Reviewing the First Six Months of Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh

ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute

Date: October 06 2021

Time (GMT+8): 10:00 am – 11:15 am

Perspectives: Thinking the unthinkable about China’s CPTPP application

VnExpress/ Pham Quang Vinh/ September 26

“As for CPTPP members, they need to carefully re-examine their goals and interests in the pact’s original give-and-take package, in return for having accepted the high standards insisted on by the U.S. They should also consider what their likely benefits will be in terms of competitive advantages, market diversification and reducing dependency on one source.

This is a very critical issue for Vietnam as a member of the CPTPP and RCEP. It requires the nation to be very cautious in reviewing its relationships with all partners to ensure its interest, independence and autonomy.”

Perspectives: Vietnam should walk the talk in climate actions

VnExpress/ Nguyen Dang Anh Thi/ September 30

“The Vietnamese people have already been experiencing pain from climate change impacts. Cutting GHG emissions in the country must be achieved through practical and responsible climate actions using the best available resources.

There is no hope of international support for Vietnam to deal with climate change if its policymakers don’t walk the talk of sustainability.”

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