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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: Land Rights Activists Jailed Ahead Of Election

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Land rights activists Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu at their trial. Photos: RFA.

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


The general election enters the final stage

The general election is two weeks away and will be held on May 23, 2021. Here are the key developments in the election thus far:

  • The National Election Council announced the final list of candidates on April 27 after a long vetting process (we have briefly explained this here). There are a total of 868 candidates running for the 500 seats in the National Assembly.
  • Only 74 non-party candidates made it to the final list, which is approximately 8.5 percent of the total. The Council planned to have 25-50 non-party members who will serve in the next term of the National Assembly.
  • Only nine out of 76 self-nominating candidates survived the vetting process. Among them, surprisingly, is a prominent LGBT activist named Luong The Huy.
  • From now on, candidates can campaign, including meeting with voters and media campaigning. However, campaigns are strictly controlled by the government and are primarily organized by the government.
  • All four members of the leadership (the Communist Party’s secretary general, the state president, the prime minister, and the chairperson of the National Assembly are running.

Two prominent farmer activists sentenced to 8 years each in prison

Since this briefing was initiated in early February, not many weeks have passed without a dissident being persecuted. Last week, on May 5, this happened to two prominent land rights activists, Can Thi Theu, 59, and her son, Trinh Ba Tu, 32, during a trial in Hoa Binh Province.

They both received an eight-year sentence for “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents, and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” an activity that is criminalized under Article 117 of the Penal Code. Human rights groups, both inside and outside of Vietnam, have long condemned the criminal provision as an undemocratic and anti-human rights provision that is used to silence critics.

Context:

  • The conviction is based on the two defendants’ live streaming videos on Facebook that were deemed to be anti-government, according to the indictment and state media.
  • Can Thi Theu is a longtime and prominent land rights activist who leads a group of farmers in Duong Noi (Ha Noi). The group claims that they are victims of forced land eviction. Her two sons, Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong are both involved in her activism and are currently detained with Trinh Ba Phuong while awaiting trial.

Talk about land rights in Vietnam:

  • The 2013 Constitution states that all land belongs to the people and is managed by the government. This is a legacy of the Soviet-influenced 1980 Constitution that was adopted during the height of Vietnam’s era of the centrally planned economy. Since 1986, the ruling Communist Party has adopted a capitalist economic model while still maintaining the old land regime.
  • Land disputes and land evictions have become a major part of Vietnam’s political and economic developments since then, leading to riots, protests, and widespread anger among the public. The most prominent incident was the deadly Dong Tam raid following a land dispute between farmers and the military.
  • Other prominent cases in recent history include Dang Van Hien (2016), Van Giang (2012), Doan Van Vuon (2012), Central Highlands (2001 – present), and Thai Binh (1997).

Vinfast reports customer complaint to … the police

The biggest story of last week is probably not the resurging of COVID-19. It’s the story of a major domestic automaker, Vinfast, reporting a customer’s complaint to the police.

That’s what Vinfast announced in a statement after Tran Van Hoang, a customer who bought a car from the company, posted a video on Youtube complaining about technical errors of the car and how the company had dealt with it.

“Although Mr. Tran Van Hoang proactively removed those clips, we saved all the evidence and have sent our complaints to the police. The police have received our submission and have scheduled a time to work with Mr. Hoang,” the statement said, according to Reuters.

Vinfast’s statement created a huge backlash from social media users who say the company’s action is to silence critics using their good connections with the government. Their report to the police might result in criminal conviction of Hoang.

Context:

  • Vinfast is a member of Vingroup, the biggest private corporation in Vietnam, which is led by Pham Nhat Vuong, the first Vietnamese billionaire, who is worth approximately US $10 billion.
  • Vingroup is the dominant player in the real estate industry in Vietnam, something that is not possible to achieve without extremely good connections with the government, given the fact that Vietnam is still ruled by the political monopoly of the Communist Party. Little transparency is practiced in terms of how land is distributed.
  • This is not the first time a Vingroup company has asked police to intervene in one of its conflicts with customers.
  • Such actions by Vingroup are condemned as examples of crony capitalism and potentially result in criminal charges and free speech violations in Vietnam. The Financial Times published one of the most popular and comprehensive accounts of the rise of Vingroup in 2019 that provides further details.

New report on Vietnam’s religious freedom released by the US government

Quote from the Annual Report 2021 by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom:

“In 2020, religious freedom conditions in Vietnam generally trended the same as in 2019. The government actively enforced the Law on Belief and Religion, which, as written and implemented, contravened international human rights standards and systematically violated religious freedom, particularly of independent religious groups but also of government-recognized groups.”

Five articles published by The Vietnamese are cited in this report.


Learn more about Vietnam:

Independent Journalists in Vietnam: The Clampdown Against Critics Continues

The Diplomat | May 3, 2021

“Vietnam’s independent journalists are under siege, and there is little cause for optimism.”

The economic agenda taking shape under Vietnam’s new leader

Le Hong Hiep/Nikkei Asia | May 4, 2021

“Chinh’s idea is to create new growth centers supported by economic policies and administrative reforms beyond tax or land incentives that will drive the national economy toward sustainable and innovation-based growth. The goal is to help Vietnam escape the middle-income trap and achieve high-income status by 2045.”

New research: The salience of the Northern and Southern identity  in Vietnam

Asian Politics & Policy/Mai Truong

“Abstract: This paper explores the salience of the north-south identity in Vietnam. Using focus groups and survey data, we argue that Vietnam is characterized by asymmetric ingroup bias, where southerners hold higher levels of ingroup favoritism and outgroup discrimination than the north. However,  while north-south identity exists, its salience is limited because it crosscuts with other social identities. Survey data show little difference between the north and the south regarding nationalism, support for redistribution, trade,  authoritarian values, and traditional values. There are differences with the south exhibiting lower trust in the government and generalized trust. Also, within Ho Chi Minh  City (HCMC) and Hanoi more specifically, we find lower support for China and higher support for the United States in HCMC than in Hanoi. However, these differences are  relatively muted, and combined with focus group evidence,  suggest that while identity differences exist, they are asymmetric and not as salient as often presumed.”

New research:  Vietnam and the search for security leadership in ASEAN

Asian Security/Ralf Emmers and Huong Le Thu

Abstract: Indonesia has traditionally been viewed as a de facto leader of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the regional body remains the cornerstone of Indonesian foreign policy. The paper addresses the question of whether other member states have become influential actors or even sectoral leaders in their own right by playing a direct role in a particular aspect of ASEAN affairs. This question is addressed by examining the regional policies of Vietnam, a country that has been mostly neglected in the existing ASEAN literature despite its strategic weight. The paper focuses on the evolving role of Vietnam in ASEAN and highlights its diplomatic initiatives, as well as various conditions to evaluate its potential to take up a leading security role in the regional body in the years to come.”

Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: Prosecutions Against Bao Sach Journalists; Beijing Seeks To Reaffirm Its Influence In The South China Sea

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Photo credit: RFA.

Prosecutions against members of online-based Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) outlet

RFA reports:

  • On Wednesday, September 8, Vietnamese authorities indicted five journalists from the Bao Sach group, an independent journalism project, on charges of “abusing democracy and freedom to infringe on state interests.”
  • According to the indictment issued by the Procuracy of Thoi Lai District, Can Tho City, the Bao Sach journalists posted “reactionary information and videos” and delved into information that was “inappropriate, distorting, against the country’s interests, and slanderous of the people’s administration,” in violation of Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • The five indicted journalists are: Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, Nguyen Phuong Trung Bao, and Le The Thang. Thang remains under house arrest, while the other four members have been arrested and detained.
  • According to state media, the indictment also states that the group’s members have allegedly “taken advantage of the freedom of speech and press” to write and upload “unverified, negative, biased and false” information on their Facebook fan page, Facebook group, and YouTube channel.
  • In the Freedom in the World 2021 report by Washington D.C.-based Freedom House, Vietnam scored three out of 40 in political rights, and 16 out of 60 in civil liberties. The Vietnamese Communist Party has consistently shown little tolerance for dissident and opposition voices, while many independent journalists and publishers in the country have continually faced harassment, arrests, or even imprisonment.

Former vice president of the Vietnam Independent Journalism Association (IJAVN) denied citizenship rights

RFA reports:

  • Vietnamese authorities have rejected petition letters calling for an investigation into legal proceedings against detained blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, a former vice president of IJAVN, who is currently serving an 11-year jail term for “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • According to Nguyen Thi Lan, Thuy’s wife, her husband had called home from the An Phuoc Detention Center, Binh Duong Province, telling her that he had asked the detention center to send his petition letters to the procuracy and other agencies. However, the central authorities responded by saying that he did not have citizenship rights, which is ridiculous and unreasonable, Lan told RFA Vietnamese.
  • “The authorities did, however, suggest that he request an appeal to reconsider the court decision if he did not agree with it,” Lan added. “They said his petition was not valid because he no longer had necessary citizen rights to file it.”
  • Nguyen Tuong Thuy was indicted along with two other IJAVN members, Pham Chi Dung and Le Huu Minh Tuan, on November 10, 2020, for “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison along with Tuan, while Dung was given 15 years.

Another member of the U.S.-based Provisional Government of Vietnam was charged for “carrying out activities to overthrow the government”

RFA reports:

  • On Friday, September 10, Vietnamese authorities arrested and charged a woman with “carrying out activities to overthrow the government,” making her the third person this year detained for joining the Provisional Government of Vietnam, an exile Vietnamese opposition group based in Orange County, California.
  • Le Thi Kim Phi, 62, used a Facebook profile under the name “Phi Kim” to connect with members of the organization, said the investigation division of the An Giang Police.
  • The Vietnamese government designated the group a terrorist organization in January 2018 after members were charged with a plot to attack Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport with petrol bombs ahead of a major holiday the year before.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • Overall, Vietnam has surpassed 600,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with more than 15,000 deaths recorded. As of now, less than 5 percent of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated.
  • Vietnam sentenced a man to five years in jail for “spreading coronavirus,” reports The New York Times: “The man, Le Van Tri, 28, was convicted of “spreading dangerous infectious diseases” to eight people, one of whom died from virus complications. His sentence for failing to comply with Covid-19 quarantine restrictions also included a fine of 20 million dong, around $880.”
  • Hunger became a reality for tens of thousands of Vietnamese during the COVID-19 pandemic, writes The Guardian. “The government promised to feed everyone and enlisted the military to help deliver supplies to those in need, but vast swaths of the population have received nothing. Last week, Vietnamese media reported that more than 100 people in one district had protested over the lack of help.”
  • Standing at 4.95 percent, Ho Chi Minh City has the highest COVID death rate in Southeast Asia, reports Nikkei Asia: “The city’s death rate stands out in the region. The short-term fatality rate in neighboring Cambodia stood at 2.38% while Thailand’s was 1.34% although the kingdom is battling its worst outbreak of the virus so far, with around 15,000 new cases a day, according to Our World in Data.”
  • The Hayat-Vax coronavirus vaccine has been approved for emergency use in Vietnam, reports Reuters. The vaccine, which is manufactured in China and packaged in the United Arab Emirates, is the seventh vaccine to be endorsed in the Southeast Asian country.
  • European investors are considering relocating their operations in Vietnam over harsh COVID-19 restrictions, reports Reuters. “A sharp rise in coronavirus cases since late April has seen movement restrictions imposed widely, affecting workers and forcing many companies to suspend operations, which resulted in falls in August exports, industrial output and retail sales.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s trip to Vietnam 

  • On Friday, September 10, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Vietnam for a three-day visit, with a goal of reasserting Beijing’s influence in the country following high-profile visits by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
  • In an official statement, Wang warned Vietnam of interference from “regional outsiders” in the South China Sea issue, urging the country to “treasure the hard-won peace and stability” and refrain from unilateral moves that could “complicate the conditions” or “magnify conflicts” over territorial disputes between the two countries. “[We should] send a positive message to the international community that the people of China and Vietnam have the wisdom to manage conflicts, and further expand areas of cooperation,” he added.
  • China also offered Vietnam an additional three million vaccine doses during Wang’s visit, raising the number of vaccines donated from China to the country to 5.7 million doses.
  • Meanwhile, Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi was also in Vietnam on Saturday, where he signed a deal allowing the transfer of defense equipment and technology from Japan to Vietnam amid China’s growing military influence, reports Associated Press. Minister Kishi said the signed deal elevates their defense partnership “to a new level” and that Japan plans to deepen defense ties between Vietnam and Japan through “multinational joint exercises” among other things.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

US, China dueling for power on the Mekong

Asia Times/ Bertil Lintner/ September 5

“While in Singapore, Harris said that ‘our partnerships in Singapore, in Southeast Asia, and throughout the Indo-Pacific are a top priority for the United States.’ She also spoke against China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea, a message she repeated during her subsequent trip to Vietnam.

But the odds are arguably stacked against Washington on the Mekong. China is moving ahead faster and with more determination than the US in asserting its influence on Mekong River nations.

Because China sits at the river’s headwaters and has shown its power to turn it off at will, the MRC, Mekong-US Partnership, and Japan’s initiatives seem destined to become sideshows in another rising contest for regional influence.”

Washington’s Challenge in Southeast Asia: The View From Vietnam

The Diplomat/ Ngo Minh Tri/ September 8

“If the U.S. wants stronger support and closer partnership with Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, it must change the approach, rebalancing its focus away from security to focus on the economic cooperation that is central to the future prosperity of Vietnam and other ASEAN members. Geographic proximity and economic interdependence mean that Southeast Asian nations are reluctant to treat China as a hostile adversary.”

Vietnam in pragmatic balancing act between China, US

Asia Times/ Hai Hong Nguyen/ September 10

“Overall, the main purpose of Wang’s trip to Hanoi is to pull Vietnam back from getting closer to the US and at the same time floating a message to the US that China’s ties with Vietnam are unbreakable.

Vietnam has been successful and greatly benefited from maintaining the balance in its relationship with both the United States and China. However, Vietnam’s approach is more pragmatic than it once was. It will not be dragged into the competition or rivalry between the two major powers.”


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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Arrests And Indicts Political Dissidents Amid COVID-19 Pandemic; South China Sea Becomes A Hot Issue Between Vietnam And China

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Photo (left to right): Thinh Nguyen/ The New York Times, Zing News, state media. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.
Photo (left to right): Thinh Nguyen/ The New York Times, Zing News, state media. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

The case of journalist Pham Doan Trang: Investigation process completed, leading to her indictment

  • On Aug 26, 2021, Hanoi Police announced that they had completed the investigations into Pham Doan Trang on the allegation of “spreading information against the State.” The government is now allowing lawyers to defend her for the first time since she was arrested last October.
  • Last year, on October 6, Pham Doan Trang was arrested by Vietnamese state security and she was subsequently charged with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code and “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code. Since then, Trang has been held incommunicado and denied visits from her family and lawyers.
  • Trinh Huu Long, a personal representative of Pham Doan Trang, claimed that her arrest was “completely unconstitutional, [and] in violation of the law.” Pham Doan Trang is a prominent journalist and democracy activist, famously known for her political books written for general readers and articles with sharp criticisms against Vietnam’s Communist government. “The authorities would do better to respect Doan Trang’s work rather than punish her,” Long concluded.
  • Pham Doan Trang could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Vietnamese police disguised as health workers arrest a dissident blogger

RFA reports:

  • On Aug 30, Vietnamese police arrested Bui Van Thuan, a dissident Facebook user, for criticizing the government in his online posts, especially his comments on the Dong Tam land dispute incident.
  • After cutting power to Thuan’s house in Nghi Son Town, Thanh Hoa Province, police officers, disguised as medical workers, asked his wife to let them in to take a health statement. “They said they were in a hurry and urged me to open the door quickly so that they could go to see others, so I invited them to come into the living room,” Thuan’s wife, Trinh Thi Nhung, said.
  • After getting into the house, a male officer “broke into the bedroom and restrained and handcuffed my husband just as he had woken up and was about to come out,” she said. The police then carried out a search of the house, handcuffing both the blogger and his wife, and confisticating a jar of lime-flavored honey, despite opposition from the family, and a copy of “The Handbook for Families of Prisoners” published by Pham Doan Trang as they left, according to Nhung.
  • Thuan was later formally prosecuted for “storing publications and materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code,” according to police documents reviewed by VOA. His arrest came just after the U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam, where she raised concerns about human rights issues.
  • Last year, when the dissident blogger was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, he expressed concerns about Facebook’s compliance with Vietnamese authorities to suppress free speech by suspending dissidents’ accounts and censoring critical voices against the government.

Australia continues to urge Vietnam to release Vietnamese-Australian political prisoner Chau Van Kham

RFA and ABC News report:

  • On Aug 30, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne sent a letter to MP Chris Hayes, advocating for the release of political prisoner Chau Van Kham.
  • Chau Van Kham was arrested in Jan 2019 in Ho Chi Minh City; he was later sentenced to 12 years in prison for alleged “terrorist activities against the People’s government.” Kham is a member of Viet Tan, a democracy and human rights organization regarded as a “terrorist group” by the Vietnamese government. However, the United Nations considers Viet Tan a “peaceful organization advocating for democratic reform.”
  • Meanwhile, Chau Van Kham’s family has spent more than two years advocating for his vaccination against COVID-19 once it is made available as the coronavirus situation began to deteriorate in Vietnam, especially with recent outbreaks in many prisons. “My husband is 72 years old, it’s easy for him to get COVID and die there. That’s why I want a vaccine for my husband,” said Trang Chau, his wife.
  • He was not among those released under an amnesty annually granted on Vietnamese Independence day on September 2.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • Quick take: Vietnam has recorded over 520,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with more than 13,000 deaths. Fully vaccinated people only account for under 3 percent of the country’s population.
  • Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh warns of a lengthy battle against COVID-19, reports Reuters. “We cannot resort to quarantine and lockdown measures forever, as it will cause difficulty for the people and the economy,” he said during a meeting with an antivirus committee last Wednesday. The highly transmissive Delta variant has shattered Vietnam’s early success in containing COVID-19 infections.
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s coronavirus epicenter, is considering a plan to reopen its economic activities from September 15, shifting from the “zero COVID-19” strategy to “living with the virus” policy, reports Reuters. The city has been gripped by a recent sharp rise of coronavirus infections and has remained under stringent lockdown since. So far, half of Vietnam’s confirmed cases, and 80 percent of its fatalities, have been recorded in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Vietnam ranked bottom in Nikkei Asia’s Covid Recovery Index, mostly due to the country’s surge in COVID-19 cases, slow vaccination rates and rigid social distancing measures, which caused disruptions in the supply chain. The Nikkei chart ranks more than 120 countries and regions around the world on the assessment of infection management, vaccine rollouts and social mobility. This is the second time Vietnam is listed at the bottom.
  • Hanoi will send over 1,200 city residents from its largest COVID-19 cluster to a centralized quarantine facility on the city’s outskirts, reports VnExpress. The affected neighborhood, which is located in Thanh Xuan District, has reported more than 300 coronavirus cases since August 23. At the same time, Hanoi authorities are also set to extend lockdown measures until September 21, while maintaining strict COVID-19 restrictions in high risk areas.
  • Vietnam to receive an additional two million AstraZeneca vaccine doses, reports VnExpress: “Three batches of 2,016,460 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses have arrived in Ho Chi Minh City this week. The batches, part of a 30 million dose contract between AstraZeneca and the Vietnam Vaccine JSC (VNVC), arrived on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
  • Ho Chi Minh City faces a food delivery crisis, reports Nikkei Asia: “The government-led delivery operation became overwhelmed during the first week, prompting the city to issue a written request to local supermarkets and online platforms to participate in delivery services. The move followed an announcement from the city on August 28, allowing as many as 25,000 shippers to join the delivery rollout. However, involving local businesses has done little to improve the situation.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman makes statement on China’s revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law

  • On September 1, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang made a statement on China’s official enforcement of its revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law, reports state-run VietnamPlus: “Vietnam resolutely and persistently safeguards its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its waters determined in line with the provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982),” said Hang.
  • On August 27, China’s Maritime Safety Administration announced that foreign vessels entering its “territorial waters,” which refers to its unlawful nine-dash line, must “report ship and cargo information to China’s maritime administrations,” according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
  • The revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law, which took effect on September 1, “comes amid escalating tension between China and rival claimants, as well as Western nations led by the US and its expanded military presence in the region,” writes the SCMP.
  • One day later, on August 28, Science Advances magazine took down a Facebook post of an attached scientific research showing China’s nine-dash line map after Vietnam’s social media users flooded its comment section with opposition and criticisms. Despite its effectiveness this time, the aggressive strategy utilized by Vietnamese social media users, or its “public opinion shapers,” has also been deployed to attack pro-democracy activists and foreign ambassadors’ social network accounts in Vietnam, particularly when they raise concerns about the country’s poor human rights record.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam Lost Public Buy-in. Its COVID-19 Struggles Followed

The Diplomat/ Le Vinh Trien and Kris Hartley/ September 1

“Anti-epidemic measures developed without collaboration fail to reflect the voices of diverse communities. When the political power among these communities is imbalanced, policy inconsistencies arise and a chain reaction emerges. Case counts rise as people resist restrictive behavior protocols, straining health care capacity and imperiling vulnerable groups. Ultimately, mixed messaging at the policy level widens the trust gap between government and citizens.”

Taliban Comparisons Are Unfair to Vietnam’s Leaders

Foreign Policy/ Chris Humphrey/ September 1

“There is no moral equivalence between North Vietnamese forces and the Taliban. During World War II, the Viet Minh actually supported the United States and its allies by serving as the only Vietnamese force resisting Japan’s invasion of Indochina. This preamble for conflict hardly compares to the Taliban militia, which massacred minority Hazara communities and forced Hindus to carry yellow badges to set them apart from Afghan Muslims—like Jews in Nazi Germany.”

Opinion: A lesson for America from the fall of Saigon in 1975

CNN/ Hao-Nhien Vu/ August 31

“The Afghans solved their problem by valiantly fighting the Soviet Union forces that invaded their country, and the Vietnamese benefited from the eventual dissolution of the USSR. Little to none of the economic reform that made Vietnam’s economy a vibrant one would likely have happened had the Soviet Union still been around.”

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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: Results From U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ Visit; Vaccine Donations To Arrive In Vietnam Amid Surge In COVID-19 Cases

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Photo: Nhat Bac/ VGP (left), Reuters/ Stringer (right). Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam: Main takeaways

  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Vietnam’s top officials met on Wednesday, August 25, carrying out talks on several key areas, including the enhancement of maritime security, boosting economic cooperation, combating climate change and providing healthcare support, reports Reuters.
  • Earlier, on Tuesday, Harris’ flight from Singapore to Hanoi was delayed by more than three hours after the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi was made aware of an “anomalous health incident,” which referred to the mysterious Havana Syndrome.
  • Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh held an unannounced meeting with Chinese Ambassador Xiong Bo, just before Harris’ arrival, affirming that “Vietnam does not align itself with one country against another.” Beijing also offered Vietnam an additional 2 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine during the meeting.
  • Vice President Harris made sharp criticism at China’s “bullying” in the South China Sea while urging Vietnam to join the United States against Beijing’s advances, reports Associated Press. “We need to find ways to pressure and raise the pressure, frankly, on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims,” Harris said at the opening of a meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam has signed an agreement with Hanoi authorities, in the presence of Vice President Harris, for a land lease to build a new $1.2 billion embassy campus in the city, reports VnExpress. The new embassy, which will be located in the Cau Giay District, is a project announced by Vietnam and the United States in 2019.
  • Vice President Harris announced that the United States would donate one million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses to Vietnam, bringing the total number of vaccines donated by the United States to the country to six million doses. Meanwhile, a new regional office of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will open in Hanoi, with a mission of “protecting Americans and people of the region” and “building key relationships to tackle shared health priorities,” according to the CDC press release.
  • “We’re not going to shy away from difficult conversations,” said Vice President Harris during her meeting with Vietnamese leaders regarding human rights abuses and political activism in Vietnam, according to Associated Press. However, the results of those discussions remain unclear. Overall, Vietnam is notoriously known for its crackdown on freedom of speech and the arrests of political dissidents.
  • Strengthening the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, from the White House press release: “The Vice President’s travel to Vietnam signifies the United States’ deep commitment not only to the region but also to the U.S. – Vietnam relationship. In bilateral meetings with Vietnamese leaders, Vice President Harris reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam, as well a free, open, healthy, and resilient Indo-Pacific region.”

The Covid-19 situation in Vietnam

  • In total, Vietnam has recorded over 430,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases with more than 10,000 deaths as of Sunday, August 29, 2021.
  • Vietnam to deploy troops to contain the surge of Covid-19 infections in Binh Duong Province, a major manufacturing hub, reports Reuters. The southern province, which is located nearby Ho Chi Minh City, is expected to record an additional 50,000 coronavirus cases over the next two weeks.
  • Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam was replaced by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh as head of the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 prevention and control. The replacement decision came amid the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Southeast Asian nation.
  • Ho Chi Minh City to resume delivery service operations in the city reports VnExpress. According to local authorities, delivery drivers, popularly known as “shippers” in Vietnam, will be allowed to operate in Covid-19 high-risk districts to relieve shopping demands among locals. Delivery drivers, along with temporary contractors and migrant workers, are among the most vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 pandemic in Vietnam.
  • Vietnam’s homegrown Covid-19 vaccine NanoCovax to be granted emergency use after being approved by The National Committee for Ethics in Biomedical Research, reports VietnamPlus: “The National Committee for Ethics in Biomedical Research under the Ministry of Health (MoH) has agreed that the mid-term results from Nano Covax’s phase 3 clinical trials will be submitted to the Advisory Council for the Registration of Circulation of Drugs and Medicinal Ingredients for considering the issuance of a registration certificate for the conditional circulation of the vaccine.”
  • Covid-19 vaccine donations to Vietnam: Australia donated to Vietnam a total of 403,000 AstraZeneca doses, as part of an “ongoing commitment to help Vietnam in its fight against the pandemic,” wrote the Australian Embassy in Vietnam. Meanwhile, on August 25, Italy also announced its donation of over 800,000 AstraZeneca doses to Vietnam via the COVAX Initiative, while over 500,000 vaccine doses, also made by AstraZeneca, arrived in Hanoi on August 23 as a donation from the Polish government.
  • The Vatican sends financial aid to help Vietnam deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, reports Reuters: “About $70,000 was sent to Bangladesh for continuing recovery assistance from Cyclone Yaas, which left tens of thousands of people homeless last May, and about 100,000 euros to Vietnam, where food supplies have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

China’s Wedge Strategy Towards the US-Vietnam Partnership

The Diplomat/ Khang Vu/ August 25

“Vietnam falls into a different category of Chinese wedge strategy, in which China seeks to reinforce Vietnamese neutrality, instead of de-aligning it, since Vietnam is not a formal U.S. ally. Hanoi considers itself a neutral country under its “four noes” policy, of “no military alliance, no affiliation with one country to counteract the other, no foreign military base in the Vietnamese territory to act against other countries, and no force or threatening to use force in international relations.” Such a policy is rooted in Hanoi’s search for a balance between ideological values and national security interests, which stipulates that Vietnam only allies with states that share both. Vietnam is officially neutral between the United States and China, since it only shares security interests with the former and ideological values with the latter (as well as strong economic ties to both.)”

Who is winning the US-China battle for the hearts and minds of Vietnam’s cybersphere?

South China Morning Post/ Dien Nguyen An Luong/ August 24

“When both countries sought to burnish their vaccine diplomacy campaigns in Vietnamese cyberspace, the US beat China by a wide margin in terms of positive public reactions, reflecting the fact the Vietnamese public prizes US vaccines over Chinese ones. Such sentiments were reflected in an analysis of Facebook posts and their average engagements on vaccine diplomacy that were among the most engaged content between January and July.”

Kamala Harris has a chance to stand up for democracy this week. She should take it.

The Washington Post/ Will Nguyen/ August 23

“One of the few socialist republics left in the world, Vietnam is an authoritarian state run by a nominally communist party, ruling over a population that is among the most pro-capitalist and pro-American on Earth. The precipitous fall of Afghanistan reveals that the United States cannot simply impose liberal democracy on other countries, even if they share such affinities. The desire for rights and reform must come from the people themselves. And in Vietnam, it is.”

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