Connect with us

Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: Busy With The Pandemic, But The Government Still Cracks Down On Free Speech



Medical workers at the Revival Ekklesia Mission. Photos: Vietnam News Agency, Zing News. Graphics: Luat Khoa Magazine

COVID-19 in Vietnam: From Panicking to Pointing Fingers 

For the past two weeks, Vietnam has been in a panic as it supposedly discovered a new COVID-19 variant in the country, which is the mixture of the variants found in the United Kingdom and India. As it turns out, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the virus found in Vietnam is not a “new hybrid variant” but rather a part of the existing strain found in India, according to Nikkei Asia. 

WHO’s representative in Vietnam, Kidong Park, said that more observation and monitoring are needed for the next few weeks. For now, the WHO does not alert a new strain of COVID-19 in Vietnam.  

How is the vaccination situation in Vietnam? As mentioned in previous briefings, Vietnam only has the AstraZeneca vaccine widely available in the country. It has been talking to Pfizer and Moderna to either import the vaccines or produce them domestically. Vietnam is also said to be producing the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, and the country is developing its own vaccine. Despite this effort, the country has a meager vaccination rate of only roughly 1 percent of the population so far. Most of those vaccinated have been health workers, diplomats, and the police and military. 

New vaccination developments last week: After resisting China’s vaccine diplomacy for a while, the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm was approved for emergency use by the Ministry of Health this past week. However, public opinion, filled with anti-China sentiment, seems to be resisting the Chinese vaccine. In contrast, people prefer Western developed vaccines and Vietnam’s homegrown NanoCovax vaccine, which is still in trial. 

This move by the Vietnamese government could be seen as a desperate effort to curtail the rising COVID-19 cases in Vietnam and expand the number of vaccinations done in the country. With the anti-China public opinion, however, the government will have a hard time popularizing the Sinopharm option for the Vietnamese people. 

The Vietnamese government has also set up a COVID-19 fund to manage financial resources for buying and producing COVID-19 vaccines. The government aims to reach a $1.1 billion benchmark for the fund to either acquire or make at least 150 million vaccine doses for the country of 100 million people. The government has been fund-raising from people inside as well as outside the country. So far, this fund has received around 200 million dollars (6,600 billion dong) in direct donations and donation guarantees. 

A new pandemic scapegoat? Since the outbreak in Vietnam became worse, a group of Vietnamese Christian missionaries has been at the target of accusations by the Vietnamese state media. The Protestant group, known as the Revival Ekklesia Mission (Hội thánh Truyền giáo Phục hưng), has been associated with at least 145 cases of COVID-19 infections. The Vietnamese state press reported that the group did not impose social distancing and failed to use masks in its gatherings. 

With some inconclusive details, the state media and public opinion have been extremely harsh on the group, with people posting hateful comments all over the group’s social media. The situation leaves many wondering whether the state-controlled press was scapegoating the religious group as an easy target to blame for the new outbreaks, considering Vietnam’s stigmas surrounding non-Buddhist religious activities. 

Vietnam has now banned gatherings of more than 10 people. This move is seen as a response to the religious group’s new infections. 

The government is cracking down on another blogger 

Last week, the Vietnamese government issued a warrant to search for blogger Le Van Dung, also known as  Le Dung Vova, under the charge of “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents, and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” according to Article 117 of the Penal Code. 

Le Dung Vova is a blogger who uses his independent platform CHTV to broadcast critical opinions about the government on social media. Previously, in 2019, he was detained by the government when he was live-streaming about the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi. He was detained again later in 2019 when he and his colleagues in CHTV were attending a workshop on the South China Sea. The blogger was eventually released on both occasions. 

Recently, in late May, the police tried to arrest him again under the same charge but failed. The police are said to have gone to his residence to arrest him, but only met his wife and children. According to a report published by BBC Vietnamese, the police confiscated a laptop and two smartphones in his house. 

Article 117 of the Penal Code is one of the typical charges that the regime uses against bloggers and political dissidents. Some other charges include “disrupting security” (Article 118), “abusing democratic freedoms” (Article 331), and “resisting officers in the performance of their official duties” (Article 330). 

The Communist Party celebrates 110 years since Ho Chi Minh’s departure to “seek national liberation” 

Occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic and cracking down on free speech, the government did not forget to continue its propaganda work. Last week, the state-controlled news in Vietnam was flooded with stories about Ho Chi Minh in foreign countries (France, China, Hong Kong, and Russia). 

110 years ago, Ho Chi Minh was said to have left Vietnam to embark on a journey to other countries in order to find a way to liberate the nation. Saigon, now named Ho Chi Minh City, also held a ceremony in the Ho Chi Minh Museum to celebrate “110 years since the late leader’s start on a journey to look for ways to save the country from the colonial yoke,” according to the state-controlled Vietnam News Agency. 

Ho Chi Minh, seen as the founding father of the socialist state and the nation’s liberator, has always been a prominent political figure used by the Communist Party for its propaganda efforts in order to retain power. The Vietnamese Magazine’s series on Ho Chi Minh and how his figure has been worshipped and utilized by the Communist Party can be found here and here

Learn more about Vietnam 

Coronavirus: Vietnam approves Sinopharm’s vaccine, but will people take it?

South China Morning Post/Sen Nguyen/June 05, 2021 

“The news that theWHO has approved China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines for emergency use, allowing them to be included in the global vaccine-sharing Covax initiative, did little to ease the resistance against Chinese-made vaccines in Vietnam.”

No Trade-Off: Biden Can Both Deepen U.S.-Vietnam Ties and Promote Human Rights

Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)/Bich T. Tran/June 03, 2021 

“To improve trust with Vietnam, U.S. policymakers should differentiate revisionist states like China from status-quo communist regimes like Vietnam. A revisionist state seeks to undermine the established international order for the purpose of increasing its relative power in the system. The concept, therefore, concerns a state’s behavior in international affairs. Meanwhile, a communist regime is a matter of domestic politics. China’s excessive claims, reclamation, and militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea; bullying of other claimants, including Vietnam; and engagement in unfair predatory economic practices are signs of a revisionist state. They are not necessarily characteristics of a communist regime. This distinction will help define and develop the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. Furthermore, the Biden administration should reaffirm its respect for Vietnam’s political system.”

Keeping Strategic Anxieties at Bay: Growing Japan-Vietnam Bonhomie

The Diplomat/Rahul Mishra/June 4, 2021 

“As one of the fastest emerging regional economies, Vietnam holds a key position in the emerging Indo-Pacific dynamic. A robust and long-term trade and investment partnership with Japan is significant in that context. Both countries are according greater importance to each other, which is manifested in recent initiatives taken by Japan’s Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide. For one, his first foreign visit as Japan’s prime minister was to Vietnam (and then Indonesia) in October 2020, which is a testimony to Japan’s commitment to Vietnam (and the wider ASEAN region). Diplomatic exchanges between the two countries had become regular and more institutionalized under former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.”

Research: Anglo–Vietnamese diplomatic relationship in the seventeenth century: the case of the English East India Company

International Journal of Asian Studies (Cambridge University Press)/Ngoc Dung Tran/June 02, 2021

“Drawing on primary materials from the English East India Company (EIC) archives in the British Library (London, UK), this article investigates the early diplomatic encounters between England and Vietnam (Tonkin and Cochinchina) in the seventeenth century. Previous studies have mostly focused on the English trade in Vietnam in that period and their diplomatic missions from the late eighteenth century to 1858 but partly neglected their diplomacy in their first connections with Vietnam (1614–1705). This article thus investigates how the EIC adapted its gift-giving diplomacy to the diverse and shifting political landscape of the Tonkin and Cochinchina kingdoms. While the Trịnh Lords in Tonkin severely limited diplomatic and trade exchanges with EIC agents and other European traders, the Nguyễn Lords in Cochinchina welcomed relations with EIC representatives as it served their ambition to facilitate trade and establish military alliances with other powerful actors in the region.”

Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: The Election Results Are In. Here Comes 5 More Years Of Party Domination



Vietnam's National Election Council Meeting To Announce Election's Results. Photo: Vietnam News Agency.

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

The 2021 National Assembly Election Results Are Here

Last week, the election results for the 15th National Assembly were finally released. The list includes 499 elected officials to the legislative assembly out of a list of 866 nominees in the competition pool. The members of this National Assembly will serve five-year terms until 2026. 

There are supposed to be 500 seats, but one elected candidate was reportedly disqualified due to health issues. 

A performative election? The highlight of the election was the election of “star candidates” – the well-known, high-ranking candidates of the Party who hold the most critical leadership positions in the Politburo. 

Notably, the “four pillars” of the Politburo have an extremely high number of votes, ranging from around 93 to almost 100 percent. The “four pillars” include President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Parath Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong, and the Chairman of the National Assembly Vuong Dinh Hue. 

Other Politburo members also have a very high number of votes of  at least 90 percent, with only one exception of about 75 percent. 

This was expected because elections in Vietnam are not democratic but rather a chance for the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) to demonstrate that its most important members are famously beloved by the people. 

As expected, the election resulted in Party domination: Out of the 499 elected officials, only four were self-nominated candidates

The list includes Hoang Van Cuong, vice-president of the public National Economics University; Nguyen Anh Tri, president of the state-controlled National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion; Truong Trong Nghia, deputy chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association, and Khuong Thi Mai, managing director of Namsung Aluminum Co., Ltd., a company established in 2014 with full funding from the state. 

All of the self-nominated candidates elected are members of the VCP. This is not surprising, considering the 2016 National Assembly election, in which only two self-nominated candidates were elected, both also Party members. The self-nominated candidates in this year’s election accounted for less than 1 percent of the entire legislative assembly. 

Originally, there were 75 self-nominated candidates, but only nine candidates made it to the final ballot after a rigorous process of elimination, which is known for filtering out dissidents.  

Additionally, it is reported that there are 14 non-party nominees who were elected. However, these non-party candidates were nominated by VCP organizations, making them still tied to the Party. The number of non-party officials only account for 2.8 percent of the whole Assembly. 

According to the state-controlled Vietnam News Agency, the election had a turnout rate of 99.6 percent. The turnout rate  in Vietnam has always been extremely high, and has always been used by the regime to argue that elections are democratic and representative of the people’s will. 

The state also reports that 30 percent of the new National Assembly are women, and around 17 percent are people of ethnic minorities. While this was supposed to illustrate how progressive and representative the new National Assembly is, this is mostly just performative. Since these officials are still tied to the Party one way or another, their independent decision-making power is extremely limited. 

Only less than 10 percent of the new members are people under the age of 40. 

Unfortunate, but not surprising: Luong The Huy, the first openly gay candidate to run in the National Assembly and the People’s Committee election in Vietnam, did not make it in either election. This was expected as Huy was not only a young candidate from a minority background; he was also not affiliated with the VCP and was not endorsed by any VCP organizations. 

To ensure its power in the legislative branch, the VCP has a history of vote manipulation against non-party, independent self-nominated candidates. The election system itself is also known to be rigged against non-VCP candidates. 

Read more on The Vietnamese Magazine’s coverage of Luong The Huy in this election here

Another Free Speech Crackdown 

For the past month, since the 2021 elections started to take shape in Vietnam, there has been at least one new case of the regime cracking down on political dissidents every week. 

Last week was no exception: Dang Hoang Minh, an ordinary Facebook user, was sentenced to seven years in prison under the charge of “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents, and items” against the state. This is Article 117 of the Penal Code, commonly used by the regime to crack down on free speech. Just two weeks ago, the same charge was brought against Le Dung Vova, an independent blogger now wanted by the police.  

According to the state-controlled media, Dang Hoang Minh was arrested and charged for uploading to Facebook “information which falsely accused and insulted the leadership credibility of the Party…” Though the state media did not specify what Dang Hoang Minh was accusing the Party of, he was also said to be “insulting the great leader Ho Chi Minh.” 

Since the beginning of this year, at least 21 Vietnamese citizens have been arrested and imprisoned due to their activities on social media, according to Radio Free Asia. All of the dissidents in these cases were charged with Article 117. 

The Situation in the South China Sea 

Last week, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was busy denouncing actions in the contested Paracel and Spratly islands (known in Vietnamese as Truong Sa and Hoang Sa islands). 

While these denunciations usually concern China, the actions last week came from the Philippines and Taiwan, though the Vietnamese official communication channels generally regard Taiwan as a part of China. 

Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst of the RAND Corporation, wrote on his social media that the situation in the South China Sea last week was a “useful reminder that China isn’t the only maritime counterclaimant Vietnam is concerned about.” 

COVID-19 in Vietnam

The Covid-19 situation has not evolved much since the last briefing. The only notable development was perhaps the US putting Vietnam into the “safest for travel” category, although the situation in Vietnam has been rather messy for the past couple of weeks. 

For more information on the general COVID-19 situation in Vietnam, see here

Learn more about Vietnam 

China moves forward in soft power struggle for Southeast Asia 

Mark Valencia/Asia Times/ June 10, 2021 

“Remarkably, the US has failed to take full advantage of China’s diplomatic “own goals” – its incursions into Indonesia’s EEZ, its massing of fishing boats in the Philippines’ EEZ, and its maritime provocations of Malaysia and Vietnam in their claimed waters.

To regain and retain its moral leadership, the US needs to demonstrate that its values and system of government are the best of all for all and that it can and will maintain a competitive edge with China economically and technologically, not just militarily.”

Why Vietnam Needs to Adopt a Biological Defense Strategy

Phuong Pham/The Diplomat/June 07, 2021 

“Once regarded as a role model for its successful containment of COVID-19, Vietnam is now in the midst of its fourth wave, its worst since the beginning of the pandemic. Even worse, the stringent measures that previously helped Vietnam put the virus under control have been relatively ineffective, illustrated by the surge in infections since the end of April. This raises a great concern for Vietnam not only with regard to COVID-19 but also on its ability to counter biological threats writ large. With this in mind, Vietnam should establish a national strategy on biological defense in order to help it counter biological threats more effectively, given the current inadequacy of the country’s biological defense capabilities.”

Vietnam Approves Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine, Reluctantly

Sebastian Strangio/The Diplomat/June 09, 2021

“Vietnam’s communist leadership has shown great caution in becoming further indebted to a nation that many Vietnamese – including many within the party and government – view with suspicion.”

Events to watch this week:

Webinar: Southeast Asia, the United States and China: Stumbling into the New World Order

Date: June 18, 2021

Organizer: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute

Continue Reading

Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: The Elections Results Have Started To Be Released



Votes counting in Ho Chi Minh city on May 23, 2021. Photo: Nguoi Lao Dong Online.
Votes counting in Ho Chi Minh city on May 23, 2021. Photo: Nguoi Lao Dong Online.

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

The first openly gay candidate lost the People’s Committee election 

Luong The Huy, the first openly gay candidate, and a non-Party member self-nominee lost his election bid to the People’s Committee of Hanoi. In the list of elected candidates published last week, Luong The Huy was not among the 95 elected representatives for Hanoi’s People’s Committee.

In Vietnam, there are two elections: the People’s Committee election and the National Assembly election. Each province has its own People’s Committees at the provincial, district, and commune levels, while the National Assembly represents the central government’s legislative body. Luong The Huy ran for both the National Assembly and Hanoi’s People’s Committee.

Both elections follow the bloc voting system, in which a province is divided into different voting blocs based on the province’s districts. Each voting bloc typically elects 3-4 representatives to the People’s Committee from the competition pool of around 5-6 candidates. 

For his People’s Committee election, Huy was placed in voting bloc number 04 in the Hai Ba Trung District. The people who got elected over Huy are all Party members with a prior history of either serving the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) or the People’s Committee of Hanoi. The list includes Nguyen Van Nam, the secretariat of the VCP in Hai Ba Trung District, Ho Van Nga, ex-representative on the Committee, and Duong Duc Tuan, ex-vice chairman of the Committee. 

All of these elected candidates are around 51-56 years old. For comparison, Huy is 32 years old.

These elected candidates are going to serve on the People’s Committee of Hanoi for the next 5 years. 

What’s next? The National Assembly election has not released its results. However, it is very unlikely that he will be elected for the National Assembly. 

Why? Elections in Vietnam have always been rigged against self-nominated, non-Party candidates through various means. The number of self-nominated representatives in the National Assembly has never exceeded 15 percent. In the 2016 election, only two self-nominated candidates got elected – and both of them were Party members.

Huy’s district was allocated three seats. Among the 5 candidates, apart from Huy, the others included the chairperson of one of the largest state-owned banks, a high-ranking legislator, a government minister, and a deputy principal of a local school. It’s not difficult to anticipate who the winners will be.

Who is Luong The Huy? Luong The Huy is the first openly gay candidate to run for the National Assembly and the People’s Committee of Hanoi. He is a self-nominated, independent candidate, meaning any VCP institutions did not nominate him and had no VCP membership. Huy is a Fulbright Scholar who studied at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for his Masters of Law (LLM) specialization in sexuality. He is currently directing the Institute of Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), a non-profit organization aiming to promote minority rights in Vietnam. 

As normal, there were many reports and accusations of vote tampering and online smear campaigns directed at independent, self-nominated candidates like Huy. For example, anecdotes of how high schools in Ha Dong District, where Huy’s voting bloc was placed for the National Assembly election, forced students to share false information about him on Facebook, claiming that he committed tax evasion that he was an anti-state foreign-sponsored reactionary. The students were rewarded with higher grades. In another example, voters in his voting bloc said that people at the voting locations instructed them to specifically not vote for him. 

However, as the state controls the official media channels in the country, there is no way to investigate or prove these claims. The state-controlled media has also been very quiet on these accusations. 

On the day of the election, many state-controlled online media channels deleted their posts on Luong The Huy.

More propaganda is coming 

Last week, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc met and discussed with the Communist Review (Tạp Chí Cộng Sản) to create a forum discussing the VCP’s “important theoretical issues.” In this meeting, the president affirmed that Vietnam’s path to socialism has “become increasingly clear” over the past 35 years since the launch of Doi Moi, a political and economic reform program and that “theoretical issues” (read: propaganda) should be explained and widely spread to serve this path to socialism.

This seems to imply that the Communist Review is going to be more active and aggressive in defending the Party as well as spreading propaganda. 

In this meeting, Nguyen Xuan Phuc said that the goal of the socialist state of Vietnam is to establish rule of law, democracy and a “socialist-oriented market economy.” 

Though these terms are ambiguous, we could understand that the VCP’s visions of “rule of law” or “democracy”  are drastically different from how these words are used in non-authoritarian countries. Over the years, the VCP has consistently pushed the theoretical argument that the “rule of law” in Vietnam is essentially the rule of the Party, and “democracy” here just means the existence of elections, even if such elections always result in the overwhelming majority of VCP members in the government. 

What is the Communist Review? The Communist Review is a century-old mouthpiece of the VCP. Its main function is to create theoretical arguments to defend the Party’s policies. Even though it is named “Communist,” the Review does not support any communist theories or arguments that contradict the Party’s leadership and legitimacy. In hindsight, the Review is not a communist intellectual journal or a think tank that aids the Party in creating policies, but rather a propaganda mouthpiece that defends the Party’s decisions. 

A busy week with COVID-19 in Vietnam

Last week was another week of panic for people in Vietnam, with approximately 100 new COVID-19 cases every day. So far, there have been more than 6,000 cases of COVID-19 infections recorded in Vietnam, with 47 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. While this number seems to be modest compared to other countries, it is worth noting that only around 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated – mostly front line workers, diplomats, as well as police and military officers; and only around 28,000 people have been fully vaccinated with a second dose, accounting for just around 0.03 percent of the almost 100-million people population. 

Vietnam’s percentage of vaccinated people based on population is among the lowest in Southeast Asia. 

What COVID-19 vaccines are not widely available in Vietnam? At the moment, only AstraZeneca is available in the country. Vietnam has been negotiating with Moderna to produce the vaccines in the country and is said to be getting 30 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of this year. It is producing the Russian vaccine Sputnik V in the country, though it has not considered the Chinese vaccines. Vietnam also has three types of vaccines developed domestically, but none of them have been approved yet. 

How strict is the entrance into the country? The Vietnamese government not only has extremely strict entrance requirements, but it even recently tightened the law surrounding entry to the country. Currently, everyone, whether having been vaccinated or not, is required to undergo 21 days of quarantine in a government-mandated location, instead of 14 days like before. 

Last week, the American Chamber of Commerce requested the Vietnamese government to reduce the number of quarantine days to seven days to allow more foreigners to enter the country. The government is considering the proposal, but so far, the entrance restrictions remain tight for everyone, Vietnamese citizens or not.

Vietnam finds a new virus variant: “Vietnam has discovered a new coronavirus variant that’s a hybrid of strains first found in India and the U.K., the Vietnamese health minister said Saturday,” according to AP/VOA News.

Learn more about Vietnam

Cybersecurity in Vietnam: has anything changed?

Loxology/ Le Ton Viet (Russin & Vecchi Vietnam)/ May 28, 2021

“Since adoption of the Law on Cybersecurity in 2018, there has been an ongoing conversation opposing the strict regulatory environment that the Law creates. Strict enforcement, it is said, would disrupt the continuous flow of data so important to commercial development. While this conversation has gone on, the Vietnamese Government has not taken any real steps to provide clarification or to enforce the Law. Businesses continue to operate in the shadow of the Law, while awaiting further guidance. But lack of clarity is not new in Vietnam and often serves the Government’s purpose of hands-off control.”

The Gulf between Chinese and Vietnamese alliance policies

The Diplomat/ Ngo Di Lan/ May 27, 2021

“…no matter how we define military alliance, for as long as Vietnamese national power has not caught up to China’s, China and Vietnam will continue to have significantly different alliance policies.”

New research: “Vietnam’s tentative approach to regional infrastructure initiatives” by Do Mai Lan and Hoang Oanh

ISEAS/ May 27, 2021

Executive summary: 

  • Vietnam’s Socio-Economic Development Plan 2021-2030 highlights infrastructure development as one of the three strategic breakthroughs.
  • However, financing for infrastructure development remains constrained. State resources fund approximately 90 percent of the country’s infrastructure projects, and mobilising private capital has proven difficult.
  • There are currently many foreign-financed connectivity initiatives in the region, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Japan’s Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, and projects supported by America’s International Development Finance Corporation.
  • While competition among these initiatives provides Vietnam and regional countries with more funding options, they also come with challenges. Vietnam, therefore, has approached them with some reservations.
  • Moving forward, it is crucial for Vietnam to adopt stringent standards in approving new projects, improve the legal environment to attract private infrastructure investment, develop better national infrastructure master plans, diversify infrastructure investment sources, and refrain from taking sides in pursuing international infrastructure development cooperation.

Continue Reading

Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: The Election Is Over. But The Fate Of Party Critics Is Still Grim.



Local residents queue at a voting station in Hanoi on Sunday as Vietnam holds legislative polls to elect a new 500-seat National Assembly. Photo: AFP

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

The 2021 National Assembly election is over. Rumors are spreading.

It is reported that almost 70 million people were expected to cast their ballots yesterday, Sunday, May 23. The election witnessed the nominations of 866 candidates, with 500 seats up for grabs in the parliament.

The number of non-party candidates this year is lower than the last election in 2016, falling from 97 to only 74 candidates. Recently, the National Assembly includes just around 8 percent of independent members, while Party members account for 92 percent of the parliamentary seats. 

How does the National Assembly election work in Vietnam? Is it democratic? Could non-party members run for election? These questions are answered by The Vietnamese’s recently published articles: “The Odds Against Your Favor: How Does The National Assembly Election In Vietnam Work?” and “An Authoritarian Nightmare: The Self-Nomination Movement In 2016.”

Surprise at the last minute: Published articles about independent candidate Luong The Huy on state media have disappeared since Saturday evening, as reported by BBC News Vietnamese service.

Rumors are spreading on social media. This was expected. It happens as usual.

  • Some voters went on Facebook to report that they saw some voters holding several ballots in hand and election officers did nothing, suspectedly committing electoral fraud. This is probably the most common rumor about elections in Vietnam for decades now. 
  • Some other voters said there were election officers instructing them who to vote for.
  • Those who had a chance to witness vote counting in previous elections said there was very suspicious and unexplainable conduct behind closed doors that didn’t follow official guidelines, such as the transfer of invalid ballots into valid boxes.
  • As the media in Vietnam is controlled by the government, there has been no known investigation by journalists to verify these rumors with concrete evidence. The existence of rumors in Vietnam’s politics, and how many ordinary people believe in them, say a lot about how intransparent the system is.

Activist Pham Doan Trang recognized as an honorary member of German writer-activist organization

Last Wednesday, the German branch of Poets, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN) recognized activist and prisoner of conscience Pham Doan Trang as an honorary member. PEN is an international organization aimed at defending “persecuted and suppressed writers” as well as advocating for freedom of speech. 

Using its announcement in German, PEN advocated for Trang’s immediate and unconditional release and condemned the Vietnamese authority’s brutal treatment of her. PEN also recognized Trang’s work as a co-founder and editor for The Vietnamese and Luat Khoa Magazine, as well as her human rights report on the Dong Tam land dispute, co-authored with activist Will Nguyen. 

Trang is a co-founder of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV), which publishes The Vietnamese and Luat Khoa. She is the author of many books focused  on educating the Vietnamese people about politics, such as “Politics for the Common People” and “Nonviolent Resistance.” In 2019, Trang was awarded the Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders. 

In 2020, Trang was imprisoned by the Vietnamese authorities and charged with “conducting propaganda” against the state. Up until now, after more than seven months in prison, she is still being held incommunicado. Her family and her lawyer have not been allowed to meet with her. 

Independent journalists face persecution 

The investigation of the Báo Sạch (Clean Newspaper) case has been finalized with Can Tho Police formally recommending the city’s People’s Procuracy to prosecute four journalists of the group: Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Thanh Nha.

They now face up to seven years in prison, on the charge of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Penal Code.

The investigative agency said it would continue to investigate other suspected activities of the group. They did not rule out the possibility of filing new charges against the group’s members under Article 337 of the Penal Code, which is “deliberate disclosure of classified information; appropriation, trading, destruction of classified documents.”

COVID-19 in Vietnam: Panic, panic, and panic. 

Panic took over Vietnam as the country witnessed new surges of COVID-19 cases. Even though the number of cases in Vietnam has been low compared to other countries, only around 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated. The Vietnamese government has promised to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines for free, but those who have gotten the shot so far are mostly front-line workers, diplomats, and military officers. 

At the moment, only AstraZeneca is available in Vietnam. 

The desperation for COVID-19 vaccines has manifested itself in the form of tourism. According to Tuoi Tre News, a travel company in Ho Chi Minh City recently launched a new “vaccination tour” for their customers. This “tour” would take customers to the United States to get vaccinated with one of the three options: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Pricing starts at almost $2,000. The travel package is said to target “business people, high-income earners, and white-collar workers.”

The government has said it will buy and deliver 31 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of this year. Vietnam currently has three domestically produced vaccines, but none of them have been approved. Although Vietnam is producing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, the country has not considered Chinese vaccines. Public opinion in Vietnam, filled with anti-China sentiment, has shown much distrust of China’s vaccine diplomacy

Vietnam’s stance on the Israel-Palstinian conflict 

Despite the VCP’s historical connection to Palestine as fellow anti-imperialist revolutionaries, the country has taken a moderate stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. While state-controlled media outlets dramatically state that Vietnam condemns violence in the conflict, the country actually has not taken a side in the conflict, only condemning general “attacks targeting civilians.” Dang Dinh Quy, Vietnam’s ambassador to the United Nations, only suggested that “both sides, especially Israel” should “respect international humanitarian law.” 

Why doesn’t Vietnam side with Palestine? Even though siding with Palestine would provide a chance for the VCP to demonstrate its commitment to anti-imperialist ideology, which is ideal for communist propaganda, Vietnam’s long-standing defense policy prohibits it from “siding with one country against another.” Although the defense policy does have some room for flexible consideration on a case-by-case basis, it seems that playing the ideological game is not Vietnam’s priority anymore. 

Learn more about Vietnam: 

Vietnam’s National Assembly Vote: A Futile Gesture

The Diplomat/Mu Sochua/May 19, 2021

“As in previous elections, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), which runs one of the few remaining single-party states in the world, is expected to dominate the polls and extend its rule for the next five years. Voter turnout on polling day is also expected to be high, if previous elections are anything to go by, despite an intensified crackdown on human rights over the last few years.”

Vietnam may not want China’s Covid-19 vaccines, but how long can it stay immune to them?

South China Morning Post/Dien Nguyen An Luong/May 20, 2021 

“Leaving China-developed jabs off the table altogether risks derailing efforts to expedite a much-needed vaccination drive, which could dent extraordinarily high public approval ratings of the government’s handling of the pandemic. But a nod to Chinese shots is likely to force the authorities to grapple with an even more daunting challenge: how to talk an increasingly anti-China audience at home into taking them.”

Full steam ahead on Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaign

East Asia Forum/Hai Hong Nguyen, UQ/May 20, 2021

“Public attention is being drawn to how Trong and the new 18-member Politburo will decide on the fate of the ‘three big fish’ and former members of the Politburo: former party boss of Hanoi Hoang Trung Hai, former party boss of Ho Chi Minh City Le Thanh Hai and former governor of the State Bank of Vietnam Nguyen Van Binh. All three men were disciplined last year.”

Do China and Vietnam Have Similar Alliance Policies?

The Diplomat/Khang Vu/May 18, 2021 

“Similar to China, Vietnam also has a formal alliance commitment to Laos that survived the end of the Cold War. Vietnam is famous for its “Three Nos” defense policy – no military alliances, no foreign military bases on Vietnamese territory, and no reliance on any country to combat others – but its alliance with Laos is the exception to its alliance policies the same way North Korea is to China. Scholars often consider the Sino-Korean alliance to be a deviant case that goes beyond the scope of existing alliance theories. However, the existence of another deviant Vietnam-Laos case implies that there is a pattern that is worth further research, especially so when Vietnam and China are communist countries that once fought a common U.S. enemy. Deviant cases are significant in the sense that they can be the exceptions that prove the rule. Ignoring them can risk selecting on the dependent variable, which could lead to biased results in studies of Chinese and Vietnamese alliance policies.”

China and the US: Who Has More Influence in Vietnam?

The Diplomat/Mengzhen Xia and Dingding Chen/May 21, 2021

“As soon as the Biden administration came into power in the United States, Washington decided to strengthen its Indo-Pacific strategy, intending to highlight its presence in Asia and to deter the rise of China. Vietnam, fresh off a year of serving as the ASEAN chair and currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council through 2021, is becoming increasingly important in this effort. Washington seeks to upgrade U.S.-Vietnam ties and deepen their “comprehensive partnership” with an eye toward balancing and confining China. Both China and the United States are competing to exert a positive – and bigger – influence on Vietnam through various economic and political policies, such as the Belt and Road Initiative from China and maritime security cooperation from the United States.”

Events to watch this week:

Seminar: Responsiveness in the Shadow of Repression: Vietnam and China Compared

Date: May 27
Organizer: Southeast Asia Program, Stanford University

Continue Reading