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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: COVID-19 Nationwide Crisis; Country’s Map May Be Redrawn

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Medical workers during Covid-19 lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Zing News

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


COVID-19 in Vietnam

  • Movement restrictions across Vietnam amidst outbreaks: Sixteen southern provinces are expected to undergo two-week movement restrictions as three-quarters of new cases were in the south, particularly in Saigon. In the north, Hanoi is also entertaining more restrictions. People are advised to stay at home, and non-essential establishments are closed. 
  • The Vietnamese government said Pfizer would provide the country with 20 million more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which would be used primarily for children of 12-18 years old, and Pfizer may consider transferring the vaccine technology to Vietnam. Vietnam also said that the Pfizer dose would be offered to people vaccinated with AstraZeneca in the first dose. 
  • Vietnam is imprisoning people on COVID-19 related charges: Last week, on July 16, a man was charged with 18 months in prison for “breaking strict Covid-19 quarantine rules, spreading the virus to others and causing financial damage to the authorities.” However, this was not the first time a Vietnam Airline flight attendant also received similar charges and was sentenced to a two-year suspended jail time in late March. 

Vietnamese hospital cremates body of Korean virus patient without notice

From Korea Times:

  • A hospital in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, has cremated the body of a Korean national who died from COVID-19 there, without giving prior notice to the bereaved family members in Korea, provoking protests from them and the Korean Consulate General in the city. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sunday, a Korean man in his 50s died in the hospital after undergoing medical treatment for about 10 days following him testing positive for the virus in early July.

The Vietnamese government is tightening free speech 

  • According to Nikkei Asia, the government proposes a new draft decree that contains new regulations specifically targeting live-streaming activities on social media platforms, including Facebook, Youtube, and Tiktok. 
  • This new draft decree is forcing international social media platforms to hand over to the government the information of popular individuals who live streaming with more than 10,000 followers or subscribers. The government also wants to tax those making money from these platforms. 
  • Meanwhile, concern has been raised over Vietnam’s purchase of Israeli company Cellebrite’s phone-hacking technology. Attorney Eitay Mack, who conducted the investigation into the Israeli company, protested the company’s and the Israeli Defense Ministry’s decision to sell such technology to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, citing concerns over crackdowns on journalists and pro-democracy and human rights activists. 

Incoming National Assembly’s first meeting since the 2021 election 

  • Next week, on July 20, the 15th National Assembly will hold its first meeting session after the 2021 election ended in late May. 
  • Originally, the first session was held from July 20 to August 5, but the session was shortened to end on July 31 due to complications of COVID-19 outbreaks in Vietnam. 
  • In this first session, the representatives in the National Assembly will confirm 50 important officials who will hold the positions over the next five years, such as the chairperson of the Assembly, the president, the prime minister and his deputies, chief justice, chief of the Procuracy, etc. The identity of these leaders is already known at this point, and confirmation is largely just procedural. Vietnam conducted a similar event in April to elect the same individuals to the same positions. It has made the whole process of election, nomination, and confirmation started in May highly confusing to even the Vietnamese public, not to mention international observers.
  • The first session will also discuss financial and economic issues related to public investment for the next term.  
  • It is also reported that 435 out of 499 National Assembly representatives have been vaccinated against COVID-19. It is unclear whether they have been fully vaccinated or only vaccinated with one dose. It is also unclear which types of vaccines were used for the National Assembly representatives. 

EU Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) denounces Vietnam’s arrest of civil society leaders

  • Two weeks ago, journalist Mai Phan Loi and lawyer Dang Dinh Bach were arrested for alleged tax evasion. They were both involved in registered civil society organizations in Vietnam and were both board members of the VNGO-EVFTA Network, which aims to raise awareness about civil society’s involvement in the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. 
  • Last week, on July 15, the EU DAG denounced the arrests of the two individuals, citing concerns that the Vietnamese government is actively silencing those who try to raise human rights concerns. 
  • Earlier this year in January, the EU DAG already affirmed that “civil society engagement and scrutiny of the EVFTA is not an optional element of the agreement,” and urged the European Commission to ensure that this element is fully implemented. 

US ambassador to Vietnam nominee promises to press Vietnam on human rights

From Reuters

  • In a US Senate hearing on July 13, Marc Knapper, the Biden administration’s nominee to become the new US ambassador to Vietnam, vowed to press the Vietnamese government “to respect the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief.”

South Korea requests Vietnam’s involvement in North Korean dialogue

From United Press International

  • Last week, on July 15, during a phone call with the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong, South Korean President Moon Jae-in asked Vietnam to “play a role in promptly resuming dialogue with North Korea,” according to South Korea’s Blue House. 
  • In response to Moon’s request, Trong reportedly said that Vietnam “supports the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and dialogues for peaceful consultations.”
  • Moon also asked for Vietnam’s opinion on the situation of pro-democracy crackdowns in Myanmar, to which Trong replied that Vietnam will “continue to work for the restoration of peace and stability in Myanmar.”

Will the Vietnam map be redrawn?

  • According to the state-controlled Tuoi Tre News, 20 Vietnamese provinces might be merged into other provinces due to their limited population or acreage. 
  • Some of the provinces include Da Nang, Ha Nam, Vinh Phuc, Hung Yen, Nam Dinh, Bac Kan, Cao Bang, Kon Tum, Ninh Thuan, and Lao Cai, among a list of twentieth provinces.
  • Vietnam’s administrative provincial boundaries have been adjusted repeatedly over the past 50 years. By the end of the Vietnam War in April 1975, the country had 72 provincial units. A massive merging process was implemented shortly after that and the number of provincial units reduced to 38 in 1976. However, many provinces have started to be split since 1978 while a few others have been merged to other entities, making the number of provinces 63 in 2008.

Learn more about Vietnam 

New research: The South Vietnamese Flag and Shifting Representations of the Vietnamese American Experience

Tuan Hoang/Rising Asia Journal/July 13, 2021 

“The sight of the South Vietnamese flag in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021, has aroused curiosity and criticism. Missing in the commentaries, however, is the multiplicity of its symbolism to Vietnamese Americans who had come to the United States as refugees or immigrants. Although its visual symbolism is forever tied to the history of the former Republic of Vietnam, its underlying meaning has changed to reflect the experience of Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon, not before.”

New research: A Multi-level Approach to Vietnam Foreign Policy: From Security Preoccupation to Middle Power Role

Le Dinh Tinh/Strategic Analysis/June 13, 2021

“Prior to 1995 when Vietnam joined ASEAN and normalized relationship with the United States, the overriding concern was security as could be well explained by realism. Vietnam has made several critical, strategic moves since 1995 and by 2030 the country may be able to act internationally as an emerging middle power. Taking a multi-level approach and empirical evidences of 35 years of Doi Moi (renovation), this article attempts to clarify as to how Vietnam has been in a better position to ensure the security goal by embarking on an ambitious development strategy and expanding its international role.”

New research: Vietnam’s Foreign Policy in an Era of Rising Sino-US Competition and Increasing Domestic Political Influence

Carlyle A. Thayer/Asian Security/July 31, 2017

“This article examines the dramatic shifts that Vietnam’s foreign policy has undergone over time, from a country tightly allied with Socialist partners like China and the Soviet Union to one that has diversified its strategic partners and forsworn alliances in order to protect its strategic autonomy…. As public opinion and elite factionalism play an increasing role in Vietnam’s foreign policy, managing Vietnam’s external ties has become increasingly difficult. This article concludes that public opinion regarding relations with China has become so toxic that it poses a serious challenge to the political legitimacy of Vietnam’s one-party regime should it fail to deter Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.”

Bittersweet: Vietnam’s Mixed Progress on E-Government During COVID-19

Truong Thuy Quynh and Pham Thi Thuy Duong/The Diplomat/July 16, 2021

“The government is in fact taking steps to remedy the system’s shortcomings, from timely adoption of more advanced technologies to smoothing the way for government-private sector collaboration.

On July 11, Ho Chi Minh City introduced a new system that allows facial recognition and location tracking via smartphones to supervise self-quarantine, hoping to ease the pressure on centralized quarantine venues. The city is also using STAYHOME and HCMCovidSafe, smart wristbands produced collaboratively by governmental agencies, tech corporations, and scientists. Such cooperation has sparked the hope for a synergy in ICT capacity building in Vietnam in the near future.

Nevertheless, problems like a lack of coordination within the governmental apparatus, digital inequality, an immature digital culture, and a dearth of ICT-qualified personnel within the public sector may remain pressing in the aftermath of COVID-19. All the experts we spoke to agreed that these issues should now rise to the top of the policy agenda, alongside infrastructure building and technological upgrades.”

Vietnam to pilot virtual currency as crypto thrives in gray zone

Lien Hoang/Nikkei Asia/July 12, 2021

“After years of warning its citizens not to “gamble” on virtual money, the Vietnamese government has decided to explore creating its own digital currency.

The surprise policy move came buried near the bottom of Prime Minister Decision 942, which lays out a strategy for digitizing the government by 2030. Released last month, it directs the State Bank of Vietnam to research, “develop, and pilot the use of virtual currency based on blockchain technology.”

Why we should care about fate of the Mekong

An Pich Hatda/Nikkei Asia/ July 12, 2021

“More than 70 million people rely on the river, partly or entirely, for their livelihood, and its central role in the economies of the Lower Basin countries cannot be understated. Taken together, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam represent around half the Mekong region’s entire production of rice and fish, a third of tourism, and a large percentage of the region’s energy demands, according to a recent study by the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

But the Mekong’s enduring role as a source of life and livelihoods is facing multiple threats. These threats have been compounded by the COVID pandemic that has created unprecedented economic hardship and worsened environmental degradation.”

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

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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