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
- 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.”