The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s political developments of the past week.
A young military officer found dead
On June 28, a 19-year-old military officer, Tran Duc Do, was found dead while undergoing compulsory military service. Both the military and the state-controlled media push the narrative that the young officer committed suicide and that no abuse or misconduct happened. The officer’s family has been contesting this narrative, as they said that bruises were found on his body, and their son had told them not long before his death that he was being bullied in the military.
The death of the young military officer has caused an uproar on the internet.
The Vietnamese military has a lot to answer for in recent months. This started in January with the military’s violent involvement in the Dong Tam land dispute near Hanoi, followed by the exposure of the military’s ties with the military junta in Myanmar through its telecommunications company, Viettel.
However, unlike these two stories, the general public in Vietnam is particularly concerned with this case of the young military officer, and seems to be more critical of the military regarding this incident.
The young officer’s family has been very vocal about his death, particularly to international press platforms like BBC Vietnamese. The officer’s mother said to the BBC, “If my son’s murderer is not found, the Vietnamese people will not trust the Communist Party anymore.”
On Facebook, some activists also told stories of how the military has been mistreating the family of Tran Duc Do. Activist Nguyen Anh Tuan wrote on his Facebook that the military had been pressuring hospitals from Bac Ninh to Hanoi not to agree to preserve Tran Duc Do’s corpse when the family wanted to delay the funeral so an autopsy could be performed. The internet was also cut in the entire street of Do’s family. According to the activist, Do’s family had to purchase their own refrigerator to preserve his body before his funeral.
On July 1, Tran Duc Do was finally put to rest as his family buried him. However, it seems that his family is still fighting to find the true cause of his death.
Questionable arrests and charges against civil society actors
Last week witnessed the arrest of prominent independent blogger Le Dung Vova, captured by the police a month after an official warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested for his “anti-state” writings on social media, a legal offense based on Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code, one of the typical charges against independent journalists and bloggers.
Previously, he had also been detained twice in 2019: when he and his colleagues at the independent platform CHTV live-streamed about the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi, and when they attended a workshop on the South China Sea, though he was released on both occasions.
Last week also saw the ruling to detain journalist Mai Phan Loi and lawyer Dang Dinh Bach. They were both charged with tax fraud. These two were involved in the VNGO-EVFTA Network, a network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) founded earlier this year in Vietnam to promote the involvement of NGOs in the implementation of the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. They were both the Executive Board members of the VNGO-EVFTA Network.
Loi was the chair of the Scientific Council of the Center for Media in Educating Community. At the same time, Bach was the Law and Policy Research Center for Sustainable Development director. Loi was also a member of civil society activists who met with President Obama in Hanoi during his May 2016 trip. Previously in June 2016, Mai Phan Loi’s journalist ID was revoked by the authorities for conducting a poll on Facebook about the accidents involving Vietnamese naval aircraft.
Former premier of the Republic of Vietnam passes away at 95
Tran Thien Khiem, second in command to President Nguyen Van Thieu of the former South Vietnamese regime, passed away recently on June 23 in California at the age of 95.
During his time as a politician and a prominent military general in the former Republic of Vietnam, Khiem was considered the right-hand man of President Thieu. He was the regime’s premier from 1969 to its last days in 1975, and he was involved in many military coups, particularly the one leading to the death of former President Ngo Dinh Diem. After the war ended, he immigrated to the United States, where he lived a quiet life. Read more about his life here.
Netflix removes movie showing nine-dash line map
Last week, Netflix had to remove a movie from its service in Vietnam due to complaints from the Vietnamese authorities that the movie showed the nine-dash line map, which is China’s map for territorial claims in the South China Sea.
This was not the first time either the Vietnamese authorities or the public were concerned about commercial products due to their showcasing of the nine-dash line map. In April, there was a widespread call to boycott the clothing brand H&M in Vietnam over the speculation that the brand supported the nine-dash line map.
The conflict of territorial claims between China and Vietnam is particularly interesting as the country witnessed the rise of contemporary anti-China nationalism, in contrast to the Communist Party’s propaganda on China’s ideological brother. Read more about this topic in The Vietnamese Magazine’s article published last week, “Why Did The Vietnamese Communist Party Suppress Anti-China Nationalism?”
COVID-19 in Vietnam
New vaccination approval: Moderna was recently approved for emergency use in Vietnam. The other vaccines that have been approved include AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, and Sinopharm.
Vaccination sites are causing fear of superspreaders, according to Nikkei Asia. The situation is leading to calls for better organization of mass vaccination during outbreaks in Vietnam.
Learn more about Vietnam
Sheridan Prasso/Bloomberg/July 1, 2021
“With China making a territorial grab in the South China Sea, American LNG shipments—which would be protected by the U.S. Navy—will continue to hold appeal for the Vietnamese. But without guarantees for U.S. companies, Vietnam could just as easily turn to cheaper and closer LNG sources, such as from Qatar, Australia, and Malaysia. Since President Joe Biden came into office, Vietnam is no longer being pressured by the U.S. the same way on trade. Signaling a less confrontational approach to trade policy, the Treasury Department in April declined to designate Vietnam a “currency manipulator,” as the Trump administration had done in December. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai merely mentioned the concern in an April call with her Vietnamese counterpart.”
Linh Tong/The Diplomat/June 30, 2021
“It is still too early to hail a digital economy agreement between Singapore and Vietnam. And it will be an even longer road before Vietnam can align itself with Singapore’s digital trade standards so that both nations can reap the full benefits of any potential agreement. But in agreeing to begin discussions, the two nations mark a recognition of the benefits of a liberalized approach in dealing with the emerging challenges of digital trade. At the very least, by taking the first steps along this road, Vietnam and Singapore have recognized that no single nation can fully enjoy digital trade benefits by imposing protectionist regulations, separating itself from the global digitalization standards. There must be win-win cooperation in order for digital trade to fulfill its full potential.”
James Crabtree/Foreign Policy/June 27, 2021
“The region should matter in Washington. It contains two U.S. allies: the Philippines and Thailand. There are other major partners, too, including Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam. Yet, economic ties in all these countries have shifted toward China as of late. Closer diplomatic ties are likely to follow in many cases, absent concerted U.S. action. Few regional policymakers relish a possible future under China’s sway and mostly want to maintain a balance between the two superpowers—which means they want the United States to stay closely engaged in regional affairs. But it is for precisely this reason that Southeast Asia is so attuned to signs of distraction or muddled thinking in Washington.”