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

The Vietnamese Magazine
The Vietnamese Magazine

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

RFA reports:

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

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

RFA reports:

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

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

RFA reports:

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

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

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

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s trip to Vietnam

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

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

US, China dueling for power on the Mekong

Asia Times/ Bertil Lintner/ September 5

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

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

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

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

The Diplomat/ Ngo Minh Tri/ September 8

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

Vietnam in pragmatic balancing act between China, US

Asia Times/ Hai Hong Nguyen/ September 10

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

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

Vietnam BriefingCOVID-19ChinaSouth China SeaBao Sach

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