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Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Arrests And Indicts Political Dissidents Amid COVID-19 Pandemic; South China Sea Becomes A Hot Issue Between Vietnam And China

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Photo (left to right): Thinh Nguyen/ The New York Times, Zing News, state media. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.
Photo (left to right): Thinh Nguyen/ The New York Times, Zing News, state media. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

The case of journalist Pham Doan Trang: Investigation process completed, leading to her indictment

  • On Aug 26, 2021, Hanoi Police announced that they had completed the investigations into Pham Doan Trang on the allegation of “spreading information against the State.” The government is now allowing lawyers to defend her for the first time since she was arrested last October.
  • Last year, on October 6, Pham Doan Trang was arrested by Vietnamese state security and she was subsequently charged with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code and “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code. Since then, Trang has been held incommunicado and denied visits from her family and lawyers.
  • Trinh Huu Long, a personal representative of Pham Doan Trang, claimed that her arrest was “completely unconstitutional, [and] in violation of the law.” Pham Doan Trang is a prominent journalist and democracy activist, famously known for her political books written for general readers and articles with sharp criticisms against Vietnam’s Communist government. “The authorities would do better to respect Doan Trang’s work rather than punish her,” Long concluded.
  • Pham Doan Trang could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Vietnamese police disguised as health workers arrest a dissident blogger

RFA reports:

  • On Aug 30, Vietnamese police arrested Bui Van Thuan, a dissident Facebook user, for criticizing the government in his online posts, especially his comments on the Dong Tam land dispute incident.
  • After cutting power to Thuan’s house in Nghi Son Town, Thanh Hoa Province, police officers, disguised as medical workers, asked his wife to let them in to take a health statement. “They said they were in a hurry and urged me to open the door quickly so that they could go to see others, so I invited them to come into the living room,” Thuan’s wife, Trinh Thi Nhung, said.
  • After getting into the house, a male officer “broke into the bedroom and restrained and handcuffed my husband just as he had woken up and was about to come out,” she said. The police then carried out a search of the house, handcuffing both the blogger and his wife, and confisticating a jar of lime-flavored honey, despite opposition from the family, and a copy of “The Handbook for Families of Prisoners” published by Pham Doan Trang as they left, according to Nhung.
  • Thuan was later formally prosecuted for “storing publications and materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code,” according to police documents reviewed by VOA. His arrest came just after the U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam, where she raised concerns about human rights issues.
  • Last year, when the dissident blogger was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, he expressed concerns about Facebook’s compliance with Vietnamese authorities to suppress free speech by suspending dissidents’ accounts and censoring critical voices against the government.

Australia continues to urge Vietnam to release Vietnamese-Australian political prisoner Chau Van Kham

RFA and ABC News report:

  • On Aug 30, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne sent a letter to MP Chris Hayes, advocating for the release of political prisoner Chau Van Kham.
  • Chau Van Kham was arrested in Jan 2019 in Ho Chi Minh City; he was later sentenced to 12 years in prison for alleged “terrorist activities against the People’s government.” Kham is a member of Viet Tan, a democracy and human rights organization regarded as a “terrorist group” by the Vietnamese government. However, the United Nations considers Viet Tan a “peaceful organization advocating for democratic reform.”
  • Meanwhile, Chau Van Kham’s family has spent more than two years advocating for his vaccination against COVID-19 once it is made available as the coronavirus situation began to deteriorate in Vietnam, especially with recent outbreaks in many prisons. “My husband is 72 years old, it’s easy for him to get COVID and die there. That’s why I want a vaccine for my husband,” said Trang Chau, his wife.
  • He was not among those released under an amnesty annually granted on Vietnamese Independence day on September 2.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • Quick take: Vietnam has recorded over 520,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with more than 13,000 deaths. Fully vaccinated people only account for under 3 percent of the country’s population.
  • Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh warns of a lengthy battle against COVID-19, reports Reuters. “We cannot resort to quarantine and lockdown measures forever, as it will cause difficulty for the people and the economy,” he said during a meeting with an antivirus committee last Wednesday. The highly transmissive Delta variant has shattered Vietnam’s early success in containing COVID-19 infections.
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s coronavirus epicenter, is considering a plan to reopen its economic activities from September 15, shifting from the “zero COVID-19” strategy to “living with the virus” policy, reports Reuters. The city has been gripped by a recent sharp rise of coronavirus infections and has remained under stringent lockdown since. So far, half of Vietnam’s confirmed cases, and 80 percent of its fatalities, have been recorded in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Vietnam ranked bottom in Nikkei Asia’s Covid Recovery Index, mostly due to the country’s surge in COVID-19 cases, slow vaccination rates and rigid social distancing measures, which caused disruptions in the supply chain. The Nikkei chart ranks more than 120 countries and regions around the world on the assessment of infection management, vaccine rollouts and social mobility. This is the second time Vietnam is listed at the bottom.
  • Hanoi will send over 1,200 city residents from its largest COVID-19 cluster to a centralized quarantine facility on the city’s outskirts, reports VnExpress. The affected neighborhood, which is located in Thanh Xuan District, has reported more than 300 coronavirus cases since August 23. At the same time, Hanoi authorities are also set to extend lockdown measures until September 21, while maintaining strict COVID-19 restrictions in high risk areas.
  • Vietnam to receive an additional two million AstraZeneca vaccine doses, reports VnExpress: “Three batches of 2,016,460 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses have arrived in Ho Chi Minh City this week. The batches, part of a 30 million dose contract between AstraZeneca and the Vietnam Vaccine JSC (VNVC), arrived on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
  • Ho Chi Minh City faces a food delivery crisis, reports Nikkei Asia: “The government-led delivery operation became overwhelmed during the first week, prompting the city to issue a written request to local supermarkets and online platforms to participate in delivery services. The move followed an announcement from the city on August 28, allowing as many as 25,000 shippers to join the delivery rollout. However, involving local businesses has done little to improve the situation.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman makes statement on China’s revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law

  • On September 1, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang made a statement on China’s official enforcement of its revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law, reports state-run VietnamPlus: “Vietnam resolutely and persistently safeguards its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its waters determined in line with the provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982),” said Hang.
  • On August 27, China’s Maritime Safety Administration announced that foreign vessels entering its “territorial waters,” which refers to its unlawful nine-dash line, must “report ship and cargo information to China’s maritime administrations,” according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
  • The revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law, which took effect on September 1, “comes amid escalating tension between China and rival claimants, as well as Western nations led by the US and its expanded military presence in the region,” writes the SCMP.
  • One day later, on August 28, Science Advances magazine took down a Facebook post of an attached scientific research showing China’s nine-dash line map after Vietnam’s social media users flooded its comment section with opposition and criticisms. Despite its effectiveness this time, the aggressive strategy utilized by Vietnamese social media users, or its “public opinion shapers,” has also been deployed to attack pro-democracy activists and foreign ambassadors’ social network accounts in Vietnam, particularly when they raise concerns about the country’s poor human rights record.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam Lost Public Buy-in. Its COVID-19 Struggles Followed

The Diplomat/ Le Vinh Trien and Kris Hartley/ September 1

“Anti-epidemic measures developed without collaboration fail to reflect the voices of diverse communities. When the political power among these communities is imbalanced, policy inconsistencies arise and a chain reaction emerges. Case counts rise as people resist restrictive behavior protocols, straining health care capacity and imperiling vulnerable groups. Ultimately, mixed messaging at the policy level widens the trust gap between government and citizens.”

Taliban Comparisons Are Unfair to Vietnam’s Leaders

Foreign Policy/ Chris Humphrey/ September 1

“There is no moral equivalence between North Vietnamese forces and the Taliban. During World War II, the Viet Minh actually supported the United States and its allies by serving as the only Vietnamese force resisting Japan’s invasion of Indochina. This preamble for conflict hardly compares to the Taliban militia, which massacred minority Hazara communities and forced Hindus to carry yellow badges to set them apart from Afghan Muslims—like Jews in Nazi Germany.”

Opinion: A lesson for America from the fall of Saigon in 1975

CNN/ Hao-Nhien Vu/ August 31

“The Afghans solved their problem by valiantly fighting the Soviet Union forces that invaded their country, and the Vietnamese benefited from the eventual dissolution of the USSR. Little to none of the economic reform that made Vietnam’s economy a vibrant one would likely have happened had the Soviet Union still been around.”

Vietnam Briefing

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

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Photo credit: RFA.

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.”


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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: Results From U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ Visit; Vaccine Donations To Arrive In Vietnam Amid Surge In COVID-19 Cases

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Photo: Nhat Bac/ VGP (left), Reuters/ Stringer (right). Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam: Main takeaways

  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Vietnam’s top officials met on Wednesday, August 25, carrying out talks on several key areas, including the enhancement of maritime security, boosting economic cooperation, combating climate change and providing healthcare support, reports Reuters.
  • Earlier, on Tuesday, Harris’ flight from Singapore to Hanoi was delayed by more than three hours after the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi was made aware of an “anomalous health incident,” which referred to the mysterious Havana Syndrome.
  • Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh held an unannounced meeting with Chinese Ambassador Xiong Bo, just before Harris’ arrival, affirming that “Vietnam does not align itself with one country against another.” Beijing also offered Vietnam an additional 2 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine during the meeting.
  • Vice President Harris made sharp criticism at China’s “bullying” in the South China Sea while urging Vietnam to join the United States against Beijing’s advances, reports Associated Press. “We need to find ways to pressure and raise the pressure, frankly, on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims,” Harris said at the opening of a meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam has signed an agreement with Hanoi authorities, in the presence of Vice President Harris, for a land lease to build a new $1.2 billion embassy campus in the city, reports VnExpress. The new embassy, which will be located in the Cau Giay District, is a project announced by Vietnam and the United States in 2019.
  • Vice President Harris announced that the United States would donate one million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses to Vietnam, bringing the total number of vaccines donated by the United States to the country to six million doses. Meanwhile, a new regional office of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will open in Hanoi, with a mission of “protecting Americans and people of the region” and “building key relationships to tackle shared health priorities,” according to the CDC press release.
  • “We’re not going to shy away from difficult conversations,” said Vice President Harris during her meeting with Vietnamese leaders regarding human rights abuses and political activism in Vietnam, according to Associated Press. However, the results of those discussions remain unclear. Overall, Vietnam is notoriously known for its crackdown on freedom of speech and the arrests of political dissidents.
  • Strengthening the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, from the White House press release: “The Vice President’s travel to Vietnam signifies the United States’ deep commitment not only to the region but also to the U.S. – Vietnam relationship. In bilateral meetings with Vietnamese leaders, Vice President Harris reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam, as well a free, open, healthy, and resilient Indo-Pacific region.”

The Covid-19 situation in Vietnam

  • In total, Vietnam has recorded over 430,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases with more than 10,000 deaths as of Sunday, August 29, 2021.
  • Vietnam to deploy troops to contain the surge of Covid-19 infections in Binh Duong Province, a major manufacturing hub, reports Reuters. The southern province, which is located nearby Ho Chi Minh City, is expected to record an additional 50,000 coronavirus cases over the next two weeks.
  • Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam was replaced by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh as head of the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 prevention and control. The replacement decision came amid the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Southeast Asian nation.
  • Ho Chi Minh City to resume delivery service operations in the city reports VnExpress. According to local authorities, delivery drivers, popularly known as “shippers” in Vietnam, will be allowed to operate in Covid-19 high-risk districts to relieve shopping demands among locals. Delivery drivers, along with temporary contractors and migrant workers, are among the most vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 pandemic in Vietnam.
  • Vietnam’s homegrown Covid-19 vaccine NanoCovax to be granted emergency use after being approved by The National Committee for Ethics in Biomedical Research, reports VietnamPlus: “The National Committee for Ethics in Biomedical Research under the Ministry of Health (MoH) has agreed that the mid-term results from Nano Covax’s phase 3 clinical trials will be submitted to the Advisory Council for the Registration of Circulation of Drugs and Medicinal Ingredients for considering the issuance of a registration certificate for the conditional circulation of the vaccine.”
  • Covid-19 vaccine donations to Vietnam: Australia donated to Vietnam a total of 403,000 AstraZeneca doses, as part of an “ongoing commitment to help Vietnam in its fight against the pandemic,” wrote the Australian Embassy in Vietnam. Meanwhile, on August 25, Italy also announced its donation of over 800,000 AstraZeneca doses to Vietnam via the COVAX Initiative, while over 500,000 vaccine doses, also made by AstraZeneca, arrived in Hanoi on August 23 as a donation from the Polish government.
  • The Vatican sends financial aid to help Vietnam deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, reports Reuters: “About $70,000 was sent to Bangladesh for continuing recovery assistance from Cyclone Yaas, which left tens of thousands of people homeless last May, and about 100,000 euros to Vietnam, where food supplies have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

China’s Wedge Strategy Towards the US-Vietnam Partnership

The Diplomat/ Khang Vu/ August 25

“Vietnam falls into a different category of Chinese wedge strategy, in which China seeks to reinforce Vietnamese neutrality, instead of de-aligning it, since Vietnam is not a formal U.S. ally. Hanoi considers itself a neutral country under its “four noes” policy, of “no military alliance, no affiliation with one country to counteract the other, no foreign military base in the Vietnamese territory to act against other countries, and no force or threatening to use force in international relations.” Such a policy is rooted in Hanoi’s search for a balance between ideological values and national security interests, which stipulates that Vietnam only allies with states that share both. Vietnam is officially neutral between the United States and China, since it only shares security interests with the former and ideological values with the latter (as well as strong economic ties to both.)”

Who is winning the US-China battle for the hearts and minds of Vietnam’s cybersphere?

South China Morning Post/ Dien Nguyen An Luong/ August 24

“When both countries sought to burnish their vaccine diplomacy campaigns in Vietnamese cyberspace, the US beat China by a wide margin in terms of positive public reactions, reflecting the fact the Vietnamese public prizes US vaccines over Chinese ones. Such sentiments were reflected in an analysis of Facebook posts and their average engagements on vaccine diplomacy that were among the most engaged content between January and July.”

Kamala Harris has a chance to stand up for democracy this week. She should take it.

The Washington Post/ Will Nguyen/ August 23

“One of the few socialist republics left in the world, Vietnam is an authoritarian state run by a nominally communist party, ruling over a population that is among the most pro-capitalist and pro-American on Earth. The precipitous fall of Afghanistan reveals that the United States cannot simply impose liberal democracy on other countries, even if they share such affinities. The desire for rights and reform must come from the people themselves. And in Vietnam, it is.”

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Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Records New COVID-19 Milestones; Human Rights And Regional Cooperation Become Key Issues During U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ Visit To Vietnam

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Photo credit: Reuters/ Stringer (left), Alex Wong/ Getty Images (right). Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

COVID-19: Vietnam marked new daily infections and deaths record

  • Saturday, August 21, 2021, Vietnam confirmed a total of 13,417 Covid-19 cases, the highest tally since the country detected its first coronavirus infections. On Sunday, the country recorded 737 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest fatality number on any given single day.
  • Quick take: In total, Vietnam’s Covid-19 confirmed cases surpassed 340,000 with over 8,000 deaths. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and other southern provinces remain the country’s largest coronavirus hotspots. As of now, only around 1.7 percent of the country’s population have been fully vaccinated.
  • Panic buying has been seen in HCMC as a result of the local authorities’ decision to impose a stringent lockdown, prohibiting residents from leaving their homes, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, chairman of the city’s People’s Committee, Nguyen Thanh Phong, was removed from his position by the Communist Party, possibly on account of his poor handling of Covid-19.
  • Starting this Monday, HCMC will deploy military troops to enforce the strict stay-at-home order for two weeks amid spiralling Covid-19 infections and deaths in the city, Reuters reports. “We are asking people to stay where they are, not to go outside. Each home, company, factory should be an antivirus fort,” said Pham Duc Hai, deputy head of the city’s coronavirus authority.
  • HCMC official: The city records an average of 240 coronavirus-related deaths every 24 hours. Meanwhile, there are “hundreds of acutely-ill patients and thousands of people wishing to flee the city,” he added.
  • Dr. Kidong Park, World Health Organization Representative in Vietnam: “[Vietnam’s] current healthcare system is under enormous pressure” due to the surge in Covid-19 cases. “There is still a lot of work to be done while the next few weeks are crucial […] to contain the recent outbreaks,” Dr. Park affirmed.
  • Vietnam calls for international support to deal with the pandemic: “We hope that other countries and international organizations would continue to share information, technology, finance, health services, and vaccines so that Vietnam can soon control and fight off this dangerous disease,” said Ms. Le Thi Thu Hang, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
  • The Vietnamese government proposed a plan to distribute around 130,000 tons of rice to over 8.6 million Vietnamese people, who face food shortages because of Covid-19 pandemic effects. The food aid will be distributed to 24 provinces and municipalities in the country.
  • Covid-19 vaccine’s arrival in Vietnam, from VietnamPlus: “Vietnam received an additional 1,209,400 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on August 19, according to the Vietnam Vaccine JSC (VNVC). This is the ninth batch delivered to Vietnam under the VNVC’s order of 30 million doses with AstraZeneca, which will be handed over to the Ministry of Health at a not-for-profit price.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is set to visit Vietnam this Tuesday, human rights issues to be raised

Families of several Vietnamese prisoners of conscience co-wrote an open letter to Vice President Kamala Harris, asking her to pressure Hanoi for the release of their family members.

RFA reports:

  • The letter, signed by four prisoners’ wives, informs Harris that many prisoners of conscience are jailed for publicly disagreeing with the government, “which does not happen in a democratic country like the United States.”
  • They request the release of their family members “so the old mother may still see her son, the young wife can again cry on her husband’s shoulder, so the two-digit-prison-terms will not take away the life of one man and the livelihood of his whole family. All because they dare to speak the truth, a very normal action in any democratic nation,” the letter said.
  • The letter was signed by the wives of Truong Minh Duc, serving 12 years in prison for “attempting to overthrow the government;” Nguyen Nang Tinh, serving 11 years for his Facebook posts critical of the government; Luu Van Vinh, serving 15 years for spreading information about a 2016 toxic chemical spill at the Formosa steel plant; and Tran Duc Thach, an author serving 12 years for his writings that expose the corruption, injustice and human rights abuses of the Vietnamese government.
  • According to the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network, Vietnam currently detains around 300 political prisoners.

The 88 Project, a human rights advocacy project, along with other 12 human rights organizations, also released an open letter to Vice President Harris prior to her visit.

The Vietnamese Magazine reports:

  • Released on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, the letter urges the vice president to “emphasize the importance of human rights with Vietnamese leaders” and also calls for specific action to be taken regarding the situation of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, a prominent Vietnamese democracy activist whose health is slowly deteriorating due to his prolonged hunger strike.
  • In 2010, Thuc was sentenced to 16 years in prison for writing and publishing online articles calling for a multi-party democratic system in Vietnam. 
  • Thuc’s imprisonment, detention, and subsequent treatment at the hands of Vietnamese authorities are blatant infringements of his right to a fair trial under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Vietnamese Constitution. He has also been subject to various forms of physical and mental duress which violate the international prohibition against torture.

The full text of the open letter can be accessed here.

Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV), a non-profit and non-partisan organization, calls on Vice President Kamala Harris to work for the release of LIV’s co-founder Pham Doan Trang and to urge Vietnamese authorities to respect freedom of the press.

The Vietnamese Magazine reports:

  • On October 6, 2020, at 11:30 pm, Pham Doan Trang was arrested by Vietnamese state forces and was subsequently charged with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” and “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
  • LIV appeals to Vice President Kamala Harris to urge the Vietnamese government to unconditionally release illegally imprisoned journalists, including Pham Doan Trang, and push for a freer and more inclusive Vietnamese media environment, where “no journalist needs to fear oppression by their government.”

LIV’s open letter to Vice President Harris can be accessed here.

Vice President Kamala Harris seeks to “strengthen relationships with partners in the region,” reports CNN:

  • Officials say Harris will look to strengthen relationships with partners in Southeast Asia during her visit to Vietnam and Singapore. She will also engage with members of the private sector and civil society leaders.
  • The vice president will also seek to share the Biden administration’s vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific when she meets with Vietnamese government officials, her office said, and she will raise security issues, including in the South China Sea.

A member of the ‘Provisional Government of Vietnam’ sentenced to a three-year prison term under Article 109 of the penal code

RFA reports:

  • A court in central Vietnam’s Nghe An Province last Monday sentenced a member of a U.S.-based political opposition group to three years in prison for alleged activities aimed at overthrowing the country’s one-party Communist government.
  • Tran Huu Duc, born in 1964 and a resident of Nghe An Province, was accused by prosecutors of using Facebook to connect with other members of the so-called Provisional Government of Vietnam, headquartered in Orange County, California, from June 2020 to January 2021.
  • The Provisional Government of Vietnam was founded in 1991 by former soldiers and refugees loyal to the South Vietnamese government that existed before the country’s takeover by North Vietnam in 1975.
  • In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Washington D.C.-based Freedom House gave Vietnam an overall score of 19 out of a possible 100, a one-point decrease from last year’s rating. Vietnam scored three out of 40 in political rights, and 16 out of 60 in civil liberties.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Will Vietnam Be America’s Next Strategic Partner?

The Diplomat/ Alexander L. Vuving/ August 21

“The relationship between Washington and Hanoi is one of the most delicate and most subtle in the world. Historical memories, ideological differences, and domestic concerns often make things unspeakable in this growing relationship. But the largest factor of all that renders the U.S.-Vietnam relationship so delicate and so subtle is China. It is also the critical factor that makes and unmakes the strategic aspect of U.S.-Vietnam ties.”

I Can’t Forget the Lessons of Vietnam. Neither Should You.

The New York Times/ Viet Thanh Nguyen/ August 19

“History is happening again, and again as tragedy and farce. The wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan happened as a result of American hubris, and in both cases, Americans mostly focused on the political costs of war for them. But in each case, the Vietnamese (and Laotians, Cambodians and Hmong), and now the Afghans, have paid the much greater toll in human suffering. In April 1975, the United States recognized its moral responsibility and evacuated about 130,000 Vietnamese people, and then accepted hundreds of thousands more from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in subsequent decades. This is what must happen now, and anything short of such a vision of responsibility and hospitality will compound the American failure in Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan and the Real Vietnam Analogy

The Diplomat/ Andrew Gawthorpe/ August 18

“In South Vietnam, as in Afghanistan, this U.S. inability to impose its will on local political realities ultimately led to the failure of nation-building and defeat in war. The specific ways in which Afghanistan has collapsed highlight the primacy of the local.”

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