Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Remains “Not Free” On Freedom House’s Internet Freedom Report; Vietnam’s COVID-19 Death Toll Surpasses 18,000 Fatalities

Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Remains “Not Free” On Freedom House’s Internet Freedom Report; Vietnam’s COVID-19 Death Toll Surpasses 18,000 Fatalities
Photo credit: Freedom House/ Reuters. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Freedom on the Net 2021: Vietnam remains “Not Free” on internet freedom

The Vietnamese Magazine reports:

  • On September 21, 2021, Freedom House, a Washington D.C.-based organization, released its annual report Freedom on the Net 2021. In the report, Vietnam scored 22 on a 100-point scale, being classified as “not free” based on Freedom House’s measuring scale.
  • Vietnam’s score this year is 2 points lower than its rating for 24 in 2019 but is equal to its 2020 score, which was also 22.
  • According to Freedom House, three key factors that affect Vietnam’s overall score include the Vietnamese government’s growing pressure on Facebook to restrict and censor content deemed as “sensitive” or “critical” to the state; the government’s censorship, arrests and smear campaigns of several independent candidates during the country’s National Assembly elections; and the draft decree regarding personal data protection that require online platforms to collect and store the personal data of Vietnamese users for providing to the government upon request.
  • In a response to journalists’ queries regarding the results, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said that Freedom House’s report “has no value” since it is a “biased and prejudiced assessment based on untrue information on Vietnam,” reports state-run VietnamPlus. Hanoi has consistently denied the country’s serious violations of basic human rights, while political prisoners are commonly viewed as bargaining chips by the government on the international negotiation table.

Vietnam releases draft decree on Cybersecurity Administrative Penalties

From Baker McKenzie:

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security has just released a draft decree on Penalties for Administrative Violations in Cybersecurity to gather public opinion with a deadline of November 18, 2021.

The draft decree, which consists of four chapters and 51 articles regarding administrative violations, penalties, and remedial measures, is expected to take effect on December 1, 2021.

According to Baker McKenzie, several key points of the proposed decree include:

  • Scope and subjects of application: Vietnamese and foreign organizations and individuals committing administrative violations in cyberspace.
  • Main areas of sanction for violated object: (i) information security assurance; (ii) personal data protection; (iii) prevention of and combat against cyberattacks; (iv) implementation of cybersecurity protection activities; and (v) prevention of and combat against the use of cyberspace, information technology, and electronic devices to violate the law on social order and safety.
  • Most notably, foreign companies could face sanctions up to 200 million dong (approximately US$8,700) for failing to store users’ data or establish a representative office in Vietnam or failing to authenticate and identify users’ digital accounts with legal ID papers.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • As of September 26, 2021, Vietnam has recorded over 476,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. At the same time, the country’s death toll surpassed18,000 fatalities on September 23, the majority of which were recorded in Ho Chi Minh City and several southern provinces.
  • Migrant workers in Vietnam’s industrial province of Binh Duong are trapped in poverty and hunger, writes the Southeast Asia Globe: “The province’s migrant workers have been hit hard by Covid-19. Many have found themselves confined to small, rented rooms during the strict lockdowns and find it difficult to survive without familial ties in the province and little to no support from the government. Others have had to navigate the overwhelmed medical system and crowded quarantine centres or quarantine within factories to keep companies in operation.”
  • Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh proposed a plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions and resume production in order to revive a pandemic-hit economy, reports Reuters. “Around Sept. 30, safe localities can ease COVID restrictions and revive business and social activities,” Chinh said during a government meeting. The decision came as Vietnam had seen a drop in infection and death rates, while many foreign investors warned the government that they had relocated their production elsewhere due to strict lockdown rules.
  • Earlier, on September 20, Vietnam’s capital Hanoi started to relax its coronavirus restrictions as it recorded fewer new cases and the majority of its adult population was partially vaccinated, reports Reuters. The city streets became busier last week after authorities removed roadblocks and allowed restaurants to offer takeaway services.
  • Vietnam’s domestic COVID-19 vaccine Nanocovax struggles to be approved amid vaccine shortage, reports Nikkei Asia: “As COVID-19 ravages Vietnam and foreign vaccines continue to be in short supply, the government is ramping up efforts to accelerate the development of domestic vaccines. But the debut of the first Vietnamese vaccine may be pushed back beyond this month as health authorities take extra care to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.”
  • COVID-19 vaccines’ arrival in Vietnam: On September 22, South Korea’s presidential office announced that it would donate more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Vietnam after President Moon Jae-in met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Three days later, on September 25, Cuba exported its three-shot Abdala coronavirus vaccine for the first time to Vietnam, as part of a contract to supply five million doses to Hanoi. Earlier, Italy also announced that it would send an additional 796,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Vietnam, on top of more than 800,000 doses previously donated to the country via the COVAX Initiative.
  • The Vietnamese government has approved the purchase of 20 million Chinese-made COVID-19 Sinopharm vaccines, which will be made by the country’s Ministry of Health, reports VnExpress. The Southeast Asian country has received around 20 million Sinopharm doses up to date.
  • Vietnamese dissident Mac Van Trang receives death threats over his criticism of Chinese-made vaccines, reports RFA: “Mac Van Trang, known for his critical voice on sociopolitical issues in Vietnam, said he received threatening calls after he posted stories on the Chinese vaccines on his Facebook page, including a letter he wrote to the Ho Chi Minh City leaders, advising them not to accept millions of doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.”

Vietnam protests over China Y-20 Aircraft Mission in Spratly Islands

RFA reports:

  • On September 16, Chinese state media reported that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed a number of Y-20 large transport aircraft to return troops from three outposts in the Spratly Islands (Hoang Sa), which China calls Nansha, to the mainland.
  • At a press briefing in Hanoi on Thursday, September 23, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said that Vietnam demands that China respect its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa (Paracel) archipelagoes and immediately stop and not repeat similar activities.
  • The Chinese daily tabloid Global Times quoted the PLA South Sea Fleet as saying that several Y-20 transport aircraft of the PLA Air Force took off from airfields on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef last Thursday, “carrying veterans who were garrisoned there to the Chinese mainland.” Previously, such missions were done by ships, it noted.
  • On September 24, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a phone conversation, vowing to promote the socialist course of both countries, strengthen cooperation in international and regional affairs, maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, and oppose the politicization of COVID-19 origins tracing.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam is balancing China-US rivalry with deft statecraft, but for how long?

ThinkChina/ Huynh Tam Sang, Pham Do An/ September 16

“Vietnam and China’s respective stances on foreign policy have diverged considerably. China’s Belt and Road Initiative reflects its desire for a Beijing-centric world system. But Hanoi strives towards multilateralism and has sought to reduce its economic dependence on Beijing; it seeks to uphold existing international law and norms against the latter.”

US-Vietnam Relations: From Reconciliation to a Relationship of Substance

The Diplomat/ Le Hong Hiep/ September 20

“Despite America’s repeated commitments to respect Vietnam’s political system, some Vietnamese leaders remain paranoid about the vague threat of regime change supposedly caused by America’s “peaceful evolution” scheme. But such fear is misplaced. As Osius’s book shows, America has learned to respect Vietnam’s political interests, and has a strong desire in strengthening ties with Vietnam, especially against the backdrop of its intensifying strategic competition with China. Contrary to these officials’ belief, a stronger relationship with the U.S. will help strengthen, rather than undermine, the regime of the Vietnamese Communist Party. Numerous historical examples, from Chile, Nicaragua, and Cuba to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, have shown that regimes friendly to the U.S. and its interests will fare much better than hostile ones.”

‘We Were Them:’ Vietnamese Americans Help Afghan Refugees

Associated Press/ Amy Taxin/ September 21

“For parole, Afghans need the support of a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and some Vietnamese Americans have signed up to sponsor people they have never met, said Tuấn ĐinhJanelle, director of field at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. He said a coalition of legal and community groups has secured sponsors for 2,000 Afghans seeking parole. His sister, Vy Dinh, said she’s sponsoring a family of 10 including women in danger for working in medicine and teaching. “As soon as he called, I said, ‘Yes, I am in,’” she said.”

Japan, Vietnam gently coming together against China

Asia Times/ Nate Fischler/ September 21

“To diversify defense ties beyond their traditional US ally, Japan has signed similar defense agreements with other regional powers including the Philippines, Australia and Indonesia. But the Japan-Vietnam deal, in particular, has broad implications for the region, analysts and observers say.”

Agent Orange atrocities didn’t end in Vietnam

Asia Times/ Mike Tharp/ September 22

“During the Vietnam War, the United States sprayed on Vietnam about 40 million liters of Agent Orange and related toxic rainbow herbicides – Agents Purple, White, Green and Pink. All were defoliants aimed at disrupting the jungle canopies, rice crops and other food sources for the Viet Cong.”

China Courts Vietnam With More COVID-19 Vaccines, Mistrust Remains

The Diplomat/ Hai Hong Nguyen/ September 24

“This feeling stems from a Vietnamese lack of confidence in the quality of Chinese vaccines on the one hand, and a long history of suspicion that has been inflamed by recent Chinese actions in the South China Sea.”

Japan, the U.S. and Vietnam not on same page with China

The Japan Times/ Mark J. Valencia/ September 26

“Indeed, while Vietnam’s position may seem at times to be anti-China, this is likely to be flexible. Indeed, it seems doubtful that Vietnam’s leadership will side long term with the U.S. and its allies. Since the debacle in Afghanistan, the U.S. is increasingly viewed as a declining and unreliable partner. China on the other hand is its permanent neighbor and an inexorably rising regional and world power.”

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