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Vietnam Briefing: Dong Tam Incident Remembrance Anniversary

Graphics: The Vietnamese Magazine.

The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.


Day to remember: At the dawn of January 9, 2020, more than 3,000 police officers attacked a residence in Hoanh Village, Dong Tam Commune, My Duc District, Hanoi. The incident resulted in the deaths of village leader Le Dinh Kinh and three police officers. Twenty-nine villagers were arrested and convicted in a trial a year later, with two of them receiving the death sentence.


Individuals and civil society organizations call for the abolition of Vietnam’s contentious laws

  • On January 1, 2022, a group of 86 individuals and civil society organizations in Vietnam and overseas introduced a petition calling for the abolition and/or amendment of three controversial articles in Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.
  • In a letter called The 117 Petition, signatories call for the abolition of Article 109, Article 117, and Article 331 in Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code. According to the petition, these vague and broadly defined laws that criminalize “anti-State activities” are often used to suppress dissenting voices in the country.
  • The petitioners conclude by requesting that “all political prisoners be immediately released.” They also urge the Vietnamese government to abolish and/or modify these laws to avoid misinterpretation.

Land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam appeal court ruling

  • In a document published January 5, Hanoi People’s Court sent a notice to the city’s Procuracy regarding the appeal requests from two land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam.
  • According to the notice, Trinh Ba Phuong filed an appeal on December 22, 2021, dismissing the court’s verdict and stating that he is not guilty. Nguyen Thi Tam’s appeal states that she did not commit “anti-State activities” and therefore should only be fined for sharing unverified information.
  • The two Duong Noi farmers and land rights activists were both convicted under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code for “distributing propaganda against the State.”  The evidence used to convict Phuong and Tam was mostly collected from their personal Facebook accounts regarding the Dong Tam incident.

Vietnamese military changes its narrative on soldier’s death

RFA reports:

  • Nguyen Van Thien, a Vietnamese soldier, reportedly died November 29 after falling in his barracks bathroom. However, state media reports on Wednesday said that he was actually beaten to death by his comrades. He is the third Vietnamese soldier reported to have died while serving in the military last year.
  • Senior military officers in Gia Lai Province initially said that Thien had died after falling in his barracks bathroom. But on Wednesday, the Tien Phong Online Newspaper quoted the province’s military command as saying the young soldier had died as a result of being beaten.
  • Reports last year that Thien had died from a fall were simply the army’s “initial assessment,” said Colonel Le Tuan Hien, political commissar for the Gia Lai Provincial military command. An investigation agency of Military Region No. 5 has now filed charges against “related persons” for causing intentional injury, Hien added. The colonel declined to name those being charged or to provide further details on the case, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Ambassador Marc Knapper is sworn in as the new United States Ambassador to Vietnam

  • On January 4, the United States Embassy in Hanoi reported that Ambassador Marc Knapper had been sworn in as the new ambassador of the United States to Vietnam. Knapper’s wife Suzuko and his son Alex attended the swearing-in ceremony.
  • According to information from the U.S. State Department, Ambassador Knapper is a senior foreign service member who served as deputy assistant secretary for Korea and Japan since August 2018. He speaks Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese.

Vietnam calls on Chinese authorities to relax restrictions at border crossings

Reuters reports:

  • Vietnam’s trade ministry has asked Chinese authorities to take urgent measures to ease congestion at border crossings after China stepped up its border controls with neighbors in accordance with the country’s zero COVID-19 policies, Reuters reported, quoting state media reports.
  • Previously, pictures and video footage from state-run media showed thousands of trucks held up at the border following reports that imported COVID-19 cases had been detected in Guangxi Province.
  • Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post reported on January 5 that China had ordered fruit buyers to quarantine and follow tighter screening and controls on imported food after coronavirus traces were found on dragon fruit from Vietnam and longan from Thailand.
  • China is the biggest market for Vietnamese dragon fruit, accounting for 80 percent of its total exports, according to the general secretary of the Vietnam Vegetable and Fruit Association. But suspended border crossings between Vietnam and China have made fruit prices drop dramatically as carrying trucks had to turn around. Recently, the selling price of dragon fruit in Vietnam was reportedly as low as 500 dong ($0.02 cents) a kilogram.

Video footage shows Chinese soldiers throwing rocks at Vietnamese construction workers along the border

  • At the beginning of January, videos showing People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers throwing rocks at excavators on Vietnam’s side of the border began to circulate on social media attracting public attention.
  • In the video, Chinese soldiers accused Vietnam of illegal construction near the border without mutual negotiations and demanded the halt of all activities. PLA soldiers were later seen throwing rocks at the excavators on Vietnam’s side to protest the construction.
  • Nonetheless, some experts familiar with Sino-Vietnam relations raised suspicions over the authenticity of the videos, adding that there is no coverage from Chinese state media about the incident. Minor clashes were often witnessed at the two countries’ borders. Last September a video footage also shows Vietnamese civilians confronting Chinese soldiers at a border zone in the northern Vietnamese province of Lai Chau over territorial disputes.

Vietnamese police accuse local monastery members of “abusing democratic freedom”

  • Vietnam’s state-controlled media on January 4 concurrently reported on the case of Tinh That Bong Lai, a local monastery and orphanage, citing anonymous police sources who accused the monastery of fraud, abusing democratic freedom, and incest.
  • Previously, the investigation agency of Long An Province police investigated the monastery and arrested four of its monks and nuns, including head monk Le Tung Van. The arrested were then accused of “committing fraud” for receiving large amounts of financial donations from individuals and organizations.
  • Le Tung Van was also accused of having sexual relations with his sisters and becoming the biological father of the monastery’s orphans. The evidence used to condemn the alleged “incest” was according to an unofficial document circulated on social media, which is believed to have come from the police investigation agency. Tinh That Bong Lai members have denied all of the allegations.
  • In the latest move, the Long An Province police filed a single charge against monastery members for “abusing democratic freedom.” According to several independent observers, Vietnamese authorities have manipulated the media to gain public approval and legitimize their suppression of religious freedom. Le Thanh Minh Tu, an orphan raised at Tinh That Bong Lai, shared with RFA Vietnamese that he was treated well while being brought up at the monastery, and he criticized state media for publishing untruthful reports without official reports from the authorities.

Vietnam’s factory workers struggle just to get by under hard lockdown

From China Labor Bulletin:

“Many smaller factories simply closed, while larger facilities set up tents and cots in spare warehouse space or motorbike parking garages. In order to maintain some form of social distancing, only a fraction of workers were brought into these bubbles, with the rest sent home.

Even with reduced workforces, hygiene is a challenge, particularly when it comes to toilets and showering facilities. One factory manager who asked to remain anonymous said that, in essence, they had to become a hotel and a restaurant in addition to being a manufacturing facility.

Phat* works in the upholstery department of a furniture factory in Binh Duong that initially pursued the bubble model. The bubble lasted for a few weeks before management decided to shut production down, and Phat hasn’t worked since 26 July. There is no timeline for when work may resume.”


Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Can VinFast Turn Vietnam Into an Electric Vehicle Powerhouse?

The Diplomat/ James Guild/ January 5

“We see similar patterns in other countries with large state-owned sectors, like Indonesia, where tech start-ups such as Go-Jek have been pushing the frontiers of innovation in many different areas (including its own recently announced EV venture). Unburdened by ossified state structures of ownership and control, these privately held companies appear to be pretty good at innovating.

But will this be enough to give VinFast an edge in the EV race? The field is already crowded, with both Thailand and Indonesia also setting their sights on a hoped-for coming electric vehicle boom. And in both cases, their EV schemes are being backed by the state in one way or another. Indonesia has been leveraging its control of raw nickel ore, an essential input in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, to encourage downstream investment in electric vehicle production. In Thailand, which already has well-developed auto manufacturing infrastructure, state-owned oil and gas giant PTT is joining forces with a Chinese EV company to scale up production.”

For Vietnamese stranded overseas, questions of fairness and means

Al Jazeera/ January 3

“In local media, some articles have called for an end to “rescue” flights profiting from the predicament of overseas Vietnamese, although they have refrained from pointing directly fingers at the government.

Speaking at the webinar organised by Thanh Niên News magazine last month, Dr. Lương Hoài Nam, a local aviation expert, accused unnamed figures of benefitting from discrepancies between the actual cost of the flights and the amounts being charged, which was ‘damaging to the tourist sector and detrimental to the economy.’”

The Limits of Vietnam's Labor Reforms

The Diplomat/ Joe Buckley/ January 1

“There have been some changes to freedom of association rights. In November 2019, the National Assembly passed a new Labor Code, which became law in January 2021. Among a number of other changes, it allowed, for the first time, workers to form Worker Organizations (WOs) not affiliated to the VGCL. But to claim that WOs are independent unions is a significant misinterpretation (or perhaps in some cases a deliberate misrepresentation). They are not unions. WOs are only allowed to be formed at the individual enterprise-level and are more limited in what they can do compared to unions. Unions, on the other hand, are part of the VGCL and therefore embedded in the countrywide structures of the Confederation. There are separate laws regulating each type of organization; the Trade Union Law regulates unions, while WOs fall under one chapter of the 2019 Labor Code.”

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