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: On January 19, 1974, Chinese and then-Republic of Vietnam (RVN) navies clashed with one another in close-proximity maneuvers off the Paracel Islands. The skirmish lasted for several hours and eventually led to the defeat of the South Vietnamese navy, followed by China’s full occupation of the islands. South Vietnam also lost 74 soldiers in the fighting.
Pham Doan Trang named 2022 Martin Ennals Laureate
- On January 19, the Geneva-based Martin Ennals Award jury named Pham Doan Trang as one of three laureates for the award this year. Pham Doan Trang, along with Daouda Diallo from Burkina Faso and Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja from Bahrain, have been awarded for their roles as driving forces in the human rights movement.
- The award committee wrote in its statement that Pham Doan Trang is “a leading journalist, editor and democracy advocate in Vietnam, where the Communist Party has left little room for opposition voices to flourish.”
- Trinh Huu Long, one of Doan Trang’s closest colleagues and friends, spoke on her behalf: “The Martin Ennals Award that she receives today is a strong and clear message to the Vietnamese authoritarian government, and more importantly, to the Vietnamese people, that what she’s been doing is right, and the international community is standing by her.”
- The Martin Ennals Foundation is named after the British human rights activist who served as Secretary-General of Amnesty International. Its mission is to “[provide] recognition and protection to human rights defenders who strive for freedom, justice, equality and accountability in their communities and countries, often at the risk of their own lives.” The 2022 award ceremony will be postponed until June 2 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Liberal Publishing House distributor receives nearly 7-year sentence
- Vietnam’s state media on January 21 reported that the local court of Phu Yen Province held a trial for Nguyen Bao Tien, a distributor of Liberal Publishing House, under charges of “distributing anti-state propaganda” and “obtaining and storing explosive materials.” He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
- The indictment stated that Tien “had read and shared posts which distort, slander and defy the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” He was also accused of receiving and distributing books written by journalist Pham Doan Trang, including Chinh Tri Binh Dan (Politics for the Masses,) Phan Khang Phi Bao Luc (Nonviolent Resistance,) and Cam Nang Nuoi Tu (A Handbook for Families of Prisoners.) Doan Trang’s books were published by the Liberal Publishing House, where she was the founder and editor.
- Tien was arrested and prosecuted in May 2021. He received five and a half years in jail for an “anti-state” conviction and one year for “storing explosive materials.”
NGO director and environmental activist - Dang Dinh Bach - faces trial over “tax evasion” charge, reports The 88 Project.
- Dang Dinh Bach, director of the non-profit organization Law and Policy of Sustainable Development (LPSD), will be brought to trial on January 24, 2022. He was accused of “tax evasion” and charged under Article 200 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code on July 2, 2021. Bach was arrested just two weeks after his wife gave birth to their son on June 9, 2021.
- Bach, 44, is well known for his leadership in engaging and mobilizing young people to participate in charitable projects such as helping victims of storms and disasters, especially those impacted by climate change and environmental catastrophes.
- As the head of LPSD, Bach has actively led campaigns to support the government’s fight against the spread of COVID-19. LPSD is also a member of the Vietnam Environmental Network (VEN), Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance (VSEA), and the Vietnam Non-Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Alliance (NCDs-VN).
- Independent observers believe that the allegations against Bach and his co-director Mai Phan Loi are a response to their attempts to establish a connection of NGOs under the regulation of the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA). The network will be advocating for workers’ rights, land rights, and the environment. Bach and Loi’s organizations are expected to play an essential role in monitoring Vietnam’s obligations under the EVFTA.
Vietnamese activist who protested against Formosa toxic spill freed after 5 years in prison
- Nguyen Van Oai, a Vietnamese man arrested in 2017 for protesting the toxic waste spill of Formosa Plastics Group, returned home last Wednesday after serving a five-year prison term. His release came as lawyers for the victims of the Formosa incident continue to press for compensation.
- Police arrested Oai and dozens of others in January 2017 during a crackdown on people who demonstrated against the Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group. The company owned a steel mill that discharged toxic chemicals into the ocean, devastating more than a hundred miles of coastline in four central provinces of Vietnam.
- In September 2017, Oai got a five-year sentence for resisting officers on duty and disobeying a court verdict. After serving his time, he arrived at his home in the central province of Nghe An. “I have mixed feelings, both happy and sad,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Wednesday. “I am happy because I am free from that small prison, but I return to the large prison,” he said, referring to daily life in Vietnam.
- The Formosa Monitoring Coalition, which has been assisting the affected Vietnamese with their lawsuits against Formosa Plastics, said during a news briefing in Taipei last Monday the plaintiffs would face harassment by their single-party government if they were made to file paperwork at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hanoi. Previously, Taiwan’s Supreme Court required the plaintiffs to acquire formal authorization at Vietnam government offices to participate in the case.
- “We made this call because this can really put the plaintiffs in danger. It’s very likely, with around 90-95% certainty, that they could be harassed, arrested, or even investigated. They could even be detained and imprisoned, and similar incidents have occurred in the past,” Peter Nguyen Van Hung, director of Vietnamese Migrant Workers and Immigrants Office in Taipei, and a member of the coalition, told RFA.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Monk, Zen Master, and Activist, Dies at 95
“Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was one of the world’s most influential Zen masters, spreading messages of mindfulness, compassion, and nonviolence, died on Saturday at his home in the Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, Vietnam. He was 95.
The death was announced by Plum Village, his organization of monasteries. He suffered a severe brain hemorrhage in 2014 that left him unable to speak, though he could communicate through gestures.
A prolific author, poet, teacher, and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh was exiled from Vietnam after opposing the war in the 1960s and became a leading voice in a movement he called “engaged Buddhism,” the application of Buddhist principles to political and social reform.”
Belgian court convicts 18 tied to the 2019 U.K. truck deaths, including a Vietnamese smuggling gang leader
“A court in Belgium found a 45-year-old Vietnamese man guilty of people smuggling, alongside more than a dozen associates, in connection with the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants whose bodies were discovered in a truck in Britain, the court’s spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday.
The verdict comes more than two years after the 39 were found dead in a refrigerated truck near a ferry terminal in Essex, east of London. They had crossed the English Channel from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, which has been used by smuggling gangs as an entry point into Britain for decades.”
Vietnam’s scandal of COVID-19 testing kit corruption goes viral
“Since early 2020, the Vietnamese Communist Party has been portraying their efforts to fight COVID-19 as a war against an ‘invisible enemy’, mobilising healthcare workers, police and the military on an unprecedented level. But in late December, the Ministry of Public Security arrested the CEO of medical company Viet A, Phan Quoc Viet, and conducted an investigation into Vietnam’s largest COVID-19 related corruption case.
The company collected US$175 million in revenue from selling overpriced COVID-19 testing kits across Vietnam. Its sales reached US$6.6 million in Hai Duong province alone, exposing a number of serious governance problems resulting from policy manipulation by a network of powerful vested interest groups. The case raises questions about the accountability of Vietnamese governance structures and officials.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
How Energy is Aiding ASEAN's Post-Pandemic Recovery
The Diplomat/ Helena Aurellia, Gabriella Ienanto/ January 21
“Strengthening power grid stability will remain a key objective for ASEAN governments, especially in the post-pandemic era, where a reliable power supply is crucial for COVID-19 vaccine storage and the overall resilience of the healthcare system. Enhancing grid stability will also allow for greater injections of renewable energy, thus providing a cleaner and more sustainable supply.”
Vietnam’s Labour Reforms: Drivers and Implications
ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute/ Joe Buckley/ January 19
“When explaining where these freedom of association reforms have come from, the most obvious and most reported driver has been the requirements of international trade agreements, or what I call external pressure from above. Two major trade deals to which Vietnam is a party, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), both contain labour provisions committing signatories to ratify and implement the eight core conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO is the UN agency responsible for labour, whose members include governments, employers, and unions. They have many conventions on various aspects of labour rights, which states are invited and encouraged to join. Eight of these are seen as fundamental to the basic ability for trade unions to exist and function. Vietnam had already ratified six of the eight—on topics such as forced labour, child labour, equal remuneration, and discrimination—but the two that they had not ratified are the two related to freedom of association: Convention No. 98 and Convention No. 87.”
Vietnam’s New Graft Scandal Sets Back Anti-Corruption Drive
Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ January 18
“What was more shocking to the public is that the scandal happened during the pandemic and on a large scale, despite the ongoing anti-corruption campaign as well as an intensified crackdown on corruption in the healthcare sector since 2020. The crackdown has led to the arrest and prosecution of tens of government officials, hospital managers and business executives at suppliers across Vietnam, including a case related to the inflation of prices for real-time PCR machines for Covid-19 testing at Hanoi CDC in late 2020. Together with other recent grand corruption cases, such as those related to former Hanoi chairman Nguyen Duc Chung and former Ho Chi Minh City deputy party secretary Tat Thanh Cang, the Viet A scandal has demonstrated that Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaign has largely failed to deter corruption.”
Vietnam adds private pension as silver tide rises
Nikkei Asia/ Lien Hoang/ January 17
“When communist Vietnam recently introduced private retirement funds, it was taking a step not only closer to capitalism, but also toward changing a young pension system that some worry may buckle if citizens get old before getting rich.
Last year marked the first time workers could put part of their paychecks into private retirement accounts, on top of the share contributed to the state pension. But analysts say bigger, systemic change is needed to enable retirement for all, even as the International Labor Organization says the state fund is robust.”
Authoritarianism Amplified In The Mekong region
East Asia Forum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ January 14
“The region’s two communist regimes, Vietnam and Laos, organised their quinquennial party congresses where the top leaders were selected in early 2021. The results were not encouraging for those who wanted to see greater political change. In Vietnam, the 77-year-old party apparatchik Nguyen Phu Trong broke the two-term limit to become the Communist Party of Vietnam’s general secretary for a third time in a row amid stalled reforms and increasing repression of civil society. Laos promoted the 75-year-old Thongloun Sisoulith to the country’s top post.”
Vietnam's High Vaccination Rates: So What?
Fulcrum/ Dien Nguyen An Luong/ January 7
“However, the Vietnamese government cannot afford to rest on its laurels as sentiments still remain sour on other aspects of its Covid-19 response. Since Vietnam entered its reopening phase last October, the implementation of central guidelines on pandemic controls has still been subject to conflicting interpretations and dogged by red tape across provinces, further needling a pandemic-fatigued public.”
“Adapting to Nature”: A Preliminary Assessment of Vietnam's Mekong Water Diplomacy since 2017
Fulcrum/ Truong-Minh Vu, Tram Nguyen/ January 4
“Acknowledging the need for a long-term strategic vision and for international cooperation to address the problems threatening the Mekong Delta region (MDR), on 17 November 2017, the Vietnamese government issued Resolution 120/NQ-CP on “Climate Resilience and Sustainable Development of the Mekong Delta Region” (hereafter “Resolution 120”), also known as the “Thuan Thien” (Adapting to Nature) Resolution. Resolution 120 emphasises the need to put humans at the centre of development and adopts the sustainable and economical use of natural resources as the key development principle. The document also calls for regional and bilateral cooperation towards effective and sustainable use of water and other resources in the Mekong River Basin, based on mutual benefits.”