Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Seeks To Strengthen Cooperation With The United States On Multiple Fronts

Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Seeks To Strengthen Cooperation With The United States On Multiple Fronts
The United States Ambassador to Vietnam with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh (left); Assistant Foreign Minister Do Hung Viet during Vietnam’s launching of a voluntary midterm report on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review (right). Photo: The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi/ VietnamPlus.

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

Vietnamese billionaire arrested on market manipulation charges

  • Vietnam’s state media on March 29 reported that the investigation unit of the Public Security Ministry had arrested Trinh Van Quyet, a Vietnamese billionaire and director of the local real estate developer FLC, for further investigation in connection with  his alleged activities of “manipulating the stock market” and “concealing personal stock exchange activities.”
  • Quyet’s activities were allegedly in violation of Vietnam’s Article 211 of the 2015 Penal code, which has a maximum sentence of seven years of imprisonment for activities that undermine the country’s stock market exchange regulations.
  • State media also quoted police sources who said that other individuals at FLC were also under investigation for similar charges. Quyet’s arrest was a result of his selling of more than 70 million FLC stocks on January 1 without disclosing the transaction information and notifying the authorities in charge and investors of such activities.
  • The FLC director was fined 1.5 billion dong (US$65,677) and banned from making transactions for a period of five months. In 2017, he also received a 65 million dong fine for the same misconduct.
  • Quyet’s real estate conglomerate FLC was also accused by some of Vietnam’s environmental organizations, such as the Save Tam Dao, of colluding with local authorities to clear natural forests for real estate development projects, such as building golf courses. For example, FLC’s plan to cut down the Dak Doa pine forest in Gia Lai Province for golf course development in 2021 has caused a public stir. The project was reportedly suspended after Trinh Van Quyet was arrested.

Vietnam’s automaker Vinfast signs a deal to build an electric automobile factory in the United States

  • Reuters on March 29 reported that the Vietnamese automaker Vinfast had signed a deal to invest US$2 billion to build a factory in North Carolina for the manufacture of its electric buses, SUVs, as well as batteries for electric vehicles.
  • Vinfast, owned by Vietnam’s largest conglomerate Vingroup, said that it plans to have a total investment of US$4 billion in the U.S.-based factory complex which is expected to finish by July 2024. It added that the initial manufacturing capacity will be 150,000 units per year.
  • In an official statement, U.S. President Joe Biden praised Vinfast’s investment in North Carolina as “the latest example” of his economic strategy at work. Biden also added that the electric SUV manufacturing investment is in line with the U.S. government’s efforts to build a clean energy economy as he encouraged other companies to make more in America and rebuild the supply chains domestically.
  • In 2021, Vingroup established its Singapore-based holding company called Vinfast Singapore and transferred a total of 51.5 percent of its stake to its subsidiary. The move was seen as part of the company’s plan to list shares of its car units in the United States, Reuters reported.
  • Despite its increasing global recognition, Vingroup and its subsidiary Vinfast are also a target of criticism in Vietnam for their opaque economic relationship with the Vietnamese government, where cronyism and favoritism are said to be the main drivers of their fast expansion.
  • Last year, Vinfast made headlines after the company announced that it would report one of its car buyers to the police after the customer uploaded videos on Youtube complaining about several technical problems with his newly bought Vinfast car. The Vietnamese automaker claimed that the uploaded videos contained “untrue content” which “affected the reputation of VinFast.”
  • Tran Van Hoang, the car owner, later decided to take down his video, but a Vinfast statement said that they “saved all the evidence” and subsequently sent their complaints to the police. “If a similar incident were to occur when operating in the United States, we will also submit a request to the authorities in accordance with local law, and to protect our legal rights,” the company said.

Counselor of the U.S. Department of State visits Vietnam, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific region

  • Counselor of the U.S. Department of State Derek Chollet made a visit to the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan from March 28 to April 2 as he sought to consolidate the U.S. commitment to its Indo-Pacific allies and partners, according to a statement from the State Department’s spokesperson.
  • While in Hanoi, Counselor Chollet is expected to meet with senior government officials to affirm the United States-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership and the U.S. commitment to ASEAN, discuss the ongoing crisis in Burma and talk about regional economic and security cooperation, as well as highlight the importance of respect for human rights, according to the statement.
  • At a press conference on April 1, Chollet said that Vietnam is an important partner of the U.S. in the region and he vowed to work closely with Vietnam to ensure freedom of maritime in the South China Sea, also known as the East Sea in Vietnam, and to promote cooperation.
  • On March 30, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper spoke at the reception ceremony for his new position, saying that the United States “will make every possible effort to support Vietnam.”
  • Knapper pledged to develop mutual cooperation between the United States. and Vietnam on multiple fronts, from helping the Southeast Asian country’s economy recover from COVID-19, boosting the effectiveness of its climate change response, in addition to providing Vietnam with workforce training and digital transformation programs.
  • Also at the ceremony, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh claimed that Vietnam wished to work together with the United States on the basis of “respecting each other’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, political institutions, and differences.”

Social networking platforms reportedly removed “toxic content” upon the Vietnamese government’s request

  • Vietnam’s state-owned media on March 29 quoted official statistics and reported that foreign social networking sites, including Facebook, Youtube, and Tiktok, had complied with the government’s request to remove thousands of pieces of content that “defy the Communist Party and the Vietnamese government.”
  • The social networks have reportedly removed up to 90 percent of “anti-state posts” requested by the Vietnamese authorities.
  • According to government statistics, from January 1 to March 21, 2022, Facebook blocked and removed more than 525 posts that “publish false information and distribute information defying the Party and the government.”
  • At the same time, local authorities claimed that Google had removed 2,678 videos on its video-sharing platform Youtube while Tiktok deleted around 71 pieces of content that “promote false information and negative content which undermine [Vietnam’s] COVID-19 prevention strategy.”

Former state journalist being tried for “defame provincial leaders”

  • Vietnam’s state-run media reported that the Quang Tri provincial court on March 30 held a trial for the former journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy, along with Le Anh Dung and Nguyen Huy, on charges of “abusing democratic rights and freedom to infringe on State and individual interests” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.
  • According to their indictment, Thy, Dung, and Huy had written, edited, and posted information that “distort and defame several leaders of Quang Tri Province.” This information has consequently “created public skepticism towards the political qualities, morality, lifestyle, and capabilities of these individuals,” it added.
  • Thy got arrested on February 5, 2021, and was previously set to be tried on October 31. However, at that time, the Quang Tri court returned his case to the Procuracy’s Office for further investigation due to the lack of evidence.
  • On March 31, the Procuracy said it had gathered “well-grounded evidence” to prosecute and announced its suggested sentencing for the defendants. According to its suggestions, Thy and Dung are expected to receive from 9 to 12 months in prison, while Huy is expected to receive correctional training for up to 12 months.

A truck driver was sentenced to 1 year in jail for expressing opinions on Vietnam’s COVID-19 strategy

  • Le Minh Tai, 38, a truck driver living in the southern province of Ca Mau, was convicted of “abusing democracy rights and freedom” and sentenced to one year in prison, State media reports.
  • According to his indictment, from September 17 to November 27, 2021, when Vietnam imposed strict lockdowns to combat spiking COVID-19 infections, Tai used his personal Facebook account to publish a total of “28 posts and nine videos” to complain about how the Ca Mau authorities’ stringent antivirus strategy had negatively affected the livelihoods of many truck drivers.
  • Tai’s online posts were regarded by local authorities as “containing negative information” as well as “distorting, defaming and slandering provincial leaders.” Last June, he was also fined 10 million dong for “using social networks to provide distorted information and defame other individuals’ reputation.”

Vietnam publishes its voluntary midterm report on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

  • The State-controlled VietnamPlus on March 31 reported that the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry had published the country’s voluntary midterm report on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) third cycle recommendations, in addition to announcing Hanoi’s candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 term.
  • According to Do Hung Viet, Vietnam’s Assistant Foreign Minister, Vietnam “has been actively engaged with the UPR process” and the country’s efforts and accomplishments have been recognized while its shortcomings and challenges have also been identified.
  • Viet added that Hanoi has received and accepted “hundreds of recommendations” from the international community and these guidelines are important for Vietnam to “further improve the enjoyment of all human rights” in the country.
  • Nevertheless, the Vietnamese government has been widely condemned for the serious violation of the basic human rights of its citizens, including freedom of expression, movement, press, and association.
  • Human Rights Watch in February released a report documenting Hanoi’s systematic restriction of the rights to freedom of movement of political and human rights of activists, claiming that these unlawful activities from the Vietnamese government are “serious infringements on basic rights.”
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last December also urged the Hanoi authorities to “immediately release” human rights defenders Trinh Ba Phuong, Nguyen Thi Tam, Do Nam Trung, the independent author Pham Doan Trang, and citizen journalist Le Trong Hung, as well as “many others arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.”
  • “All the cases follow similar worrying patterns that raise serious issues concerning the presumption of innocence, the legality of their detention, and the fairness of their trial,” said  Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the OHCHR.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Climate change accelerates US-Vietnam cooperation

Asia Times/ James Borton/ March 30

“Hanoi’s political leadership recognizes that Washington can increase its financial and technical assistance to help the nation meet climate challenges and support its renewable-energy developments. The Vietnam Green Growth Strategy (VGGS) has set targets to achieve low-emission development and help the nation’s efforts to mitigate climate change.

USAID continues to play a supporting role in Asia’s Low Emission Development Strategy partnership, which provides training, knowledge sharing, and cooperation to more effective use of LEDS tools and practices in development decision-making and financing.”

Vietnam’s Mediascape Amid the War in Ukraine: Between Method and Mayhem

Fulcrum/ Hoang Thi Ha/ March 30

“In contrast to mainstream media’s disciplined coverage, social media, especially Facebook and YouTube, provide the platforms for many Vietnamese to express their ‘wild and loud’ opinions and share information that has often been labeled by different groups as mis- and dis-information. Dozens of new Facebook groups with memberships ranging from a thousand to around 200,000 have been created to focus on the war in Ukraine while many YouTube posts covering the war by both individuals and quasi-private media outlets draw thousands to millions of views. This buzz on Vietnam’s social media platforms suggests that the disciplined approach of Vietnam’s mainstream media in their coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war has not been able to satisfy the hunger for alternative news sources and commentary among many Vietnamese.”

Vietnam and the Russian ties that bind them

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ March 17

“A 2019 study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found Vietnam imported 84% of its total arms from Russia between 1995 and 2019. The submarines, tanks, fighter jets, and assorted weaponry totaled $7.4 billion during the time period.

Sanctions also could impact Vietnam with a disruption in remittances for Russian transactions, problems for Vietnamese nationals living in Russia, and lost tourism revenue.”

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