Vietnam Briefing Nov. 14, 2022: Vietnam Bans Religious Practitioners from Attending Conference on Freedom of Religion and Belief

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

Vietnam Briefing Nov. 14, 2022: Vietnam Bans Religious Practitioners from Attending Conference on Freedom of Religion and Belief
Vietnamese delegation at the 8th SEAFORB Conference in Bali, Indonesia on Nov. 8 (left); Vietnamese dissident and war veteran Tran Bang’s health has deteriorated in custody (right). Photo: BPSOS/ The 88 Project.

Vietnam bans Protestant practitioners from attending the Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference (SEAFORB)

  • VOA News reported that the Vietnamese government had banned two Protestant practitioners from the Central Highlands from leaving the country to attend the 8th Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference (SEAFORB) in Bali, Indonesia. This year’s SEAFORB Conference occurred from Nov. 7 to Nov. 9.
  • Y Si Eban, a Protestant in Dak Lak Province, told VOA News that Vietnamese security officers at Tan Son Nhat Airport banned him from leaving for Indonesia on Nov. 6. He said five security officers from Dak Lak Province came to Ho Chi Minh City to investigate his case and brought him back to Dak Lak.
  • “They investigated and beat me,” said Eban. “They took my driver’s license, ID card, passport, three cell phones, and also prohibited me from teaching about the Church of Jesus [a local Protestant sect].”.
  • Vietnamese authorities at Tan Son Nhat Airport also banned another Protestant from Dak Lak Province, Y Khiu Nie, from attending the religious freedom conference. After being denied departure, Nie was transferred to Dak Nong Province, where he continued to be detained and interrogated by the local police. He was only released around 9 p.m. on Nov. 7.
  • According to Nguyen Dinh Thang, director of BPSOS, a U.S.-based religious freedom advocate, Vietnam prohibited five people, including a practitioner of the Cao Dai sect and four Protestants from the Central Highlands, from the SEAFORB Conference in Bali. Two of the Protestants were detained and beaten by the police, Thang added.

Vietnamese dissident Tran Bang’s health deteriorates in prison

  • The family of Tran Van Bang, a Vietnamese dissident and a veteran who fought in the 1979 Sino-Vietnam War, said that his health was significantly declining in custody after they visited him in prison last week, according to an update on social media.
  • Bang was arrested on March 1, 2022, at his house for “making, storing, and distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • Political dissidents in Vietnam are often mistreated in custody. Tran Thi Biet, Bang’s sister, said that Bang had a cyst in his left groin, but he wasn’t permitted to be examined at the hospital. The correctional officers reportedly told her that Bang could only be hospitalized if his health became an emergency. According to Biet, Bang also has skin and intestinal health issues. Bang told her that he’s planning to write his will in custody, Biet added.

Vietnamese dissident blogger Huynh Thuc Vy was harassed by other inmates in prison

  • The family of Huynh Thuc Vy, a dissident blogger, reports that she has been threatened and harassed by other inmates without any action taken by correctional officers.
  • Vy’s brother, Huynh Trong Hieu, told RFA that Vy was not beaten by the correctional officers but by her fellow inmates in custody. According to him, Vy claimed she was hit by a fellow inmate on Oct. 10 in the prison kitchen area for refusing to wear the prison uniform. After reporting the incident to the prison authorities, she said that the officers “took no action” to resolve the problem.
  • Also, according to the Vietnamese blogger, she was choked by an inmate and received death threats from another one during her detention there. Hieu said that his sister’s physical and mental health have deteriorated due to repeated assaults and threats, adding that the prison authorities did not commit to protecting Vy’s safety while she was in custody and did not punish those who bullied her.
  • Hieu said further that his family would file a complaint regarding the repressive acts that Gia Trung Prison had committed against Vy to several State agencies and international organizations. RFA reported that they contacted the Gia Trung Prison for comments but received no reply.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to visit Vietnam as Germany begins trial of the second suspect in Trinh Xuan Thanh kidnapping case

  • Vietnam’s State-owned media reported that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was scheduled to pay an official visit to Vietnam from Nov. 13 to 14 at the invitation of Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh. This is the German chancellor's first visit to Vietnam in 11 years, since former German leader Angela Merkel’s trip in Oct. 2011.
  • Diplomatic relations between Berlin and Hanoi soured significantly after Vietnamese government agents kidnapped Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former Vietnamese oil executive, on the streets of Berlin in July 2017. Thanh later reappeared in Vietnam and received a life sentence on corruption charges. According to BBC News, the German foreign ministry said Thanh had been abducted in an “unprecedented” breach of German and international law.
  • According to Vietnam’s State media, Scholz will talk with Prime Minister Chinh and meet Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong in Hanoi. Scholz has reportedly vowed to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries in key areas such as climate, energy transition, security, and defense. It has not mentioned the cooperation with Germany to improve the human rights situation in Vietnam.
  • Germany also started the trial of the second suspect in Trinh Xuan Thanh’s abduction case last week in Berlin, RFA reported. Le Anh Tu, 32, the suspected agent, was accused of “spying and assisting in the deprivation of liberty [of a citizen].” On July 17, 2018, another defendant, Nguyen Hai Long, pleaded guilty to assisting the Vietnamese secret service in kidnapping Thanh.

Vietnam pledges to fight climate change despite coal addiction and recent arrests of environmental leaders

  • As the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference occurs in Egypt from Nov. 6 to 18, Vietnamese Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha, who leads the Vietnamese delegation to the event, said that his country “will work to perfect mechanisms and policies” and “to mobilize resources from developed nations for the implementation of the commitments.”
  • Ha claimed that energy transition is a solution to climate change, on which Vietnam has set out a specific roadmap. “The Vietnamese government has issued a strategy on climate change and assigned specific tasks to ministries, agencies and localities,” he added.
  • Vietnam has pledged to fight climate change by reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, as coal and gas still account for much of the country’s energy mix, and the government’s recent arrests of five environmental campaigners, including the anti-coal activist Nguy Thi Khanh, Vietnam’s commitment is “on shaky ground,” said Nandini Das, an energy research and policy analyst at Climate Analytics.
  • Meanwhile, according to Thang Do, a research fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, the environment ministry’s latest climate targets, issued last July, are “clear and much more ambitious than previous” goals, but the problem is that these new policies have yet to be implemented.

Chinese human rights defender Dong Guangping disappears while hiding in Vietnam

  • According to a news report from Toronto Association for Democracy in China (TADC), a Canada-based advocate for human rights and democracy in China, Dong Guangping, a high-profile Chinese human rights defender and activist, disappeared while he was hiding in Vietnam. Dong was believed to be detained by Vietnamese authorities, the report added.
  • Dong Guangping had been living in Vietnam for the past 31 months, according to TADC, before disappearing on Aug. 24 without explanation. Dong had been jailed by the Chinese authorities three times because of his advocacy and support for human rights and democracy in China, including his speaking out against the human rights violations committed by the Chinese government in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Dong fled to Vietnam in January 2020 after being released from a Chinese jail in August 2019, where he took refuge while waiting to be resettled with his family in Canada.
  • The Vietnamese authorities had not provided any information about the whereabouts of Dong Guangping. His daughter, Katherine Dong, told The Globe and Mail that she was afraid her father had been deported back to China. Katherine Dong added she had urged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was headed to Asia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathering in Phnom Penh, and G20 meetings in Bali, to find out what happened to her father.
  • Geneviève Tremblay, the spokeswoman for the department of Global Affairs Canada, told The Globe and Mail that the country’s officials “are working to ascertain his whereabouts, including through diplomatic engagement with both Vietnam and China.” “Canada urges the Government of Vietnam to respect his refugee status and its international responsibilities for human rights,” Tremblay added.
  • The Vietnamese Embassy in Canada did not respond to The Globe and Mail’s request for comment.

Hundreds of police descend on Dong Tam to quash land protests


  • Authorities in Hanoi have sent hundreds of policemen to Dong Tam Commune to help the local government build a new Cultural Center in Hoanh Village on land claimed by the Catholic Church. The controversial site has seen several protests over the years, including one which led to the death of the local spiritual leader.
  • Police officers, vans and ambulances arrived in Dong Tam on Tuesday, according to a local resident who went by the pseudonym Hoa to protect his identity.
  • “Hundreds of police officers and riot police were brought to Dong Tam Commune on Nov. 1. Ambulances, fire trucks, and cars to arrest people were parked at the communal stadium. All entrances to the commune have been fenced off,” he added. “Each post is guarded by five to seven policemen.”
  • Dong Senh covers an area of about 59 hectares (146 acres) in size, which has been a flashpoint for land disputes between locals and the city government. In early 2020, the Ministry of Public Security and the Hanoi Police Department sent about 3,000 riot police to Hoanh Village, where they shot and killed the village leader Le Dinh Kinh and arrested 29 villagers. Three police officers were reportedly burned to death during the attack, although the police never confirmed this happened.
  • The death sentence was given to two Dong Tam residents, and one received a life sentence for murder. Others were sentenced to lengthy prison terms or suspended sentences for “resisting on-duty state officials.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam’s Approach to China: Bamboo Diplomacy With Neo-tributary Characteristics

The Diplomat/ Alexander L. Vuving/ Nov. 12

“For centuries, diplomacy between China and Vietnam has been conducted under the “tributary system” in either its classical or its neo-tributary variant. The system consists of an exchange of both material and symbolic gifts between the rulers of the two countries that ritualizes the imbalance of power between them and reminds them of their places as well as their duties in the hierarchical relationship. Rituals are essential to this exchange, which reflects the asymmetry of power while helping to stabilize it.”

Does Ideology Matter in Vietnam’s Foreign Policy?

The Diplomat/ Nguyen Cao Viet Hung/ Nov. 10

“The author’s argument might have been correct for Vietnam’s foreign policy during the Cold War. Yet, we are living in a different world. The post-Cold War international environment with the (relatively) declining power of the U.S. and the rising challenges from other regional powers like Russia and China present countries, such as Vietnam, with a question: How should they act in such an uncertain situation, when the Cold War strategies of bandwagoning and balancing seem outdated? Hedging, having both cooperative and confrontational elements, seems to be the ideal strategy. At its core, hedging entails maintaining good relationships with both sides of a competition, while at the same time exploring options through building connections with other major powers and participating actively in international organizations. The ultimate goal of this strategy is to maximize the national interest, and avoid choosing sides when there is too much uncertainty.”

China-Vietnam in warm, new communist embrace

Asia Times/ Richard Javad Heydarian/ Nov. 8

“Around half of Vietnam’s textile industry’s raw materials imports come from China; the figure for its rubber industry is as high as 70%. Meanwhile, Chinese contractors also constitute a major source of industrial investments in Vietnam, which is heavily embedded in the larger Pearl River Delta supply chain network.  

Concerns over regime survival, however, seem to be driving the deepening Sino-Vietnamese rapprochement. For the first time in recent memory, both communist regimes have explicitly highlighted their shared ideological concerns and political outlook in a joint declaration.”

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