Vietnam Briefing Nov. 7, 2022: The 26th U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue Occurs as Hanoi Strengthens Relationship with Beijing

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

Vietnam Briefing Nov. 7, 2022: The 26th U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue Occurs as Hanoi Strengthens Relationship with Beijing
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met with representatives of civil society in Vietnam in Hanoi in August 2021; Chinese President Xi Jinping pictured shaking hands with Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong at the award ceremony of China’s Friendship Medal in Beijing on October 31, 2022. Photo: Reuters/ Vietnam News Agency.

Vietnamese blogger Bui Van Thuan officially indicted for “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117

  • The Thanh Hoa Provincial People’s Procuracy on September 26 released its indictment of blogger Bui Van Thuan, currently detained for “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code, according to a Facebook update from Trinh Thi Nhung, Thuan’s wife. The Thanh Hoa provincial police finished its investigation of Thuan’s case on Sept. 10, more than 12 months after the blogger was arrested.
  • According to the indictment released by Nhung, most of the evidence used to prosecute Thuan was collected from his personal Facebook account. The indictment stated that as of August 2, 2021, Thuan had published a total of 73 posts on social media that “defamed the reputation and dignity of State and Party leaders” and “distorted [...] the guidelines and policy of the Party and the State.”
  • In a recent Facebook update on October 28, Nhung said that Thuan was allowed to meet his lawyers, Dang Dinh Manh and Pham Le Quyen, on Oct. 18 and Oct. 28, respectively, after the investigation concluded. According to his lawyers, Nhung added that Thuan’s health and mentality remained good.

Land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu still denied family visitations in prison

  • According to Trinh Ba Khiem, father of land rights activist and political prisoner Trinh Ba Tu, he was denied permission to visit his son for the third time on November 3, when he went to Nghe An Prison No. 6 to visit Tu.
  • Previously, after a brief meeting with Trinh Ba Tu in Nghe An Prison No. 6 on September 20, Khiem said that his son claimed he was punished by being tortured and shackled in prison. The correctional officers denied the allegations, later announcing that Tu wouldn’t be allowed to have family visitations until November 20 for “writing defamatory accusations.” Tu reportedly said that he had initiated a hunger strike on September 6.
  • On November 4, Do Thi Thu, Tu’s sister-in-law, wrote an urgent letter to the Vietnamese authorities to demand an official explanation regarding the punishment of Trinh Ba Tu and information about his current situation. Thu also called on the authorities to investigate the alleged torture and mistreatment committed by the Nghe An correctional officers and to allow Tu family visits in prison as soon as possible.

The 26th U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue held in Hanoi on November 2

  • The United States and Vietnam held the  26th U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Hanoi on November 2. According to the statement from the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Vietnam, Senior Bureau Official for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Erin Barclay and Vietnamese Assistant Foreign Minister Do Hung Viet led their respective delegations in the dialogue.
  • The statement added that this year’s dialogue was expected to cover a wide range of human and labor rights-related issues, including freedom of expression and association; freedom of religion or belief; rule of law and legal reform; and the rights of members of marginalized populations. The U.S. delegation was also said to hold discussions with civil society members in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
  • “The promotion of human rights is an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and key to our ongoing engagement with Vietnam under the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership,” according to the U.S. delegation statement. “We are committed to continuing candid and results-based discussions with the Vietnamese government on these issues.”
  • This year’s human rights dialogue was conducted after Vietnam was elected to a three-year term at the UN Human Rights Council on October 11, despite Hanoi’s intensifying crackdown on civil society leaders and regime critics on social media.
  • On the eve of the annual U.S.-Vietnam dialogue, four non-governmental organizations, including the Vietnam Human Rights Network, Defend the Defenders, the Vietnam Democracy Federation and Vietnam Democracy Radio, sent a petition to Erin Barclay calling on the U.S. delegation to pressure the Vietnamese government to “immediately release political prisoners, dissidents, leaders of civil society organizations,” “​​fully guarantee the right to freedom of expression,” and “truthfully enforce the right to freedom of association,” among other things.
  • In an interview with BBC on November 2, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, argued that the U.S. government should engage in human rights discussions in every aspect of their relationship with Hanoi, not just holding the dialogue once a year. Robertson said further that the United States should realize it is an illusion to expect Vietnam to break with the Chinese government completely and that Washington should not be soft on human rights when Vietnam plays its geopolitical game in the region.

President Xi Jinping awarded Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong China’s Friendship Medal

  • The Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary  Nguyen Phu Trong was awarded China’s Friendship Medal by Chinese President Xi Jinping on October 31 during his three-day visit to Beijing last week. Trong’s delegation to Beijing included Minister of Public Security To Lam, and Defense Minister Phan Van Giang.
  • The award ceremony was held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where Xi hailed Trong as “a staunch Marxist and a good and sincere friend of the CPC and the Chinese people,” according to Vietnam's State-owned media.
  • During their meeting, the two Communist Party leaders emphasized the importance of “strengthening their comprehensive and strategic bilateral cooperation.” Trong said that ties with China were the “top priority” of Vietnam’s foreign policy, while Xi said that the Chinese and Vietnamese parties “should persist in working for the happiness of the people and the progress of mankind” and “never let anyone interfere with our progress or let any force shake the institutional foundation of our development.”
  • Carl Thayer, an expert on Southeast Asia at the University of New South Wales, told RFA that “Trong's trip took place in the context of Vietnam facing a rapidly changing international situation with the increased risk of armed conflict.”
  • “The meeting between the general secretaries of the ruling communist parties in China and Vietnam is very important to both sides for domestic reasons because it underscores the legitimacy of their one-party regimes, socialist ideology and paths of development,” said Thayer. “It is doubly important for Vietnam because one of its most important allies, Russia, is weakened, isolated and more dependent on China.”
  • Sebastian Strangio, a writer at The Diplomat, argues that Hanoi and Beijing “are still bound by several shared interests” despite “two nations’ maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and a history of resistance to Chinese power that infuses Vietnamese nationalism.”
  • “Leaving aside the claims to eternal socialist brotherhood, Vietnam is enmeshed in China-centered supply chains, and the two communist parties share a common desire to preserve their rule in the face of what both perceive as Western-led efforts at regime change or modification,” wrote Strangio.

Tinh That Bong Lai practitioners’ convictions upheld in appellate court

  • Vietnam’s State media reported that after a two-day trial, an appellate court in Long An Province on November 3 upheld the earlier convictions of six practitioners at Tinh That Bong Lai, a local Buddhist temple, under the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms” according to Article 331 of the Penal Code.
  • Independent observers believe that the Vietnamese government used the vague and controversial article to prosecute the Tinh That Bong Lai members because the temple is not officially registered with the government-controlled Buddhist Sangha.
  • Previously, on July 21, five monks and a landowner of the temple, including head monk Le Tung Van, were convicted and sentenced to a total of 23 and a half years in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedom.” They later appealed the court verdict. The Long An Court finally opened an appeals hearing for Tinh That Bong Lai monks last Wednesday after postponing it on October 14 at the request of the lawyers of Thich Nhat Tu, a monk from the Buddhist Sangha.
  • Meanwhile, the Investigative Security Agency of Long An Provincial Police on November 1 declared that they officially indicted the Buddhist temple’s monks for their alleged act of “committing financial fraud.” However, according to reports from state-run media, the police hadn’t published any related evidence regarding the “financial fraud” in this case. The Long An Police only claimed that they used the DNA test results, which were forcefully and illegally taken from the temple’s monks, as the sole evidence to justify their prosecution. However, the police did not provide any details of the DNA results.

Vietnam to require 24-hour take-down for “false” social media content


“Vietnam's information minister said on Friday that authorities had tightened regulations to deal with ‘false’ content on social media platforms so that it must be taken down within 24 hours, instead of 48 hours previously.

The new rules will enshrine Vietnam's position as one of the world's most stringently controlled regimes for social media firms and will strengthen the ruling Communist Party's hand as it cracks down on "anti-state" activity.

Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Manh Hung told parliament there was risk that "false news if it is handled in a slow manner, will spread very widely.”

Protestants in Vietnam’s Central Highlands complain of constant police harassment


  • Followers of the Evangelical Church of Christ, Vietnam’s biggest Protestant church in Dak Lak Province, have accused local police of monitoring and disrupting their worship for nearly a month. Y Nguyet Bkrong, one of the church followers, said that plainclothes police had arrived and told them to stop the worshiping service after around 20 believers gathered at his house to pray last Monday at around 7:30 am.
  • “When I performed Christian religious rites […] 15 people from the commune and city police, as well as [officials] from the People’s Committee of Hoa Thang Commune, came,” said church member Y Coi. “They didn’t allow us to practice religious activities. They said that any [religion] that the State has not yet recognized would not be allowed to practice. The Evangelical Church of Christ has no legal entity, so if we continue, [the authorities] are likely to take tougher measures.”
  • A similar incident happened on the same morning at the home church of Y Lui Bya, another follower of the Evangelical Church of Christ, in Buon Ma Thuot, the capital of Dak Lak Province. More than a dozen plainclothes and uniformed police burst into the house, preventing worshipers from performing religious rites.
  • “The police said that the State does not recognize or allow our sect,” Y Lui Bya said. “Then they threatened to demolish our house where God was worshipped. They wanted to beat my son-in-law. They threatened us, telling us to sign a statement, but we refused.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Hanoi’s Beijing Syndrome

The Diplomat/ Duy Hoang/ November 4

“At the same time, Vietnam’s communist leaders seem to view Beijing as a bulwark for maintaining their autocratic system. In an editorial published Thursday, the Global Times, a Chinese state-owned media outlet, noted that there is an 'upper limit' to U.S.-Vietnam relations despite how hard Washington tries to pull Hanoi into its orbit. While this nationalistic tabloid is often known for its shrill tone, it’s probably not far from the truth when it notes, 'Hanoi is unlikely to get too close to Washington due to differences in ideology.'”

Trong Goes to China: Form or Substance?

The National Interest/ Huynh Tam Sang/ November 1

“Vietnam’s room to maneuver remains ample. To navigate great power politics, Vietnam’s leaders could assure Washington that the Vietnamese leader’s visit to China is nothing more than a symbolic tour and that such a visit is “conventional,” aiming to bolster the fitness of a party-to-party relationship between the two Communist countries. For Vietnam’s leaders, conveying such political wording is not a tricky task. However, it remains to be seen whether the United States could remain patient and sympathetic to Hanoi’s conundrum of maintaining a delicate balance between the two superpowers.”

The Vietnamese Communist Party’s Moral Vanguardism

The Diplomat/ David Hutt/ Oct. 26

“Yet, there seems good reason why the VCP should consider the incorporeal. By the late 1990s, the Party no longer really spoke about socialism. By the middle of the 2000s, it had also lost its status as the arbitrator of Vietnamese nationalism, in part because of its role in accepting harmful Chinese investment (such as with the bauxite mine protests) and as the Vietnamese people themselves demanded far tougher action on Chinese incursions in the South China Sea. The Party apparatus was losing power to the government apparatus, filled largely with bureaucrats, not ideologues, as was the case under the powerful prime ministership of Nguyen Tan Dung (2006-2016). And people were joining the communist ranks mainly for patronage and social advancement. If you wanted to get a decent loan or start a business, it was best to be a Party member.”

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