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The Vietnam Briefing, released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Vietnam’s social media was stirred up on the evening of Jan. 11 after a piece of unverified information circulating on Facebook claiming two female students from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology (HUFLIT) had been raped by male conscripts in their dorm room. These students attended military training classes at the Center for National Defense and Security Training of Zone 7 Military School in Ho Chi Minh City.
On Facebook, there were posts stating that these two students - who were allegedly raped - attempted suicide by jumping off the balcony of their dormitory. One student reportedly died, while the other is said to have been seriously injured. The Vietnamese Magazine cannot verify this claim.
Further, this allegation yet gained widespread public attention following the publication of an anonymous comment on the Facebook page UEH Confessions, which is managed by students of the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City. The comment, written by a student from HUFLIT, claimed that the deceased victim was a friend.
The anonymous student also reported other alleged instances of sexual harassment, corruption, and coverups that occurred within the military center. The post gained more than 100,000 reactions, most expressing sadness and anger, before being deleted from the page the next day.
Apart from the anonymous comment, two videos allegedly recording the incident were published and widely disseminated on social media. The first video, recorded by a student outside the dormitory where the alleged rape happened, featured a male voice yelling, “spread your legs,” followed by a woman’s scream. The other video showed several soldiers carrying a body out of the military training school.
Military education is a mandatory subject in Vietnam’s high schools and universities. Vietnamese students at public universities must complete these training courses before graduation. The duration of the courses is not specified, but the training generally lasts from one week to a few months.
According to the Law on Defense and Security training, which took effect on January 1, 2014, the purpose of these military courses is to “educate citizens on defense and security knowledge” to “promote patriotism, the tradition of nation building and defense, national pride and self-respect.”
The military training is also said to “help raise awareness, responsibility and self-discipline regarding national defense and security tasks” and “protect the socialist Vietnamese Fatherland.”
Around 9 p.m. on Jan. 11, Col. Bui Van Du, the director of the military training center, sent a letter to the board of directors of HUFLIT regarding the circulation of “untrue information” on social media. The letter said that the incident was, in fact, a quarrel between two female students in the dorm room. It did not directly answer whether or not any sexual assault happened there.
On the same day, HUFLIT announced that it had contacted the police “to verify information being spread widely on social networks.” The university confirmed that the military training center also asked the police to verify this information. HUFLIT did not provide further information, such as the current state of the two female students involved in this matter.
On Jan. 12, HUFLIT organized a press conference regarding the circulation of rape claims on social networks. Representatives from the military training center also attended the event. Livestreaming of the conference was ordered to discontinue halfway through the conference.
Col. Nguyen Tien Son, the political head of Zone 7 Military School, said at the press conference that the incident unfolded on the evening of Jan. 10 when a student discovered that she had lost 1.4 million dong. Other students in the dorm then accused a particular female student of stealing the money. The accused student then rushed outside the room without saying anything. Once outside, she began screaming and crying because she said she had not stolen the money.
Another female student living opposite the dorm came to testify at the meeting, recorded the incident with her camera phone and posted the video online without specifying precisely what had happened, VnExpress reported Son as saying.
The colonel claimed that most videos circulated on social networks were “edited and manipulated.” These “staged videos” had been re-published by “reactionary” social media accounts with the aim of “defying the State,” according to Son. The military representative, however, did not present the unedited clip to verify his claim.
A Facebook announcement published on Jan. 12 by the HUFLIT Students Service Department said that the rape claim was “false” and that it could “greatly affect the awareness of students and the image and reputation of the university.” Students were encouraged not to share such “false information” and to avoid being “led by the public.”
That same day, Lt. Gen. Tran Hoai Trung, secretary of the Party Committee and political commissar of Military Zone 7, chaired a meeting with the Central Propaganda Department and the Military Security Protection Department. At the meeting, Trung ordered propaganda agencies to step up their operations on social networking sites to “guide public opinion” and “expose defamatory claims and the distortion of the truth made by reactionary, hostile forces.”
The lieutenant general also suggested relevant authorities use the Cybersecurity Law to prosecute social media accounts that disseminate such information.
As of this writing, on Jan. 13, there have been no updates or comments made by families of the alleged victims. State media journalists said the military representatives had not answered many of their questions.
On Jan. 14, the Criminal Investigation Agency of Military Zone 7 announced the decision to initiate criminal proceedings regarding the distribution of “false information” about the alleged rape of two HUFLIT students. According to Tuoi Tre Online, a State-owned daily newspaper, the authorities have identified the people who “directly edited, uploaded and distributed unverified clips on social networking platforms.” Tuoi Tre added that the military investigation agency would continue cooperating with relevant authorities to punish those responsible for the misconduct “in accordance with the law.”
Apart from the sexual harassment allegations, the Vietnamese public is outraged because of the lack of transparency in the investigation process carried out by the military training school. Meanwhile, HUFLIT was criticized for its lacking a thorough investigation of this incident and for not providing a transparent story to the public.
Several Vietnamese conscripts were previously reported to have died while receiving training at the People’s Army camps. Military officials at these bases claimed they committed suicide while on duty, although their families believed they were beaten to death by their fellow soldiers. However, the suspicious deaths of these soldiers have never been thoroughly investigated.
“Authorities last year initiated criminal investigations of at least 4,646 individuals in about 2,474 cases for alleged corruption, abuse of power and economic wrongdoing. The Politburo and the party have disciplined around 70 officials, including five ministers and former ministers, since early 2021. Police have also detained a number of executives as part of investigations into alleged fraud tied to corporate bond issuance and equity trading and stock price manipulation.”
Fulcrum/ Phan Xuan Dung/ Jan. 12
“The U.S. has long sought a strategic partnership with Vietnam. In the words of Kurt Campbell, Washington’s Indo-Pacific czar, Vietnam is a “critical swing state” in the Indo-Pacific, given its strategic location, growing geopolitical and geo-economic clout, and strong opposition to China’s maritime assertiveness. In 2010, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered to raise U.S.-Vietnam relations to a strategic partnership. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris suggested the same during her visit to Vietnam in August 2021. U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper has emphasized that a priority during his tenure is to achieve the strategic partnership status.
A strategic partnership with the U.S. would align with Vietnam’s foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, multilateralization, and diversification. Vietnam has forged comprehensive strategic partnerships — the highest diplomatic designation — with China, India, Russia, and, most recently, South Korea. Many of Vietnam’s strategic partners are U.S. allies, such as Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom.”
The Diplomat/ Hai Hong Nguyen/ Jan. 11
“The anti-graft furnace that has fired up under General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s watch and direction is now blazing intensely, releasing its heat outward to the entire society. The general public would no doubt be pleased to witness more and more government officials being fed into the flames. At the other end, many officials observing the furnace from outside would be either anxious for themselves or excited by the possibility of promotion to the offices vacated by their corrupt peers. However, it can’t be taken for granted that replacement officials will have the same, let alone better, capability as that of the dismissed ones. Unfortunately, this is the case for the foreign affairs sector, posing a serious challenge to the execution of Vietnam’s foreign relations without a timely adjustment.”
The Diplomat/ Bill Hayton/ Jan. 6
“If nothing else, this little episode gives us some good insights into what subjects and comments the CPV is most sensitive about. The biggest of these seems to be that members of the Politburo, those tasked with rooting out corruption, are themselves corrupt. It also appears that openly suggesting that the current leadership of the CPV is running out of ideas is taboo. The number of critical articles about Vietnamese politics published in English during 2022 was tiny, and mine would probably have languished in obscurity had it not been for the intervention and the censorship. There will be many people who will disagree with my argument, but it would be a small victory for academic freedom if the article, now shared on The Diplomat website, could get a wider circulation.”
The Diplomat/ Alexander L. Vuving/ Jan. 6
“Given Vietnam’s geography, a successful military strategy must treat land and sea as two mutually complementary, not mutually exclusive, realms. Indeed, Dai Viet, the predecessor of modern Vietnam, when based in the Tonkin delta, had to defend against simultaneous attacks from both land and sea by either northerners (Chinese and Mongols) or southerners (Chams). As the sea provided the easier access to the Viet capital, Dai Viet’s decisive battles against Chinese and Mongol invaders were mostly in the estuary of the Bach Dang River, but Dai Viet never neglected the land routes from the Chinese borders. When militarily conquering Champa, the territorial predecessor of today’s Central Vietnam, Dai Viet almost always advanced simultaneously on land and at sea, with the maritime wing being the more decisive.”
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