Interview with Professor Tuong Vu on the Vietnamese Communist Party: War Legacies and Future Prospects
Ninety-four years ago, on Feb. 3, 1930, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) was founded. The party took Vietnam into three
Vietnamese authorities on March 28 released political prisoner Huynh Thi To Nga, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. Nga, a medical worker, was sentenced to five years in prison in November 2019 on the conviction of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. She had previously been held at An Phuoc Prison, Binh Duong Province, where many other political prisoners are detained. She was released 10 months before her sentence was to conclude.
Nga, 40, was arrested along with her brother, Huynh Minh Tam, in early 2019 after their postings on social media were said to contain “anti-State information.” Tam received a nine-year prison term on the same charges. He is serving his sentence in Gia Trung Prison, Gia Lai Province.
On March 26, Vietnam freed Nguyen Van Cong Em, 52, who was also charged with violating Article 117 and sentenced to five-year imprisonment. The police arrested Em in February 2019, accusing him of using his Facebook account to publish distorted information about the U.S.-North Korea Summit, which took place in Hanoi the same month. He is now expected to serve another five years of probation.
A court in Hanoi City on March 28 held a trial for Truong Van Dung, a Vietnamese activist, sentencing him to six years in prison on a charge of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s former 1999 Penal Code. RFA reported that only Dung’s wife, Nghiem Thi Hop, was allowed to attend his half-day trial as a witness. Other activists told RFA they had been forced to stay home or barred from getting near the courthouse.
Dung, 65, is a motorbike driver living in Hanoi. He is a well-known activist involving issues such as human rights and Vietnam’s maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea. Dung is also a co-founder of Hoi Bau Bi Tuong Than (“Mutual Support Among Countrymen”), initially established to mentally and financially support Vietnamese political prisoners and their families.
According to the indictment, the Hanoi People’s Procuracy accused Dung of doing interviews with Radio Saigon Dallas between 2015 and 2022. The radio station is a U.S.-based broadcaster, which allegedly defamed the Vietnamese government, distributed fabricated information, and sowed confusion among the public. The procuracy also alleged that Dung stored copies of two books, “Politics for the Masses,” written by journalist Pham Doan Trang, and “Life of People Behind Bars” by former political prisoner Pham Thanh Nghien.
Hop, Dung’s wife, told RFA that Vietnamese police used physical violence against him during interrogations. Dung was also held incommunicado for more than nine months after his arrest in May 2022. In another interview with VOA News, Hop said the sentence against her husband was severe because she believed Dung “is not guilty.”
New York-based rights advocate Human Rights Watch (HRW) on March 27 urged Vietnamese authorities to “immediately release land rights activist Truong Van Dung and drop all charges against him” in a statement published a day before his trial.
“Truong Van Dung is the latest in a long line of human rights defenders silenced by the Vietnamese government for protesting against human rights violations and advocating for reforms,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW. Robertson demanded that democratic governments with close ties with Hanoi “speak out publicly and forcefully in his support” and “call on Vietnam to release all political prisoners and take genuine steps toward reform.”
Nguyen Thai Hung, a Vietnamese Youtube user, and Vu Thi Kim Hoang, his fiancee, had their “abusing democratic freedoms” sentences upheld after they lost their appeal in an appellate court on March 29. In November 2022, a court in Dong Nai Province sentenced Hung and Hoang to four years and two and a half years respectively in prison on the same charges. Hoang was released on bail following a four-month detention.
Hung was accused of running a personal Youtube channel, “Telling the Truth TV” which allegedly uploaded and live-streamed videos “speaking badly of the Party and the government,” “distorting the country’s socio-economic development policies,” and “slandering senior Party and government leaders.” His fiancee, Hoang, was also arrested and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms,” although she did not directly run or join the live streamings.
In an interview, Hoang, a tailoress, told the Vietnamese service of BBC News that her family was “isolated” after Hung and she were arrested and convicted. She added that nearly no one visited her tailor shop following the incident. Meanwhile, Hoang’s eldest child, who had just graduated from college, could not apply for a job due to “problems in the family background.”
Attorney Nguyen Van Mieng, Hung’s defense lawyer, said during the trial that the couple only practiced their free speech on social media and that freedom of speech is guaranteed in Article 25 of Vietnam’s Constitution. Mieng also called on the judging panel to respect the personal freedoms of the Vietnamese people, especially freedom of speech, similar to the rights enjoyed by people in other countries. The attorney’s plea did not change the court’s decision.
Vietnam’s permanent delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, in a diplomatic note dated March 24, claimed that the regime’s prosecutions of multiple human rights activists, journalists, and independent National Assembly candidates were “in compliance with the Criminal Code.” The letter argued that the activists “violated Vietnamese laws” and that their violations were “proven with sufficient evidence” in “open and transparent” trials. However, these trials are routinely closed to family members, the international media, and diplomats and decisions are often made within just a few hours of the trial dates.
Hanoi’s letter was issued in response to an earlier report sent by the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights last November concerning the arrests of 18 Vietnamese human rights defenders, journalists, and activists, who have been “allegedly arbitrarily arrested and deprived of their liberty for ostensibly exercising their right to freedom of expression and opinion, sentenced based on vague legal provisions, and in some cases, allegedly subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment during pretrial detention.”
Hanoi’s response addressed the cases of eight imprisoned political prisoners, including Nguyen Van Nghiem, Le Van Dung, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, Do Nam Trung, Dinh Van Hai, Chung Hoang Chuong, Le Trong Hung, Le Chi Thanh, and Tran Quoc Khanh. The response claimed that the arrests, detention, and conviction of these prisoners were in compliance with Vietnamese law and its international human rights commitments.
It further said that Article 117 in Vietnam’s Penal Code, which criminalizes the activities of “distributing anti-State propaganda,” is “fully compatible” with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Furthermore, it argued that the prosecution and conviction of activists and human rights defenders who criticize the government on social media are declared to assist the regime in “[handling] and preventing fake news.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in an email to RFA on March 30 that the Vietnamese government was “completely two-faced by refusing to comply with its international obligations but then writing its response as if it is doing so.”
“Hanoi’s stance has been regularly repudiated by the Special Procedures of the U.N. Human Rights Council, yet the government shamelessly keeps making the same argument,” Robertson added. “Judging by Vietnam's rights-abusing actions and total refusal to accept blame, much less change its practices, it's hard to see why Vietnam thinks it deserves to be in the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
Reuters and Bloomberg reported that Vietnam’s Communist Party Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and U.S. President Joe Biden, during a phone call on March 29, discussed strengthening bilateral ties, including the promotion of economic and security cooperation, while agreeing to “promote, develop and deepen” ties. Both sides also accepted invitations for mutual high-level visits to be worked out by relevant authorities. In 2023, Vietnam marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of a “comprehensive partnership” with the United States.
The transcript of President Biden’s call with Party chief Trong said that “President Biden reinforced the United States’ commitment to a strong, prosperous, resilient, and independent Vietnam.” The two leaders are said to have discussed multiple issues, including strengthening and expanding the bilateral relationship, ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and addressing regional challenges, such as climate change and the deteriorating environment and security situation along the Mekong Region.
“Vietnam consistently pursues its foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, peace, friendship, cooperation, diversification and multilateralization of relations, active and proactive global integration,” Trong said during the call, according to Nhan Dan via Reuters.
On the same day, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son had a phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. Both sides agreed to push bilateral ties to a new level on the 15th anniversary of their “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership,” the South China Morning Post reported.
“China and Vietnam are comrades plus brothers,” Qin told Son as the two ministers vowed to “strengthen strategic communication, consolidate political mutual trust and intensify interactions at all levels and in all fields,” the Chinese ministry statement said.
“A Vietnamese ship monitored a Chinese Coast Guard vessel on Saturday in a Russian-operated gas field in Vietnam's South China Sea exclusive economic zone (EEZ), data show - the latest Chinese patrol in a pattern stretching more than a year.
Chinese coast guard ships have sailed directly into energy exploration blocks operated or owned by Russian firms in Vietnam's EEZ about 40 times since January 2022, according to vessel-tracking data from Vietnamese research organisation South China Sea Chronicle Initiative (SCSCI), an independent non-profit.
China considers the area part of its expansive territorial claim in the South China Sea marked by a "nine-dash line," a boundary the Permanent Court of Arbitration found in 2016 to have no legal basis. It has built artificial islands and airfields on some reefs and islets in the sea to widespread concern in the region and in the United States.”
Taiwanese authorities have identified seven out of 16 people found dead on the western coast of Taiwan as Vietnamese, Taiwan News reported. Earlier, between March 4 and 17, the Taiwan Coast Guard discovered bodies of both men and women along its coast between the cities of Taoyuan and Kaohsiung, who were suspected to be victims of human trafficking. As of March 29, at least 20 bodies have been found floating in the ocean close to Taiwan.
The bodies declared as Vietnamese were identified based on a list submitted by Vietnam’s representative office in Taiwan. Their relatives in Vietnam also provided information to help with the identification. Taiwan’s National Police Agency said the island’s authorities and its representative office in Vietnam would investigate “illegal boat operators and brokers,” adding that Taiwan’s coast guard would assist in the probe.
The Diplomat/ David Hutt/ March 27
“[Vo Van] Thuong as a Gorbachev figure is nonsense, however. Gorbachev was party chief in the Soviet Union, a position cloaked in such authority that few could resist the path he was taking his empire down, including the plotters of a laughable coup attempt against him. Thuong, meanwhile, holds a mainly ceremonial role. He’s a committed party man. He’s clearly trusted by Nguyen Phu Trong, the three-term party chief whose entire career is about restoring the power of the Party over the state and the government.
If one was really looking for a Gorbachev figure in Vietnam, you would have to say that it was Nguyen Tan Dung, the former prime minister who was crushed by Trong in 2016. The individualist reformer, who more closely resembled an autocratic leader from a non-communist state, was driven out of power by a man who feared that Dung was overseeing the withering away of the Party’s role in all areas of social life. The analyst Carl Thayer once described Dung as ‘an individualist working within a conservative system of collective leadership.”
Asia Times/ Ramla Khalidi/ March 25
“Providers of basic social services such as health care and education – sectors that fall under multidimensional poverty – have also changed how they measure progress, not just looking at activities but also measuring results.
For minorities, access to basic social services falls below the national average. More than 30% of minority students do not enter school at the right age, and for some minorities access to services and jobs is challenging, as they are not fluent in Vietnamese.
Other emerging challenges to development and poverty reduction include the slow global economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, rising risks from climate change, and an aging population.”
The Interpreter/ Trang Nguyen/ Feb. 28
“Yet Vietnam stands at a crossroads in the global economic and energy transition to net zero. The country’s climate change commitments, coupled with domestic environmental and health concerns, mean power generation in Vietnam needs to change drastically. Transitioning away from coal will impact many of these mines, the livelihoods of 100,000 people and 40 per cent of Quang Ninh’s fiscal revenue. A successful transition in provinces such as Quang Ninh is of central importance to Vietnam in realising its targets and contributing to the international goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C.”
The Interpreter/ Le Hong Hiep/ Feb. 27
“But investors and Vietnam’s partners will rightly ask whether the personnel changes will deliver visible improvements in the country’s governance, as well as the implementation of socio-economic development projects. In recent years, Vietnam’s intense anti-corruption campaign has made government officials especially cautious, causing delays to many public-funded and private investment projects. Officials have been unwilling to sign off on key decisions, especially where land price determination is involved, which in turn has frustrated investors and constrained Vietnam’s economic growth. The delayed disbursement of large public infrastructure projects is particularly worrying, especially in the context of Vietnam’s ongoing credit crunch and falling export orders. Against this backdrop, the injection of new funds through infrastructure projects is essential to the country’s economic outlook.”
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