U.S. President Joe Biden to Visit Vietnam in September amid China’s Increasing Assertiveness

U.S. President Joe Biden to Visit Vietnam in September amid China’s Increasing Assertiveness

Family of Nguyen Van Chuong Allowed to Visit Him in Prison on Sept. 11

The family of Vietnamese death-row prisoner Nguyen Van Chuong is scheduled to pay him a monthly visit in prison on Sept. 11. On Aug. 29, Nguyen Thi Bich, Chuong’s mother, received a call from the prison authorities where he is being held, informing the family that the visitation will take place on Sept. 5, which is a week earlier than usual. Usually, Chuong’s family gets to see him on the second Monday of the month.

Nguyen Truong Chinh, Chuong’s father, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the phone call made him and his wife uneasy because they did not understand what would happen to their son. The last time he met his son in prison was Aug. 14, Chinh said. When he asked why the authorities allowed the family to meet Chuong earlier than usual, the prison warden said it was “an order from above.” The officer told Chinh that his son was healthy.

The prison authorities’ announcement has worried the public, which expressed fear that his execution could be implemented soon. But on the evening of the same day, the prison authorities called Chuong’s family again and informed them that the visitation would be on Sept. 11, as announced before. They said the previous announcement was “a mistake.”

The earlier announcement of the Hai Phong People’s Court that it would carry out the death penalty against Nguyen Van Chuong had outraged and drawn opposition from the public in Vietnam. Many international organizations and the United Nations Human Rights Office have also raised concerns about Chuong’s case, urging Hanoi to halt his execution immediately.

A petition on avaaz.org requesting Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong and relevant authorities to postpone the execution and conduct a new investigation into the case has gathered nearly 6,000 signatures. Many intellectuals in Vietnam also wrote and submitted open letters to Thuong about the wrongful conviction of Nguyen Van Chuong.

Vietnam President Grants Pardon for 11 Death-row Inmates

Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong on Aug. 30 issued a decision to pardon 11 death-row convicts, reducing their imposed capital punishment to life imprisonment, according to the Office of the President via state media. Thuong’s pardoning occurred on the occasion of Vietnam’s National Independence Day, on Sept. 2, marking the establishment of the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Thuong had reportedly approved the amnesty in consideration of proposals from the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People’s Procuracy, and the Chairman of the Office of the President.

The presidential office has not disclosed the names of the prisoners pardoned by Vo Van Thuong.

The president of Vietnam has the authority to pardon death-row prisoners. The convicts who received the death penalty could have their effective sentence reduced to life in prison at the president’s decision. The president can also grant amnesty by allowing the early release of people sentenced to a definite duration of imprisonment. The amnesty decision is often issued at important events, such as National Independence Day and other major national holidays.

Vietnam Police Remain Silent After Blogger Duong Van Thai’s Temporary Detention Expires

The family of blogger Duong Van Thai, who is believed to have been abducted from Thailand by Vietnamese security agents and brought back to Vietnam, has not received any information about his situation nearly three weeks after the detention period concluded, RFA reported.

Thai, 41, an independent blogger specializing in internal infighting among high-ranking government officials in Vietnam, reportedly went missing in Thailand on April 13. About two days later, Vietnamese state media quoted information from the Ha Tinh Police Department saying that its local police had detained him when he was “illegally entering Vietnam from Laos.”

Three months later, Thai’s family received a notice of his prosecution from the Investigation Security Agency of the Ministry of Public Security on the charges of “distributing anti-State propaganda,” an alleged violation of Article 117 in the Penal Code. The notice was signed on July 5. Thai is detained at the B14 Detention Center in Thanh Tri District, Hanoi.

According to the notice, the detention period expires on Aug. 12. However, after nearly three weeks, the blogger’s family still has not received any further notice on the extension of his detention or news about his condition in detention. Duong Thi Lu, mother of Duong Van Thai, told RFA on Aug. 30 that she plans to send supplies to her son this week.

Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience Reported Being Intimidated by Fellow Inmates

The families of two prisoners of conscience, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Dang Dinh Bach, are worried about Thuc and Bach’s living conditions in prison. Previously, the families of the two men received phone calls from them, informing the families that they were facing intimidation from fellow prisoners. Both prisoners of conscience are being held at Detention Center No. 6 in Thanh Chuong District, Nghe An Province.

On Aug. 31, the family of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, 57, a former entrepreneur, said they received a phone call from Thuc, who told them he was intimidated by someone carrying a knife in prison last week. After Thuc spoke for about three minutes, a prison guard reportedly disrupted the conversation and hung up the call.

Civil society leader Dang Dinh Bach, former director of The Law and Policy of Sustainable Development Research Center (LPSD), also called in the afternoon of the same day, informing his family of the repression he faced in prison. Tran Phuong Thao, Bach's wife, told RFA that her husband requested she immediately find an international law firm in Vietnam to be his legal representative as Bach said his legal rights and interests were being violated. Thao added that Bach’s request for a lawyer was “very urgent.” Also, according to Thao, her husband said, the security situation in the prison is becoming increasingly dangerous.

The families of the two prisoners of conscience contacted each other on the afternoon of Aug. 31, according to RFA. They said that they suspected that a group of inmates wielding knives broke into their relatives' detention area on Aug. 25. These inmates reportedly intimidated and endangered the lives of Bach and Thuc, who are being held in Group A of the Nghe An detention facility.

USCIRF to Hold Vietnam’s Religious Freedom Hearing on Sept. 7

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Hearing (USCIRF) announced that they would hold a virtual hearing focusing on religious freedom in Vietnam on Sept. 7, discussing how the U.S. government can work with the Vietnamese government to address violations of freedom of religion and beliefs. The hearing will take place three days before the visit of the U.S. President Joe Biden to Vietnam on Sept. 10.

USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper and Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie will attend the hearing.

The USCIRF announcement said that despite improvements in the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship, the commission has “reported an increase in incidences of forced renunciation of faith and the intimidation, detention, and imprisonment of faith activists and leaders.” The religious freedom monitor added that since implementing the 2018 Law on Belief and Religion, the rights of religious freedom for minority faith communities have been effectively hindered.

In its 2023 Annual Report on religious freedom in Vietnam, the USCIRF also recommended the designation of Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for engaging in egregious, ongoing, and systematic violations of religious freedom. In November 2022, the U.S. Department of State also placed Vietnam on its Special Watch List, the first religious freedom designation since Vietnam was designated a CPC in 2005.

Vietnam Rejects Appeals of Political Prisoners Tran Van Bang and Bui Tuan Lam

The High People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City on Aug. 29 sided with the first instance trial in upholding the eight-year sentence of Tran Van Bang, 62, a political dissident and war veteran, on a charge of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. The prosecutors accused him of publishing content on social media that seeks to “oppose the government.”

One of Bang’s siblings told RFA Vietnamese that he and his defense lawyer presented their argument proving his innocence, saying his posts to social media were his own views and not intended to oppose the government. The sibling said that at the end of the trial, the Procuracy’s representative “read the old verdict and immediately made a conclusion, saying that they did not accept the arguments of either the defense lawyer or Tran Bang.”

The court only allowed Bang’s family members to view the appeals trial on a closed circuit camera feed broadcast to a nearby room, RFA reported. Diplomatic representatives from foreign embassies were also permitted to view the feed the same day after being barred from attending Bang’s last trial. Bang’s sibling told RFA his family was surprised by how quickly the trial took place - less than a day, adding that the war veteran was not allowed to make a closing statement.

Another Vietnamese court in Danang on Aug. 30 also rejected the appeals from Bui Tuan Lam, a beef noodle vendor and political dissident known as “Green Onion Bae,” who received a five-year sentence on the same exact charges of “distributing anti-State propaganda.” Tuan Lam’s wife, Le Thi Thanh Lam told RFA Vietnamese that his sentence was upheld.

Thanh Lam told RFA that she could not attend her husband’s three-hour hearing at the Higher People’s Court in Danang, but his lawyer, attorney Le Dinh Viet, could represent him there. The wife of the beef noodle vendor said hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes policemen were deployed outside the court, filming her and others who had gathered there to wait for the court’s decision. She added that everyone stayed calm when the appeal was rejected, so the police had no reason to arrest them.

The New York-based rights advocate Human Rights Watch on Aug. 28 released a statement condemning the incarcerations of the two political dissidents, urging the Vietnamese government to “quash recent verdicts in the politically motivated cases against the dissidents Tran Van Bang and Bui Tuan Lam and immediately release them.”

“Tran Van Bang and Bui Tuan Lam openly criticized how the Communist Party of Vietnam rules the country,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The peaceful exercise of political dissent is not a crime, and the cases against them should be dropped.”

U.S. President Joe Biden Set to Visit Vietnam to Strengthen Bilateral Relations

The White House announced on Aug. 28 that U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Hanoi on Sept. 10 and meet with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and other high-level Vietnamese leaders.

Biden’s one-day visit to Vietnam is expected to deepen bilateral relations between the United States and Vietnam, seeking to promote the growth of a technology-focused and innovation-driven Vietnamese economy, expand people-to-people ties, combat climate change, and increase peace, prosperity, and stability in the region, according to the announcement.

Many Vietnamese experts and observers expect that Hanoi and Washington will agree to elevate their diplomatic relationship into a “comprehensive strategic partnership” from the current “comprehensive partnership.” The United States is Vietnam’s largest export market after the two former war enemies only normalized diplomatic relations in 1995. Last year, bilateral trade reached $138 billion.

Many also expect Biden to include the issue of human rights in his talks with Vietnamese leaders as the Hanoi regime has intensified its suppression of civil society leaders in recent years. Vietnam is an authoritarian one-party state ruled by the Communist Party, where social critics and activists systematically face harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests.

Other Vietnam experts said that the upgrading of the bilateral relationship should not be misinterpreted as Vietnam aligning with the United States

"This is not Vietnam moving into a U.S. orbit. This is Vietnam maintaining its own independent orbit – maintaining its own space from China," Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told VOA News.

"That leaves a lot of room for pragmatic cooperation and shared interest, but Vietnam is not coming to our side of the playground," he said.

Alexander Vuving, a professor at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, told VOA News that Vietnam “has to upgrade their relationship with all these countries that can help them in case of crisis or even help them to boost their resilience against Chinese encroachment.”

“If you look at that kind of web of partnerships with all the significant powers in the region, you can be a little more secure. That's the overall strategy for Vietnam. Reaching out – geopolitical promiscuity,” he added.

Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, said in an interview that there is “consensus in Vietnam on its long-standing policy of ‘diversification and multilateralization’ of external relations” and that Vietnam “seeks a dynamic equilibrium in its relations with the major powers so it can leverage off differences among them.”

According to Thayer, slowing global economic growth and China’s economic difficulties pressured Vietnam to upgrade its relationship with the United States and Australia to take advantage of new technologies and supply chains.

Vietnamese Fishermen Say a Chinese Coast Guard Vessel Fired on Their Fishing Boat with a Water Cannon.

Vietnam’s State media reported that fishermen on a Vietnamese fishing boat from central Quang Ngai Province reported to local authorities on Aug. 30 that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel attacked their boat while fishing near the disputed Paracels, called Hoang Sa in Vietnamese. According to the Quang Ngai fishermen, around 5 p.m. on Aug. 28, a Chinese patrol vessel numbered 4021 fired water cannons at them as they moved from Woody Island, called Phu Lam in Vietnamese, to Xa Cu Beach to fish.

The attack severely damaged the fishing boat and injured two of the 10 fishermen. According to fishermen, the Chinese vessel approached and intimidated the fishing boat for a long time, repeatedly using water cannons to attack them and even dropping some canoes to get close to their boat. The Chinese vessel did not leave until 3:00 p.m. on the same day.

After the vessel left, another Chinese patrol vessel, numbered 4104, arrived. This ship reportedly signaled to the Vietnamese fishing boat that they would help the injured fishermen, but the Quang Ngai fishermen refused and immediately returned to the Vietnam mainland.

On Aug. 30, the People’s Committee of Binh Son District, Quang Ngai Province, released an initial report on the incident. The local authorities also offered 12 million dong ($498) as compensation for the affected fishermen, including a damage fee worth five million dong for the boat owner. According to the Binh Son authorities, two other fishing boats from the province were attacked by foreign vessels. Both of these boats are from Binh Chau Commune, Binh Son District.

A spokeswoman for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pham Thu Hang, on Aug. 31, said that Vietnamese authorities are investigating the incident and that the country opposes any use of force against Vietnamese fishing boats operating in the sea. Hang also reiterated that Vietnam has a complete legal basis and historical evidence to claim its sovereignty over the Paracel archipelago in accordance with international law.

The foreign ministry spokeswoman on the same day also rejected China’s newly issued “2023 standard map” since it “violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the islands, as well as its sovereignty, sovereignty rights, and jurisdiction rights over Vietnam’s sea regions as determined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” Vietnam’s state media quoted Hang as saying.

According to state media, the new map differed from another map Beijing submitted to the United Nations in 2009, including a “nine-dash line.” On the other hand, the new “standard map” has a 10-dash line similar to a 1948 map of China and another map issued by Beijing in 2013.

Vietnam and China to Hold 8th Border Defense Friendship Exchange in September

Vietnam’s state media reported on Aug. 29 that Vietnam and China will hold the eighth border defense friendship exchange on Sept. 7 and 8 in the northernmost province of Lao Cai in Vietnam and Yunnan Province in China. The Vietnamese delegation will be led by Minister of National Defense Phan Van Giang, and the Chinese delegation will be led by Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu.

According to the proposed schedule, on Sept. 7, the Vietnamese delegation will be welcomed at the Lao Cai International Border Gate, where there will be a border marker saluting ceremony, the planting of commemorative trees, the launch of work on a friendship house of culture, a visit to the Kim Dong Primary School, and talks between the two delegations.

On Sept. 8, the Chinese delegation will be welcomed at the Hekou International Border Gate, where there will be a similar border marker saluting ceremony, the planting of commemorative trees, a visit to a military unit or school, and a bilateral seminar.

Before the exchange, there will be other activities such as providing free health examinations and medicine for border residents, presenting scholarships to 50 students from poor families, and heifers to disadvantaged households. The authorities will also review the relationship between border communities and the coordination between the Lao Cai International Border Gate border guard post and Yunnan's Mengzi region's Hekou border guard unit.

Vietnam’s defense ministry said the eighth border defense friendship exchange aims to develop the previous Vietnam-China joint statement on the continued promotion and advancing of their comprehensive strategic partnership, issued during an official visit to China by Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in November 2022. According to state media, the border defense exchange also seeks to help strengthen mutual trust and cooperation between the two parties, states, and defense ministries.

How Biden can court Vietnam — and help those stuck behind bars

Washington Post:

“The example of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mr. Obama’s doomed trade pact, is instructive. Vietnam saw a chance for greater access to one of its biggest export markets, the United States. It agreed to allow independent trade unions, outlaw child labor and give private firms a greater chance to compete against the Communist-run state sector. Citizens were promised a “free and open internet.” Unfortunately, President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the TPP, and the promised gains were lost. Mr. Biden should push again for change — and be more willing to strike substantial trade deals that would both generate wealth and improve conditions in places such as Vietnam.

As other presidents have done, Mr. Biden will undoubtedly offer respect for Vietnam’s differing political system. But he should also speak the truth to Vietnam’s leaders: No ruler or system is made stronger when it destroys the rights and dignity of its own people.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Why Hanoi May Agree to a Vietnam-U.S. Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ Aug. 28

“First, the two countries have increasingly convergent strategic interests. Washington’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy and its efforts to counter China’s maritime ambitions have largely aligned with Vietnam’s interests. The U.S. has also provided Vietnam with significant maritime capacity building assistance over the years and may emerge as an important defence supplier for Hanoi in the future. Economically, America is now Vietnam’s largest export market and its second-largest trading partner, with two-way trade turnover reaching nearly US$124 billion in 2022. America is also the eleventh largest investor in Vietnam, with the cumulative registered capital reaching US$11.4 billion by end-2022. Against this backdrop, upgrading ties with one of the most important partners to the highest level is a sensible move for Hanoi.”

Did China Colonize Vietnam

The Diplomat/ Christelle Nguyen/ Aug. 24

“Throughout different generations of Vietnamese historians, including prominent works like the “Complete Annals of Đại Việt” in the 15th century, a consistent approach has been taken, depicting the Northern occupation as a source of indignation and fuel for rebellion among the colonized.  

Nevertheless, following each conflict, Vietnamese rulers made every effort to restore the tributary system. The victors took the initiative by dispatching envoys to Beijing, offering respect to the vanquished in return for recognition. For the Vietnamese, the focus was not always on competing with their massive northern neighbor, but rather on coexisting harmoniously and fostering productive relationships.”

Vietnam's last wild elephants on the brink of survival

Mekong Eye/ Govi Snell and Anton L. Delgado/ July 17

“Only about 100 wild elephants are estimated to survive in Vietnam, separated into 22 herds across the country. These last survivors of Asia’s once 100,000-strong elephant population face a stampede of threats – including often-violent conflict with people – made worse by habitat loss.

Drawn to fruit trees, corn, rice and other produce, a herd of wild elephants can destroy a farmer’s livelihood in a single meal. When Vietnam’s remaining wild herds interact with humans, the results are sometimes fatal.

As pressure mounts from agricultural expansion and other human development, conservationists warn the dwindling number of elephants will soon approach the point of no return in sustaining a viable population.”

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