Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong Misses Major Diplomatic Events, Prompting Public Inquiries about His Health

Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong Misses Major Diplomatic Events, Prompting Public Inquiries about His Health

Nguyen Phu Trong May Be Hospitalized, Prompting Concerns about His Health

Reuters reported that Vietnamese Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong, 79, the most powerful leader in Vietnam, was absent from two major diplomatic events in less than a week, prompting concerns about his health. Last week, Trong missed a state visit of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, followed by his absence from a similar meeting with Laotian Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone the past weekend.

Trong's last public appearance was in December with Japan's Communist Party leader, Kazuo Shii.

Vietnam’s state media have remained silent, and the country’s foreign affairs ministry has not responded to Reuters’ request for comment regarding Trong’s health.

On Jan. 12, Bloomberg reported, citing information from multiple Vietnamese officials familiar with the situation, that party chief Nguyen Phu Trong had been hospitalized earlier last week for an unspecified illness. The Vietnamese officials who revealed the news to Bloomberg requested anonymity since the matter is private.

The 79-year-old party chief had expressed reluctance when he took the country’s top decision-making position after being reelected for another third term in 2021, saying that he preferred to retire because he’s “old and not in good health.” 

Although Vietnam’s state media has not reported on Trong’s worrisome health,  speculations about his well-being have been widely discussed among social media users in Vietnam. Many commentators are concerned that a lack of transparency and official information regarding the officials’ health could affect the country’s political landscape and future policies.

At 8:20 am on Jan. 15, 2024, Nguyen Phu Trong attended the opening of an anomalous session of the National Assembly at Dien Hong Hall, Hanoi.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security Vows to ‘Comprehensively Confront’ Dissent in 2024

The Department of Internal Security of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has vowed to take more drastic measures against individuals and groups designated as “opposition forces” during an annual conference on Jan. 3 in Hanoi, according to an announcement by MPS. Lt. Gen. Pham Ngoc Viet, director of the Department of Internal Security, chaired the conference. The MPS has perpetually designated opposition voices, social activists, and those critical of the regime on social media as “reactionary and opposing forces.”

According to the announcement, the Department of Internal Security, a division of the MPS tasked with suppressing dissenting voices and preventing terrorism, in 2023 had “fiercely fought and effectively deterred sabotage activities conducted by hostile, reactionary and opposing forces” and “maintained stability and security within the nation in strategic areas.” The security department also claimed they had “effectively adopted measures to maintain religious security across the country.”

During the same conference, Gen. Luong Tam Quang, deputy minister of the MPS, urged the security department to “ensure security in strategic areas” while emphasizing the need to “proactively prevent sabotage plots, terrorist activities, and activities inciting large gatherings of people to disrupt security and order.” Quang also requested the MPS to “comprehensively attack, destroy existing opposition associations and groups, and resolutely prevent the establishment of new similar groups.”

EU Domestic Advisory Group Releases Statement on Vietnam’s Human Rights and Declining Civil Society

The European Union Domestic Advisory Group (EU DAG) has released a statement on Vietnam’s worsening human rights situation and the recent arrests of civil society leaders. The statement was released on Dec. 14 after the third meeting between the EU DAG and the Vietnam Domestic Advisory Group (VN DAG), which occurred in Brussels between November 27 and 28.

EU and Vietnam advisory groups were established as a requirement of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA). They include the participation of civil society organizations in monitoring and giving recommendations on implementing the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) commitments of the EVFTA.

The EU DAG said in the statement that it is “deeply concerned” about the violations of human rights in Vietnam, as recent reports released by rights organizations such as the International Federation for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch. Specifically, the Vietnamese government has restricted the freedom of assembly of its citizens and utilized the penal code and the tax law to arbitrarily arrest human rights defenders, civil society leaders, and journalists.

The EU DAG’s statement also urged Vietnam to live up to the commitment given before the implementation of EVFTA and to ratify Convention C87 of the International Labor Organization on Freedom of Association “without further delay.”

Blogger Nguyen Van Hoa Released from Prison

Nguyen Van Hoa, a Vietnamese independent blogger who received a seven-year prison term on a charge of “distributing anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s former 1999 Penal Code, has been released from prison, according to his family. The Ha Tinh-born reporter was initially charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under former Article 258, but it was later upgraded to Article 88, which carries more severe punishment.

The authorities arrested Hoa, 28 now after he filmed protests that erupted outside the Formosa Plastics Group, a steel plant, in Ky Anh District, Ha Tinh Province, in 2017. Many fishermen and local communities of Ha Tinh Province came out to protest after the Taiwan-owned steel facility in 2016 discharged its untreated toxic wastewater into Vietnam’s sea, polluting more than 125 miles of coastline and killing an estimated 115 tons of fish. This major environmental disaster has left tourism industry workers and fishermen jobless in four central provinces in Vietnam.

Hoa was the first reporter to broadcast live footage of protests outside the Formosa steel plant using a drone. In October 2016, his video of more than 10,000 peaceful protesters gained widespread attention and helped raise public awareness of this issue.

During his imprisonment, Hoa initiated a two-week hunger strike in 2019 to protest the mistreatment and abuses he suffered while in prison. In the same year, he told his relatives that he was beaten, had his feet cuffed for ten days, and was kept in isolation for six months. While Hoa’s release eases concerns about his deteriorating health, it nevertheless serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by journalists and activists in Vietnam. 

U.S. State Department Continues to List Vietnam on ‘Special Watch List Countries’ Regarding Religious Freedom

The U.S. State Department announced on Dec. 29, 2023, that Vietnam would continue to be listed on the Special Watch List (SWL) due to its “serious” violations of religious freedom, along with Algeria, Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic, and Comoros.

The State Department’s designation could move Vietnam to the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list despite the warming relationship between Washington and Hanoi following their diplomatic elevation to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” in Sept. 2023.

Washington previously listed Vietnam on the SWL in December 2022. After the announcement, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the U.S. categorization of Vietnam on this list was “unobjective” and that “Vietnam’s consistent policy is to respect and ensure human rights as well as people's right to freedom of belief and religion.”

The United States removed Vietnam from the CPC list in 2007. However, in the 2023 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) proposed that the State Department include Vietnam in the CPC list under the International Religious Freedom Act. Over the past 15 years, USCIRF has continuously proposed to put Vietnam back on the CPC list due to Hanoi’s crackdown on independent religious groups and the arrests of religious activists and practitioners.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Will Vietnam Get Caught in the Crosshairs of Great-Power Politics Again?

Foreign Policy/ Dien Luong/ Jan. 9

“Vietnam’s decision to engage closely with Tokyo did not set off the same alarm bells. Japan, unlike the United States, does not pursue aggressive containment strategies against China. Although Japan’s relationship with China has been historically strained and is currently marked by territorial disputes, the pair have recently made efforts to improve ties, avoid conflict, and maintain regional stability.

Japan also offers a solution to Vietnam’s infrastructure conundrum. Currently, Vietnam depends on Chinese investment for essential infrastructure projects. Vietnamese authorities and the public have expressed concern over Chinese contractors due to their track record of delays, cost overruns, and poor construction.”

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