The Health Status of Nguyen Phu Trong is a State Secret in Vietnam

The Health Status of Nguyen Phu Trong is a State Secret in Vietnam
General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong on May 17, 2023. Photo: VGP/Nhat Bac.

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

Recent reports indicate that Nguyen Phu Trong, 79, the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), has been admitted to a hospital.

The Silence of the State Media

While state media has been silent on Trong’s health issues, the foreign media became the only source of news covering his health, while there was also public discussion on social networks.

Reuters was the first to report on Jan. 11, 2024, that since Dec. 26, 2023, Trong has not appeared at public events, including key diplomatic receptions for Lao Prime Minister Sonexay Siphadone and Indonesian President Joko Widodo's delegations. [1]

Rumors have spread on social networks since Jan. 11 that Trong is seriously ill.

Bloomberg reported on Jan. 12, 2024, that Trong was hospitalized. [2]

Until the publication of this article on Jan. 14, 2024, the mouthpieces of the VCP, the Vietnamese government, and state media were all silent.

The agency responsible for  information about  Trong's health

In the dual party-state apparatus in Vietnam, a party agency called the Central-level Senior Officials Healthcare Service is responsible for all aspects regarding the health of senior cadres, including the general secretary. [3]

The Central-level Senior Officials Healthcare Service is tasked with checking, classifying, and making conclusions about the health of high-ranking officials to serve the party's personnel work.

Information on the health of senior party members must be promptly reported by the Central-level Senior Officials Healthcare Service to either the VCP Central Committee’s Executive Secretary or the chairperson of the Central Committee’s Organization Commission. Information must be kept confidential and can only be provided when directed by one of the two above-mentioned persons.

According to the above regulations, whether Nguyen Phu Trong is healthy enough to continue working will be determined by the Central-level Senior Officials Healthcare Service. Then, it will report to the VCP Central Committee’s Executive Secretary and the chairperson of the Central Committee’s Organization Commission, currently Truong Thi Mai.

The 2018 Law on Protection of State Secrets stipulates that "information to protect the health of senior leaders of the Party and State" is within the scope of state secrets. [4] Therefore, the public has no right to request the release of this information.

The Succession Processes and the Precedent of Le Duan

When there is no official announcement from the party and government, discussing the possibility of the leader's death seems to be taboo in the mainstream state media. However, the health issue of national leaders should be widely discussed as this could have an enormous impact on the nation.

The charter of the VCP has no regulations on who will replace the general secretary if he dies while in office. [5]

This is different from the Constitution's provisions on the position of the president, which has separate provisions (Article 93) on cases where the president is "unable to work for a long time" and the case of "vacating of a president."  [6]

The agency with authority to elect the general secretary is the CPV Central Committee, which consists of about 200 members elected by the party's National Congress in 2021. [7]

The last general secretary to pass away while in office was Le Duan, who died on July 10, 1986, at the age of 79. [8] Four days later, the Central Committee organized a special conference and elected Truong Chinh as the next general secretary. [9] Truong Chinh was the chairman of the State Council at the time. He held the position of general secretary for about six months until the 6th National Congress in December of the same year, when Nguyen Van Linh was elected as general secretary.

Ho Chi Minh also died while in office at the age of 79. However, when he passed away, Ho Chi Minh was holding the position of party chairman - a formal position designed specifically for Ho Chi Minh. The actual leader of the party at that time was First Secretary Le Duan (equivalent to the position of general secretary).

Who is Nguyen Phu Trong?

After Le Duan and Truong Chinh, Nguyen Phu Trong is the person who has held the position of general secretary for the most years in the history of the VCP, with 13 years (2011 - 2024). [10] Le Duan held this position for 26 years (1960 - 1986), and Truong Chinh held it for 16 years (1941 - 1956, 1986).

Since the reign of Le Duan, Nguyen Phu Trong has been the only person to hold the position of general secretary for three consecutive terms. This contradicts the Party Charter, which only allows one person to be elected general secretary for two consecutive terms.

Since the reign of Nguyen Van Linh (1986), Nguyen Phu Trong has been the party leader with the longest tenure as an official member of the Politburo with more than 26 years (from December 1997), spanning six terms. [11]

Nguyen Phu Trong is the only general secretary after Truong Chinh (1986), who has also held the position of state president (2018 - 2021).

Nguyen Phu Trong is the only general secretary to have ever joined the Central Public Security Party Committee (since 2016), the party agency that plays a leading role in the operations of the police sector. Other general secretaries only concurrently hold the role of secretary of the Central Military Party Committee, which is the party agency that leads the military.

Nguyen Phu Trong is the first VCP general secretary to attend the national conference between the government and local administrations. This is the most important conference of the government of the year, usually held at the end of the year or the beginning of a new year to summarize the past year's work and deploy the new year's tasks. Since he first attended the conference at the end of 2017, Trong was never absent in the following years, except for the recent national conference on Jan. 5, 2024. [12][13]

Nguyen Phu Trong is the first and so far the only party leader to be received by a U.S. president at the White House, which is usually a place that only receives heads of state or senior government officials instead of the leaders of a party. [14] This visit took place in 2015.

The Vietnamese version of this article was published by Luat Khoa Magazine on January 13, 2024.


  1. Reuters. (2024, January 11). Top Vietnam leader misses meetings amid health concerns. Yahoo News; Yahoo News.
  2. Vietnam’s Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong Hospitalized After Falling Ill. (2024, January 12).; Bloomberg.
  4. Võ Văn Quản. (2019, April 25). Sức khoẻ lãnh đạo - chuyện tư hay chuyện công? | Luật Khoa tạp chí. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí; Luật Khoa tạp chí.
  5. Điều lệ Đảng (do Đại hội đại biểu toàn quốc lần thứ XI của Đảng thông qua) | Tư liệu văn kiện Đảng.
  6. Hiến pháp 2013.
  7. Trần Hà Linh. (2021, January 28). Mọi điều bạn cần biết về Ban Chấp hành Trung ương Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam | Luật Khoa tạp chí. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí; Luật Khoa tạp chí.
  8. TTXVN. (2020). Lê Duẩn.; TTXVN.
  9. TTXVN. (2020). Trường Chinh.; TTXVN.
  10. TTXVN. (2020). Nguyễn Phú Trọng.; TTXVN.
  11. TTXVN. (2020). Nguyễn Văn Linh.; TTXVN.
  12. Vũ Hân. (2017, December 28). Tổng Bí thư lần đầu tham dự Hội nghị lớn nhất trong năm của Chính phủ - Báo Công an Nhân dân điện tử. Báo Công an Nhân Dân Điện Tử; Báo Công an Nhân dân điện tử.
  13. (2024, January 5). Hội nghị Chính phủ và chính quyền địa phương tổng kết công tác năm 2023, triển khai nhiệm vụ năm 2024.;
  14. TUẤN, T. (2015, July 8). Tổng bí thư hội đàm Tổng thống Mỹ: cuộc gặp lịch sử. TUOI TRE ONLINE;

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