Author Topic: Vietnam edges towards a succession crisis  (Read 1275 times)


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Vietnam edges towards a succession crisis
« on: September 17, 2019, 02:48:19 PM »
Vietnam edges towards a succession crisis
Ruling Communist Party is splitting on pro- and anti-China lines ahead of a pivotal 2021 Congress that will determine new leaders and directions


As Vietnam begins preparations for the Communist Party’s 13th National Congress in early 2021, a quinquennial event at which the nation’s next leaders will be decided, cadres’ and cliques’ positions on China could determine who wins and who loses.

At a Central Committee plenum in May, the Party began selecting “strategic cadres” – the next generation of apparatchiks deemed “moral” and untainted by corruption by current leaders – who can be selected as members of the powerful committee in 2021.

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert and emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, says that as the leadership selection process intensifies over the next sixteen months, “it is likely that the focus will turn on how the next [Party] Secretary General will handle relations with China.”

Fraught bilateral relations have come into stark relief in recent weeks as China has ramped up pressure on Vietnam to stop exploring for oil near the Vanguard Bank, a contested feature in the South China Sea.

It is usually taken for granted that such disputes won’t upset broad fraternal ties between two of the world’s last few ruling communist parties, which have remained on friendly terms even when they appear on the verge of violence.

Hanoi is frequently keen to stoke nationalist feelings, but not so much that it affects diplomatic and trade relations with China, or unintentionally fosters too much of a sense of people power among the repressed Vietnamese public.

But anti-China nationalism among the Vietnamese public, often sparked by sea disputes, could play a bigger role in Party affairs, especially if the current dominant clique centered around Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong struggle to win the support for their China position among rising new generation Party cadres.

The Party’s legitimacy rests largely in a fast-accelerating economy – one of the fastest growing in Asia – and safeguarding that status-quo. But one way in which the Party could bolster its standing among the public, however, would be to take a harder line vis-a-vis China.

In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2017, some 64% of Vietnamese respondents saw a growing Chinese economy as bad, while 92% said Chinese power and influence was a threat to their country.

Yet anti-China nationalism – as opposed to the party’s state-enforced strain of ideological nationalism – tends to also overlap with pro-democracy sentiment the Party ruthlessly suppresses.

< Edited >

Recent Chinese aggression near Vanguard Bank has shown that Hanoi’s traditional policy of appeasing Beijing isn’t working. Vietnam stopped oil exploration in 2017 and 2018 in contested sea areas in response to Chinese threats, yet the pressure has continued. Hanoi’s more robust response this time around likely indicates a realization that yielding to past pressure has only emboldened China.

< Edited >

Indeed, a new generation of Central Committee members could try to take more responsibility in choosing the next set of Party leaders in 2021, and thereby reduce the Politburo’s power.

A groundswell of opposition to Trong’s foreign policy stance might not be enough to dislodge his entire clique, but senior Politburo members would no doubt have to heed rising anti-China sentiment, both inside the Party and at the grass roots.

< Edited >

Maintaining the status quo in foreign affairs could also be problematic if other senior Politburo members are perceived as tainted by their soft stances on China.

Phuc could well stay on as prime minister for another five years after 2021 and, though seen as a competent pair of hands, his civilian government made an enormous error in early 2018 when it floated a proposal to allow foreign companies to lease land in special economic zones (SEZs) for up to 99 years.

When the Vietnamese public came to perceive this meant selling out parts of the country to China, it sparked some of the largest nationwide protests in years.

< Edited >


Communist Party Secretary General and State President Nguyen Phu Trong applauds after delivering a speech at the closing ceremony on the final day of the 12th National Congress of Vietnam's Communist Party in Hanoi on January 28, 2016. Photo: AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam

« Last Edit: September 17, 2019, 02:55:03 PM by adroth »