Vietnam News

Vietnam to pick new PM and president for next 5 years

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Promotion of Chinh to prime minister signals closer watch on speech in cyberspace

 Vietnam’s parliament will on Monday elect Pham Minh Chinh, head of the Communist Party’s Central Organization Committee, as prime minister, replacing Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who is heading to the largely ceremonial post of president. Both officials will serve five-year terms and will be sworn in this evening.

The new leadership will try to keep the economy of the communist nation growing solidly — a rarity during the pandemic — and is expected to remain in power for the next five years.

Chinh, 62, will form a new cabinet after assuming his post.

During the 13th National Party Congress held in Hanoi from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1, the party reelected Nguyen Phu Trong, 76, as general secretary, the nation’s top job, for an unprecedented third term.

Chinh, a native of the northern province of Thanh Hoa, has mainly served public security positions and was elected to the 18-member Politburo — the country’s highest-ranking party — in the 12th National Party Congress held in 2016.

Chinh’s promotion aligns with Hanoi’s recent moves to muzzle the press and closely monitor social media in response to heightened tensions in Asia, including Hong Kong, Thailand, and Myanmar, local analysts say. Hanoi is also expected to maintain its anti-corruption push, a key Trong initiative during his past two terms.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Nguyen Trong Nghia, who oversaw the 10,000-member army cyber unit that monitors political comment on social media, has been appointed as head of the Commission for Propaganda and Education of the Central Committee.

“Vietnam wants to keep social and political stability to maintain an annual economic growth rate of about 6% for the near future,” said Ngo Vinh Long, professor of Asian History at the University of Maine.

Chinh is relatively inexperienced at high-level government dealings and it remains to be seen if his diverse background will enable him to be an effective prime minister, Carl Thayer, professor at the University of New South Wales says.

Chinh spent his first twelve years in low-level posts starting in 1984 as a researcher in the Ministry of Home Affairs and diplomat in Romania. “He then served in the Ministry of Public Security beginning in 1996 in various capacities before becoming deputy minister in 2010. He then served at the provincial level, spending four years in Quang Ninh and rising to party secretary. His career took a turn in 2015 when he was posted to Hanoi as deputy and chairman of the party’s Organization Commission as well as a member of the Secretariat,” according to Thayer.

Vietnam’s political leadership has four pillars: Communist Party chief, president, prime minister and chair of the National Assembly, the country’s parliament.

As the new president, Phuc — who has been credited for keeping the nation’s economy on a steady upward trajectory despite the pandemic — will be the country’s top diplomat.

Trong, de facto leader of the single-party state, has concurrently been serving as president since the previous leader, Tran Dai Quang, died in office in 2018.

At the end of March, the National Assembly appointed Hanoi Party chief Vuong Dinh Hue, 64, as its new chairman.

The priority for Hanoi’s new leadership will be focused on the economy as Vietnam seeks to emerge from the pandemic. The four pillars need to maintain high growth rates to build trust with the general public, Duong Quoc Chinh, a Hanoi-based political analyst told Nikkei Asia.

“What is clear is that Chinh has the support of a large number of members of the Central Committee,” Thayer says. “Chinh’s immediate priorities have already been determined: defeating the coronavirus pandemic and kick-starting Vietnam’s economic recovery.”

Trade is the largest component of the Vietnamese economy. “In the longer term, Vietnam will have to focus on meeting its obligations by implementing the multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements it has negotiated,” Thayer says.

“Priority needs to be given to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Europe-Vietnam FTA, Vietnam-Eurasian Economic Union FTA and the Vietnam-U.K. and Northern Ireland FTA,” he added.

“To maintain growth, the new government will still pay most attention to attracting foreign direct investment through multilateral relations, taking advantage of every bilateral and multilateral agreement Vietnam has signed,” said Duong Quoc Chinh.

Vietnam’s trade surplus with the U.S. during the first 10 months of 2020 was almost $51 billion, prompting Washington to accuse Hanoi of manipulating its currency. “This is not a huge problem for both countries, as the two sides have agreed to keep open doors on the issue and keep talking,” says Ngo Vinh.

Much more intractable for both the U.S. and Vietnam is China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Long says. “The United States, on the other hand, needs cooperation with Vietnam and other coastal Southeast Asian countries for legitimacy if it wants to help contain China’s incessant intrusion into the South China Sea,” he said.

By Tomoya Onishi & Kim Dung – Nikkei Asia – April 5, 2021

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