Vietnam News

Vietnam is lying to its friends. A secret document proves it.

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As China struggles, Vietnam has positioned itself as a counterbalance to its larger neighbor and an alternative global manufacturing hub, forging new diplomatic and economic ties.

President Biden visited in September, formally elevating Vietnam’s relationship with the United States. Vietnam now has 18 active or planned free-trade agreements. The opening has led to hope that more international contact might spur political change inside the country, which is run by an authoritarian regime.

But Vietnam’s leaders do not want that change. In July, two months before Mr. Biden’s arrival, the Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam issued a secret order, Directive 24, seeking to continue its harsh control over the population. A copy of the directive was made public on March 1 by Project88, a group seeking free speech in Vietnam.

Vietnam is already a police state in which free speech and assembly are limited and dissidents and civil society activists are punished by imprisonment. Since 2021, Vietnamese authorities have arrested or imprisoned six leaders of the country’s climate change movement on specious charges such as tax evasion. The new directive suggests Vietnam’s leaders intend to maintain this approach and are nervous that foreign influences could undermine it. The directive undermines hopes that international trade agreements, such as the ill-fated Trans-Pacific Partnership pushed by President Barack Obama, would cause Vietnam to relax its internal grip. The directive “puts to rest this magical thinking,” Project88 said in a statement.

In Directive 24, nine orders were sent to the government and the party. These include “closely managing” Vietnamese who go abroad for business and for exchanges. Another order declares, “Do not allow the formation of independent political organizations in the country.” Restrictions are also placed on forming independent trade unions. Another order tells officials to be vigilant and “prevent severe threats to national security” that could come from such things as “being caught off guard when participating in initiatives and strategies of great powers” or allowing foreign investors to “take over domestic markets and businesses and occupy vital economic sectors.”

One of the most significant orders in the document attempts to keep civil society groups in Vietnam from getting involved in legislation and policymaking. Vietnam has previously dealt harshly with dissidents and bloggers who sought to hold the government to account for toxic spills. The new directive warns sternly against allowing the appearance of “‘civil society’ alliances and networks, ‘independent trade unions,’ … [and] creating the premise for the formation of domestic political opposition groups.” The document warns against allowing political organizations to mobilize people for “color revolutions” and “street revolutions” against the state.

The press, according to Directive 24, should be pushed to fight “populist trends, civil disobedience, wrongful views and sabotage by hostile forces, and efforts to promote a hybrid foreign culture that does not conform to the customs and traditions of the nation.” The press should also “fight fake news” and “develop rules of civilized behavior in state agencies, business, society and cyberspace.”

In December 2022, Vietnam entered into an ambitious agreement with the European Union and Group of Seven nations, as well as Denmark and Norway. The agreement is designed to help Vietnam meet its commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The E.U. and other outside governments agreed to mobilize at least $15.5 billion from public and private investors to help Vietnam meet its climate goals. But the agreement stipulated that “for the transition to be just and equitable, regular consultation is required, including with media, NGOs and other stakeholders so as to ensure a broad social consensus.”

Now, Directive 24 indicates Vietnam is secretly unwilling to meet the conditions of the climate change pact. Do the authoritarians in Vietnam’s Politburo think no one will notice they are practicing repression inside the country while promising otherwise to outsiders? Vietnam’s would-be partners should not let the country get away with such duplicity.

By the Editorial Board – The Washington Post – March 6, 2024 

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