Asia in Review Archive
Date of AiR edition
16 July 2019
ASEAN defense ministers meet while Chinese-Vietnamese stand-off in South China Sea continues
(ls) During the 13th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) in Bangkok, the member countries’ defense ministers have signed the Joint Declaration on Sustainable Security to promote cooperation within ASEAN to counter non-traditional and transnational threats. Among the concept papers that have been adopted are the Terms of Reference of ASEAN Our Eyes and Guidelines for Maritime Interaction. The ministers also stressed the implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. [Xinhua]
At the same time, six coastguard vessels – two Chinese and four Vietnamese – have been eyeing each other in patrols around Vanguard Bank in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea since last week. Initially, a Chinese survey ship entered waters near the Vietnamese-controlled reef to conduct a seismic survey. Vanguard Bank is the westernmost reef of the Spratlys and sits within what Hanoi claims is 200 nautical miles of its exclusive economic zone. That claim is contested by Beijing and Taiwan. [South China Morning Post]
2 July 2019
EU-Vietnam free trade agreement finally signed
(ls) Vietnam and the European Union have signed a free trade agreement on Sunday. It will eliminate almost all tariffs for goods traded between Vietnam and the EU’s 28 member countries. The deal, which had been negotiated since 2012, is the EU’s second free-trade agreement in the Southeast Asian region, after one with Singapore. [South China Morning Post]
11 June 2019
Singapore Prime Minister’s post on the 1978 Vietnam-Cambodia issue upsets both countries
(cl) On May 31st, Prime Minister Lee posted on Facebook that the then-five Association of Southeast Nation members previously came together to oppose “Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge”. In a 2011 speech, former deputy prime minister said that Singapore had to respond to the “invasion of a smaller county by a larger neighbour” or it would have undermined the credibility of Singapore’s foreign policy and had serious implications for its security, adding that this would create an undesirable precedent for small nations. [Straits Times]
However, Cambodia and Vietnam have objected to PM Lee’s remarks. Cambodia Defence Minister General told media that his comments were “unacceptable”, and Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Mr Lee’s remarks did not “objectively reflect the historical truth”. Cambodia’s Prime Minister further accused PM Lee of supporting genocide. [Reuters] In response, Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement last Friday that Singapore is committed to building on its good relations with Vietnam and Cambodia. It added that last Friday, Singapore’s Foreign Minister spoke with Vietnamese and Cambodian Prime Ministers, who agreed that notwithstanding the serious differences, they have taken a path of cooperation, dialogue and friendship. [Channel News Asia]
11 June 2019
Vietnamese activist sentenced to six years in prison for online posts
(jk) An environmental activist has been sentenced to six years in prison for “anti-state” posts on Facebook. He was arrested in September last year and according to his indictment last week, he urged and incited protests on social media. [Reuters] The sentencing is yet another example of a trend in Vietnam towards harsher penalties and shrinking tolerance on behalf of the government towards citizens expressing critical thoughts online.
4 June 2019
34th ASEAN-Japan forum held in Hanoi
(jk) The annual forum held as a dialogue between the two sides took place in Hanoi this week. In addition to Vietnam’s and Japan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, senior officials from all ASEAN countries took part. [VietnamNews]
28 May 2019
Vietnam: Facebook increased content blocking by 500% in second half of 2018
(ls) Facebook increased the amount of content it restricted access to in Vietnam by over 500% in the last half of 2018. Facebook’s said it had made restrictions based on reports from Vietnam’s information and security ministries. The increase happened at a time when Vietnam was tightening internet restrictions, culminating in a cyber security law that came into effect this January. [Reuters]
13 November 2018
Vietnam: Code of Conduct on social media
(jk) Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) has completed a code of conduct on social networks for internet service providers and users. [VN News] The Vietnamese government wants to prevent “toxic information” on Facebook and Google and wants to see half of Vietnam’s social media customers to use domestic social networks by 2020. [Reuters]
13 November 2018
Vietnam: CPTPP ratified
(dql) Vietnam’s National Assembly on Monday ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), making Vietnam the seventh country to ratify the trade pact, following Mexico, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada and Australia. The four remaining member countries not having ratified the CPTPP yet include Brunei, Chile, Malaysia and Peru. [Reuters]
6 November 2018
Vietnam: Cybersecurity law and web monitors
(jk) Vietnam’s government has put in place measures to control online communication, which according to critics is aimed at activists who use social media platforms as their main way of sharing their reporting. Vietnamese legislators have approved a cybersecurity law back in June that tightens control of the internet and global tech companies operating in the country, raising fears of economic harm and a further crackdown on dissent. The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019 and will require, for example, Facebook, Google and other global technology firms to store locally “important” personal data on users in Vietnam and open offices there. The Ministry of Public Security posted a draft decree on its website last week on how the law would be implemented. It suggested the global tech firms would have up to a year to comply with the new regulations. [Bloomberg]
More recently, the government announced a 10,000-strong internet task force had been set up to monitor online posts and that the “National Centre on Supervising Information” has software that can allegedly read 100 million items online daily. [Channel News Asia]
Southeast Asian cyberspace in general is becoming more expansive, yet more restricted. The Philippines is the only country in the region that receives a score of “free” according to Freedom House Net Freedom Index. The rest of Southeast Asia enjoys partial to little freedom surfing the net. [New Mandala]
30 October 2018
Vietnam: Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong confirmed as president
(jk) During the rule by the Communist Party of Vietnam, only its founder Ho Chi Minh ever served as both party head and president. Last week, the new President was confirmed in Hanoi who is now in the same position. While this is similar to the position Xi Jinping has in China, it is unlikely that power will be as centralised. The role of the president is mostly ceremonial and considered to be one the “four pillars” upon which the party’s leadership system rests. Trong, as president and party head, will lead two of the pillars. His double role will let him influence foreign and economic policy more though, Vietnam specialists say. Trong will get more access to foreign heads of state in his role as president. [VoA]
23 October 2018
Vietnam to enforce its new cybersecurity law against global tech giants
(ls) Vietnam is preparing to strictly enforce the new cybersecurity law, enacted in June, requiring global technology companies such as Facebook and Google to set up local offices and store data locally. A draft decree on the implementation of the law requires companies providing a range of services, including email, social media, video, messaging, banking and e-commerce, to store user data, ranging from financial records and biometric data to information on peoples’ ethnicity and political views, or strengths and interests in Vietnam. The new law and decree thereby make it easier for authorities to seize such data. In recent months, Vietnam has been increasingly aggressive in prosecuting dissidents for anti-government Facebook posts. [Reuters]
The draft decree gives the Vietnamese police’s cybersecurity and high-tech crime unit authority to request data for investigation or to handle law violations on cyberspace or for national security protection. It is expected to be published within days to seek public opinion. Once approved, the law will go into effect on January 1 next year, though the provisions on local offices and data localization would not go into effect for another year. [Daily Mail]
23 October 2018
Major liberalization in Vietnamese foreign ownership laws to come next year
(ls) In a major push to further open its economy for foreign investment, Vietnam plans to remove restrictions on foreign ownership of state-owned and listed companies by the end of 2019. Foreigners would in principle be able to acquire a majority stake in public companies in sectors not considered critical to national security. These include privately owned listed companies and state-owned enterprises that were privatized, with or without listing on the stock markets. Foreign ownership is now capped at 49% in general, with some sectors such as banking and aviation limited to 30%. [Nikkei Asian Review]
23 October 2018
Another step in ASEAN’s efforts to prevent further escalation in the South China Sea
(ls/cc) Guidelines on encounters between warplanes, which had already been adopted by the ASEAN defense ministers, have also been, in principle, agreed by the ministries of defense of the U.S. and China. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and seven other regional military chiefs, including China’s General Wei Fenghe, gave general endorsement to the rules in Singapore during a meeting hosted by ASEAN. The document follows similar guidelines on naval encounters signed in 2014 and urges military planes to establish communication with other aircraft, identify themselves and avoid maneuvers or signals that could provoke a response. The development demonstrates the ASEAN countries’ efforts to prevent any further military escalation of great power conflicts over the South China Sea. [Bloomberg]
Malaysian Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu insisted again that the South China Sea should not be a theater for the United States and China to show off their military capabilities as they vie for influence in the region. [Japan Times]
Also last week, James Mattis arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on a rare second visit to Vietnam within a year. He held talks with Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich. The visit symbolizes closer ties between the two countries amid China’s growing presence in the South China Sea where Vietnam also has an overlapping territorial claim. Mattis visited Vietnam in January and held talks with Lich in Hanoi. The trip was followed by the visit of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier in March to Danang, the first such visit since the Vietnam War. [Nikkei Asian Review]
In a related development, Susi Pudjiastuti, the Indonesian minister for fisheries and maritime affairs, qualified China’s fishing activities as “transnational organized crime”. Indonesia has banned 10,000 foreign vessels from fishing in its water during the last past four years. [South China Morning Post]
16 October 2018
Vietnam: 5 years for abusing democratic freedoms
(jk) According to Agence France-Presse, at least 55 dissidents have been jailed in Vietnam this year. This is 26 more than the 29 that have been arrested last year as reported by Amnesty International. A citizen journalist who was reporting mainly via facebook on corruption and land right issues has now been jailed on two counts of “abusing democratic freedoms”, according to his lawyer. He was sentenced only about a month ago to four years imprisonment for disturbing public order after he had filmed forced evictions. He now received an additional charge of five years for sharing critical material on facebook. [ABS CBN]
As previously reported Vietnamese legislators have approved a cybersecurity law earlier this year that tightens control of the internet and global tech companies operating in the country, raising fears of economic harm and a further crackdown on dissent. The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, but there has been a notable crackdown on activists since 2016. The law will require, for example, Facebook, Google and other global technology firms to store locally “important” personal data on users in Vietnam and open offices there.
16 October 2018
Can ASEAN benefit from the US-China Trade War?
(jk) The ongoing trade war between China and the US could lead to long term economic shifts in Asia. Some producers have already shifted their production to countries outside of mainland China, in order to be able to keep exporting to the US without being hit by new tariffs. Possible beneficiaries of these shift are a number of ASEAN countries that can offer low cost production and a tariff-free export to the US market. [SCMP]
Economic cooperation flourishes despite political tensions, too. Some mainland Chinese electronic companies have shifted production to Taiwan to avoid country of origin based tariffs. Vietnam has become China’s biggest trading partner within ASEAN. In June 2018, China- Vietnam economic turnover hit $11.2 billion. Much more than the $9.3 billion between China and Malaysia, which previously held the title of China’s largest ASEAN trade partner. [Business Inquirer] China is already the largest trading partner with every ASEAN country and despite some readjustments, the Belt and Road initiative will likely see numbers grow.
At the same time, at the plenary session of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings hosted by Indonesia, Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged global central bankers and finance ministers on Friday to guard against growing risks amidst the trade war. In a clearly less optimistic tone, he referred to concerns the trade row could upend global supply chains, and in turn, result in decreasing international trade and investment. [SCMP]
16 October 2018
US Defence Secretary visiting Vietnam twice in one year
(jk) The second visit of US Secretary of Defence Mattis in less than one year is signalling how the US administration under Trump is looking to work more with Vietnam in the face of increasing tensions with China. Vietnam is an important partner economically to China (see above) but also aligned with some US interests regarding China. It is suspicious towards much of China’s geopolitical ambitions in general and one of the most forward leaning claimant states in the South China Sea in particular. The visit comes amid a leadership transition after the death in September of Vietnam’s president, Tran Dai Quang about which we also reported in last week’s AiR [AiR].
Mattis’ trip originally included a visit to Beijing which was cancelled due to rising tensions over trade and defence issues. [US News]
9 October 2018
Vietnam: Communist Party General Secretary to assume also the presidency
(ls) Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party endorsed General Secretary Nguyen Pho Trong as the country’s next president. The presidency has been vacant since last month’s death of Tran Dai Quang. The decision means a significant change from the previous tradition of separating the offices of president and Party General Secretary. However, the likelihood of Trong centralizing or personalizing power in Vietnam, to the extent Xi has in China, is limited by the mostly ceremonial role of the president, as well as the fact it is considered to be one the “four pillars” upon which the party’s leadership system rests. Trong, as president and party head, will stand atop two of the pillars, alongside Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, the head of the national assembly. [Nikkei Asian Review]
9 October 2018
Vietnamese court jails group on charges of overthrowing the state
(ls) A Vietnamese court found five people guilty of attempting to overthrow the state and sentenced them to between eight and 15 years in prison. The group’s chairman, Luu Van Vinh, had written posts on social media “saying that the current political regime of Vietnam was outdated and would be eliminated”, the Ministry of Public Security said on its official news website. He was handed a 15-year prison term. [Reuters]
9 October 2018
Japan: Countering Chinese influence in Southeast Asia
(dql/ls) Reflecting Japan’s efforts to expand its economic foothold in the Mekong region to counter China’s growing influence, Japan at the 10th Mekong-Japan Summit in Tokyo together with the Mekong countries Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan vowed in a joint statement to promote development programs and further improve “connectivity” and “quality infrastructure” projects in the region while also confirming the importance of maintaining the rules-based order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. [Japan Times 1]
In a related development, Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Prayuth Chan-ocha ahead of the Mekong-Japan summit affirmed both countries’ cooperation in promoting free trade, with the latter voicing Thailand’s readiness to participate in the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. [Japan Times 2]
Meanwhile, Japanese troops participated in joint exercises in the Philippines with US and Filipino troops. The exercise, code-named Kamandag (Venom), marked the first time Japanese armoured military vehicles were used on foreign soil since the country adopted a pacifist constitution after its 1945 defeat. A US Marine communications officer said, “it has nothing to do with a foreign nation or any sort of foreign army. This is exclusively counterterrorism within the Philippines.” [South China Morning Post]
2 October 2018
Vietnam: First paedophile conviction under new law
(jk) A Slovakian national was sentenced to three out of a maximum of 15 years in prison followed by deportation under a new Vietnamese law that recognises non-heterosexual sex with children as a sex crime. The case was a landmark case as the legal definition prior to the new law did not consider the abuse by a male of a boy as a sex crime, as sex was defined to occur only between a man and a woman. [SCMP]
Despite the positive step of improving the law, child abuse remains a hugely underreported and rampant problem. Laws are still inadequate, for example on responsibilities for reporting and processing information on child abuse, victims are often blamed, capacities of advocates who work on grassroot levels are limited and education and public information about child protection remains poor. [Vietnam Law Magazine]
25 September 2018
Tran Dai Quang, President of Vietnam, dies at 61
(ls) Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang died on Friday at age 61 after a prolonged and serious illness. He was in office as president since April 2016. Quang’s role as president was seen as largely ceremonial. Unlike China, where Xi Jinping is both president and Communist Party chief, Vietnam has a power structure in which responsibilities at the top are split among a party chief, a president, who serves as head of state, and a prime minister, who runs the government. Of the three roles, the president is generally considered the least powerful. Quang spent the latter part of his career on the party’s elite 19-member Politburo, which essentially sets the government’s agenda. [New York Times]
His time in office was dominated by a simmering conflict with Beijing over the South China Sea. Also during his time in office, a crackdown on dissidents took place that rights groups have decried as a violation of freedom of expression. Quang was the former chief of the country’s powerful Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the uniformed police and a network of intelligence agents. Another major incident during his term was last year’s abduction from Germany of Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former head of a state-owned fuel company’s subsidiary. [South China Morning Post]
11 September 2018
Vietnam: Balancing growth and equity along with high female labor force participation
(dql) In contrast to other developing countries in which economic growth is accompanied by an increase of inequality Vietnam has succeeded in achieving growth with equity. Brian McCaig, Dwayne Benjamin and Loren Brandt present an explanation for this achievement. [Asia Dialogue]
Meanwhile, Vietnam is also at the forefront of female participation in labor force with a rate of 70% surpassing the best performers among advanced Western economies. [Finance and Development]
4 September 2018
Vietnam’s responses to China’s maritime assertiveness in the South China Sea
(jk) Vietnam has long been one of the most forward-leaning claimant states in the South China Sea has been among the countries that have objected to China’s maritime assertiveness in general and “militarization” of the South China Sea in particular. Vietnamese responses have not always been outright rejective however, as they too, have occasionally “caved in”. Its particular responses, which are detailed in this piece [ISEAS] have ranged from diplomatic protests and appeals to the threat of legal action. Vietnam has also stepped up its defense cooperation with for example the US, Australia, Japan and India.
28 August 2018
Vietnam jails “underground operatives”
(ls) A Vietnamese court found two Vietnamese-Americans guilty of terrorism and sentenced them to 14 years in prison for masterminding a series of bomb plots, including the attempted bombing of Vietnam’s largest international airport in Ho Chi Minh City last April, and the successful bombing of a police station in June this year. Another 10 defendants in the same trial received prison terms of between five and 11 years for printing leaflets, plotting to take over national radio and calling for demonstrations. The overall twelve are considered to be part of the Provisional National Government of Vietnam (PNGV), a network of underground operatives based in California, several of whom had been detained and sentenced in recent years. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post]
28 August 2018
Dams along the Mekong: What are the lessons learnt?
(ls) What will be the lessons learnt by last month’s deadly dam collapse in Laos? Despite an order by the Lao government to halt new dam investments, the developers of two hydropower projects move ahead with their construction plans. In response, a coalition of NGOs and community-based groups dedicated to raising public awareness about the risks associated with dams on the Mekong River announced to boycott the prior consultation process, saying that it will destroy the environment, ecosystems, and livelihoods of people in the region. [Radio Free Asia]
An in-depth report by National Geographic lays out the conflicting economic and environmental parameters. Apart from early Chinese developments, the Mekong has stayed undammed largely due to regional cooperation between the four member nations of the Mekong River Commission, which was established in 1995. Energy needs and the financial incentives of hydropower, however, caused Laos and later also Cambodia and Vietnam to launch several dam projects with widespread environmental and social implications. [National Geographic]
On the positive side, last month’s dam collapse in Laos has produced a collective effort to provide emergency relief, involving Laos’s neighbors Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, fellow ASEAN members, notably Singapore, as well as East Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea. Two commentaries by researchers of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, discuss the topic of regional responses to disasters in more detail. [RSIS 1] [RSIS 2]
21 August 2018
Vietnam: Another activist receives another long prison sentence
(ls) A court in central Vietnam sentenced an activist to 20 years in prison and five years of house arrest after finding him guilty of attempting to overthrow the Communist government, in a case decried by international rights groups. The activist, Le Dinh Luong, was convicted of encouraging others to join the Viet Tan group in exile in the United States. He had also participated in and instigated others to join protests against environmental pollution by a steel complex owned by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastic Group in several central provinces in 2016. [Washington Post]
Luong’s trial came two months after Vietnamese legislators approved a cybersecurity law that tightens control of the internet and global tech companies operating in the country, raising fears of economic harm and a further crackdown on dissent. [Reuters]
14 August 2018
Russian military hardware sales to Southeast Asia
(jk) Over the past five years, Russia has increasingly sold military hardware to Southeast Asian countries, including Kilo-class submarines to the major Russian arms-importer in the region, Vietnam.
As mentioned in last week’s AiR, the Philippines have declared an interest in purchasing Russian built submarines as well. The Department of Defence has said the country is still looking at other possible submarines suppliers, noting that the country’s submarine acquisition program will be most likely finalised in the next 12 months. Russia is keen on selling its Kilo-class submarines here as well though, offering “soft-loans” if the country is not able to purchase the submarines outright. [PNA] The Philippines have now also confirmed the Philippine Navy (PN) port call in Russia that AiR reported on last week. [PhilStar]
The Indonesian Air Force (IAF), which flies both Russian made SU 27/ SU 30 and US F5/ F16 fighter Jets is also looking to purchase more Russian built planes. The Ministry of Defence wants to purchase 11 of the newer SU-35 fighter jets but faces problems due to US sanctions this could lead to. Indonesia is negotiating with the US to have the sanctions lifted which the US implemented as a response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. [Jakarta Globe]
The Philippines face the same dilemma of course as U.S. sanctions were imposed last year against any country trading with Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors. With a huge arms-deal between India and Russia in mind however, US Congress reached an agreement at the end of July laying out conditions under which Trump can seek a waiver for allies. This does not mean of course, that he will do so.
31 July 2018
Vietnam: German court jails secret service aide; more convictions for corruption and protests
(ls) A German court jailed a Vietnamese man for almost four years for helping his country’s secret services to kidnap former oil executive Trinh Xuan Thanh from a Berlin street last year and smuggle him back to Vietnam. Thanh has subsequently been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of corruption. The Vietnamese government’s current anti-corruption campaign has involved more than 100 people, many from state-owned enterprises, being prosecuted, jailed and in some cases given death sentences. [Reuters 1] Another tycoon, a property developer, was sentenced to nine years in prison for deliberate disclosure of state secrets on Monday. He had fled to Singapore seeking passage to Germany but was arrested in Vietnam after Singaporean authorities deported him back home. Earlier this year, a former member of the Politburo, Vietnam’s top decision-making body, was jailed for a combined 31 years for economic mismanagement and violating state regulations while heading a state firm. Last week, the government suspended the Minister of Information and Communications for mismanagement at a state telecoms firm. [Reuters 2] Another 20 people were convicted on Monday for joining nationwide protests fueled by anti-Chinese sentiment last month. The demonstrations were directed against a draft economic law that sparked anger over lengthy leases to foreign investors in special economic zones. [Brinkwire]
24 July 2018
Vietnam: UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) coming up
(jk) Vietnam will be attending before the UN UPR in January next year. Five years ago, during its last review, Vietnam accepted most recommendations it received but according to Human Rights Watch, have done little to address them. Vietnamese authorities have used broadly defined provisions in its penal code and other laws to imprison peaceful political and religious activists. [Human Rights Watch]
24 July 2018
Vietnam: A closer look at a controversial bill on special economic zones
(jk) Recently, Vietnam saw nationwide protests over a controversial bill on special economic zones (SEZs). People marched in major cities and the provinces affected by the zones, clashing with police, and in one province even attacking administrative buildings and setting cars on fire.
The protests were seen as mainly anti-China protests. Although the draft law on the 99-year lease of the three Special Administrative and Economic coastal zones, did not actually specify who would be given land within these zones, critics pointed out that it would most likely be Chinese companies. In addition to concerns of ceding territory and sovereignty to China in particular, the draft law allegedly gives foreign investors too much control over the three “autonomous” zones, which is likely to have detrimental effects to Vietnamese workers and their families [New Mandala].
10 July 2018
Southeast Asia’s presence at RIMPAC largest since the naval drills began in 1971
(jk) The US-led Rim of the Pacific exercises (RIMPAC) in 2018 involves 25 countries, 25,000 military personnel, as well as over 50 warships and 200 aircraft [RIMPAC]. It was designed to enhance interoperability among navies and consists of activities ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to counter-piracy training and more complex warfighting exercises including air defence or anti-submarine warfare.
While the biggest news about this year’s RIMPAC was undoubtedly the disinvitation of China over its behaviour in the South China Sea, it is also important to point out that 2018 sees a record of seven Southeast Asian countries participate. Vietnam participates for the first time in the exercises amid growing military to military relations with the US. The Philippines and Malaysia have both for the first time send warships to participate. The three missing ASEAN countries are under sanctions by the US and therefore limited in terms of military cooperation (Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar) [CNN]. All ten ASEAN members are also expected to participate in a maritime exercise with China later in 2018 as publicised by Singapore’s defence ministry last year [South China Morning Post].
10 July 2018
South Korea-Vietnam relations: Deepening security coperation
(dql) Reflecting increasing security cooperation between South Korea and Vietnam, South Korea’s chief of naval operations visited Vietnam last week to discuss opportunities for future naval collaboration. The visit follows Vietnam’s Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich’s trip to South Korea in April, at which both parties signed a joint vision statement for defense cooperation out to 2030 as well as the visit of South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo to Vietnam in June where both sides reviewed their defense ties and also signed a bilateral agreement on logistical support. [The Diplomat]
3 July 2018
Vietnam: First-ever participation in Rim of the Pacific Exercise, as China is sidelined
(ls) Vietnam has sent eight naval officers to Hawaii as the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise, the world’s largest multinational naval drill held every two years, got under way last week. It was the first time that Vietnam has been invited to participate in the international maritime exercise that will last until the end of July. Vietnam sent observation officers to the drill twice in 2012 and 2016. Last March, the historic visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier to Da Nang marked a milestone in the diplomatic relationship between the two countries. At the same time, the Pentagon uninvited China from the major U.S.-hosted naval drill in response to Beijing’s militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea. [VN Express]
17 June 2018
Closer India-Vietnam defense ties
(ls) On the occasion of Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to Hanoi, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang urged leaders of the two countries to implement defense co-operation, including delegation exchange and collaboration in personnel training, defense industry, information-technology, strategic research and UN peacekeeping. [Vietnam News]
The meeting took place against the background of India’s deepening relations with Southeast Asian countries. Two weeks ago, India prime minister Modi was on three-state tour to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. On 21 May, three Indian naval ships began a five-day visit to the Vietnamese city of Da Nang. Defense issues were also on the agenda during the Vietnamese president’s visit to India in March. Defense ties with Vietnam have grown in recent years to include also the training of personnel, capacity-building funding and equipment, coast guard collaboration, and pacts on areas such as white shipping and outer space. [The Diplomat]
17 June 2018
Anti-China protests in Vietnam
(ls) Anti-China protests erupted throughout Vietnam and more than 100 people were arrested after demonstrators stormed a provincial government building east of Ho Chi Minh City. As AiR reported last week, many were angry about a measure that would allow the leasing of land to foreigners for 99 years in three special economic zones. In an apparent response to the protests, the National Assembly announced to delay the adoption of the measures. [The New York Times]
The anti-China protests were the worst seen in Vietnam since 2014 when a Chinese oil rig was stationed in a disputed part of the South China Sea. The new protests are likely to aggravate the tense relations between the two countries. China’s embassy in Hanoi issued a safety warning to Chinese nationals. In April, the foreign ministers of both countries met in Hanoi and pledged to address their disputes peacefully, particularly those over contested territory in the South China Sea. [South China Morning Post 1]
Vietnam is among the most outspoken critics of Chinese construction and militarization of artificial islands in the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea’s disputed waters. However, an government spokesperson said, “It is not ruled out that the people’s patriotism was abused in order to cause public disorder.” [South China Morning Post 2]
17 June 2018
Vietnam: New cyber security law approved
(ls) As anticipated in last week’s AiR, Vietnamese legislators have approved a cybersecurity law that tightens control of the internet and global tech companies operating in the country, raising fears of economic harm and a further crackdown on dissent. The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019. It will require, for example, Facebook, Google and other global technology firms to store locally “important” personal data on users in Vietnam and open offices there. [Reuters]
However, the language of the law is broad and potentially captures a wide range of business activities and models. It covers all enterprises, whether based onshore or offshore, that “provide services on the telecommunication network, internet, and other value-added services on the internet in Vietnam.” [Lexology]
The law will also give the authorities wide discretion to determine when expression must be censored as “illegal” as some provisions will make it easier for the government to identify and prosecute people for online activities. Unlike China, Vietnam does not block websites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. Police, however, have stepped up crackdowns on bloggers and Facebook critics since 2016 with jail sentences. [Bloomberg]
10 June 2018
Vietnam: New economic zones raise suspicion of increasing Chinese influence
(ls) The Vietnamese parliament debates a controversial bill to create three new special economic zones (SEZs), raising fears of Chinese encroachment on Vietnamese soil. The law would allow 99-year leases in some cases within the three new zones. The fact that the proposed SEZ in Quang Ninh province is not far from China’s Guangxi autonomous region is of particular concern. According to analysts, the South China Sea dispute, along with memories of the 1979 border war, run deep in the national psyche, making SEZs very unpopular. [South China Morning Post]
Meanwhile, however, Vietnam is joining its neighbors Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand to create a regional fund that aims to back infrastructure and other development projects and to lessen reliance on Chinese investment. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is expected to propose the idea to the leaders of the five countries in Thailand on June 16 at the 8th summit of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, or ACMECS. China is rapidly stepping up its presence especially in infrastructure investment in line with its Belt and Road Initiative. Through a multinational framework between China and the five Mekong countries, Beijing has promised more than 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in concessional loans. [Nikkei Asian Review]
10 June 2018
Cambodia & Vietnam: New cyber security laws likely to limit freedom of speech
(ls) With freedom of speech shrinking in several Southeast Asian countries, the main tool of state control remains to regulate the internet. In a move seen as a further attempt to control unwanted online messages, Cambodia’s entire domestic and international Internet traffic will soon pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) created by state-owned Telecom Cambodia. It will enable government minders to monitor and censor government critics and exert controls over Western business interests that face stiff competition from a rapidly expanding China. Freedom of speech has been under particular pressure in Cambodia with the closure of the Cambodia Daily and the purchase of the Phnom Penh Post by a Malaysian businessman with ties to Hun Sen’s government. [The Diplomat]
Under a new Vietnamese cyber security bill, which will likely come into effect on 15 June, service providers must take down offending content within 24 hours of receiving a request from the Ministry of Information and Communications or Ministry of Public Security. Further requirements prescribe that internet companies must store data locally (in Vietnam), “verify” user information, and disclose user data to authorities without the need for a court order. The law will make illegal the use of cyberspace to prepare, post, and spread information that “has the content of propaganda opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” or “offends the nation, the national flag, the national emblem, the national anthem, great people, leaders, notable people, and national heroes”. The bill’s measures have been summarized by [Human Rights Watch].
3 June 2018
India: Asserting its role based on ‘strategic autonomy’ and with a view on multi-polarity
(hg) After his cordial words to President Putin in Moscow last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has now stressed in Singapore that India’s principle of “strategic autonomy” remains strong. Drawing an equivalence in ties with Russia, the U.S. and China, he cautioning against a “return to the age of great power rivalries” when giving his keynote address at the opening of the 17th Asian Security Summit of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. [The Hindu]
On India´s “Indo-Pacific” strategy which is often seen as a platform to contain China’s expansion Modi stressed a vision for an inclusive Indo-Pacific and highlighted the relationship between India and China as key to a positive future in the region: “I firmly believe that Asia and the world will have a better future when India and China work together in trust and confidence, sensitive to each other’s interests.” Acknowledging geopolitical competition, Modi also maintained that bilateral cooperation between India and China is expanding. [CNBC]
Referring to relations between his country and other great powers like Russia, the US, and China, Modi made clear that he believed India, like Singapore didn’t stand “behind one power or the other” to reiterate “President Putin and I shared our views on the need for a strong multi-polar world order for dealing with the challenges of our times”. He added however, “At the same time, India’s global strategic partnership with the United States has overcome the hesitations of history and continues to deepen across the extraordinary breadth of our relationship”. [The Hindu]
In context of the Shangri-La Dialogue, Indian Prime Minister Modi has also taken some foreign policy and security steps in relation to Southeast Asia in recent days. With Indonesia he signed an agreement to develop the port of Sabang that overlook the western entrance to the Strait of Malacca. With Singapore he concluded an agreement on logistical support for Indian naval ships, submarines and military aircraft during visits. With newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who has been critical of Chinese influence in Malaysia he held talks, altogether cemented ties with three strategically important ASEAN member states.
But India’s envisioned footprint is supposed to be wider. Last month, three Indian warships staged exercises with the Vietnamese navy for the first time in the South China Sea, which is claimed almost wholly by China. Moreover, Vietnamese submariners are trained in India, while both countries have increased intelligence sharing and expressed commitments to expand weapons sales. Before, India signed an agreement for access to the port of Duqm on Oman’s southern coast, which increases the Indian navy´s operational capabilities in the western Indian Ocean. [Reuters]
Meanwhile, India has successfully test-fired its indigenously developed nuclear capable long range ballistic Agni-5 surface-to-surface missile with its strike range of 5,000 km for the sixth time. [Money Control]
3 June 2018
Fuel price hike propels Vietnam’s May inflation to record high
(am) Recent fuel price hikes have kicked up Vietnam’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) this month by 3.86 percent led by traffic and transportation services, followed by food and beverages and lastly construction and utilities expenses.
In addition to fuel price hikes, the plan to raise environment taxes on fuels starting in July could further increase inflation. [VN Express]
27 May 2018
EU-Vietnam defense ties
(ls) Last week, Vietnam’s deputy defense minister led a high-ranking delegation for security consultations with the European Union. The trip highlights ongoing attempts by Hanoi to bolster collaboration with the EU in the defense realm. Prashanth Parameswaran argues in the Diplomat that this could be a logical step for the EU taking into account its desire to bolster its involvement in security issues in the Asia-Pacific and to boost its ties with Southeast Asian states and ASEAN as a grouping. However, he also point to lingering concerns including those related to Hanoi’s human rights record that may complicate or slow down the pace of aspects of potential collaboration on this front. [The Diplomat]
27 May 2018
Indian warships reach Vietnam for first ever joint naval exercise
(am) Three warships of the Indian Navy, including a multi-role frigate and a corvette, have anchored at the Tien Sa Port in Vietnam to partake in the country´s first-ever bilateral naval exercise. The visit is a part of the ongoing operational deployment of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet ships to South East Asia and the North West Pacific region. [Sputnik International] [The Hindu]
27 May 2018
China, the Philippines, Vietnam and the South China Sea
(ls) A spokesman for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte voiced “very serious concern” over reports that China has landed long-range bombers on its islands in the disputed South China Sea. The foreign ministry said it is taking “appropriate”, but low-key, diplomatic action to protect the country’s claims and to continue to do so in the future. The Philippines did not condemn China’s action “to avoid any drawbacks and challenges”. [The Straits Times]
Facing criticism over his apparent inaction, Duterte questioned where his country would end up should war erupt in the region. “What will we arm ourselves with if there’s a war? (…) How will we even fight with the Chinese?” Instead, he emphasized his goal to forge a joint exploration pact with China to harness the disputed sea’s potential. [Bloomberg]
Debasish Roy Chowdhury describes in the South China Morning Post how Duterte’s popularity has held so far but if it starts to give way, the opposition and the military brass may start mounting pressure to confront Beijing. Duterte is left with little room to maneuver in the face of China’s military capabilities. If China gets too aggressive, however, Manila may turn more and more to the US for support. [South China Morning Post]
At the start of his administration, Duterte threatened to scrap defense treaties with the US in favor of closer ties with China and perhaps Russia. However, as Rappler writes, alliances among militaries, especially one as longstanding as the Philippines and the US, cannot be broken or built overnight. It takes years or decades to synchronize tactics, techniques, and procedures to achieve interoperability. According to military analysts, there have been “cosmetic” but no significant changes in the country’s ties with the US military. Cooperation during the siege of Marawi put this on display. [Rappler]
China’s and Vietnam’s opposing interests in the South China Sea are becoming more and more visible as well. Last week, Rosneft Vietnam BV, a unit of Russian state oil firm Rosneft, was concerned its recent drilling in one such block could upset Beijing. Vietnam’s foreign ministry responded asserting that the blocks are “entirely under Vietnamese sovereignty and jurisdiction”, whereas Beijing warned to respect its sovereign rights. China’s claims in the South China Sea overlap the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. If China’s nine dashes were connected as one continuous line, it would bisect or incorporate 67 of Vietnam’s oil blocks. [Reuters]
In the face of such tensions, Vietnam has reinforced cooperation with Australia. Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and Australian Governor-General Peter Cosgrove agreed to boost cooperation to maintain peace in the region. “The two nations are on the same side about disputed issues in the East Sea and will work together to initiate the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP),” President Quang said. [VN Express]
27 May 2018
PRC Maritime Activity / PLA Navy Disinvited from RIMPAC
(jk) The U.S. Defense Department disinvited China from the forthcoming Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise due to strong evidence of militarisation in the South China Sea. The message broke as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was on a visit to Washington. The DoD lamented that the PRC had deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands. Moreover, China has landed nuclear capable bomber aircraft at Woody Island in a move that further cements the US PACOM’s belief that China is now capable of controlling the SCS in all scenarios short of a war with the US [Independent]. Shortly after the news of the bomber aircraft became known, China’s Coast Guard conducted their first joint patrol with the PLAN and expelled foreign ships from the water around the disputed Paracel Islands. The move is seen as a warning to Vietnam after a Vietnamese subsidiary of Russian oil firm Rosneft had started drilling in the area [South China Morning Post]. Vietnam also claims that Chinese ships have regularly “invaded” Vietnamese waters over the past few months and sometimes fished (accompanied by special forces) only 30 or 40 nautical miles off Vietnam’s coast [VN Express].
“Hawkish” US China observers welcome the decision as more and more concerning Chinese behaviour in the SCS is lamented by them. Some see the actions of the PLAN and its global strategy as a clear pathway to creating a whole new global order. The US House Intelligence Committee has recently heard that the Chinese Navy could in 12 years be twice the size of its US counterpart and that, according to the presenting expert, “the strategic balance has shifted in the PRC’s favor and against America’s security and interests”. He goes much further in stating that the “PLA Navy is China’s point of the spear in its quest for global hegemony“. [US House – for full testimony]
Global hegemony or not, it is far less controversial that many of Beijing’s moves stand in clear violation of China’s promise not to further militarise the SCS and the DoD has called on China to remove the military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarization of disputed SCS features. As for RIMPAC, China has taken part in the biannual exercises in 2014 and 2016, but recent aggression on their behalf led the US authorities to withdraw the invitation for 2018. [The Washington Post]
This is a strong signal that has been sent to Beijing and a clear sign of a push back against Chinese behaviour in the SCS. However, previous countries that had been disinvited, e.g. Russia in 2016 following the annexation of Crimea, had sent (spy) ships to observe the exercises anyway so it is possible that China will follow a similar strategy. It also has to be considered that President Trump may re-invite the PRC to the exercises, given his history on sharp turnarounds on foreign policy matters. This week’s news on the DPRK summit are just one more example of this.
For some very well done visual input on how China has changed realities in the SCS over the past few years, do check out this excellent infographic page by [Reuters].
27 May 2018
Vietnam set to pass laws at 20-day meeting
(am) Vietnam’s highest legislative body, the National Assembly, started their summer session on Monday and is expected to approve eight bills, including two on cyber security and special economic zones which have sparked heated debates over the past months. Nearly 500 members of the 14th National Assembly will meet in Hanoi until June 14 and around 40 percent of the session will be aired live on national television.
Vietnam has planned to establish three special economic zones (SEZ): Van Don in the northern Quang Ninh Province, Bac Van Phong in the central Khanh Hoa Province and Phu Quoc in the southern Kien Giang Province. [VN Express]
20 May 2018
Vietnam: Sentences against former high-ranking officials become final
(ls) Vietnam’s highest-ranking official jailed in decades lost his bid on Monday (May 14) to set aside a 13-year sentence for financial irregularities when he was chairman of state energy firm PetroVietnam. A court upheld the sentence for former Politburo member Dinh La Thang, who was arrested and tried in a crackdown on graft, mismanagement and nepotism that felled many high-profile officials. Another PetroVietnam official, Trinh Xuan Thanh, who was allegedly kidnapped from the streets of Berlin, withdrew an appeal against the life sentence he received in the same case. [The Straits Times]
13 May 2018
South China Sea: Vietnam presses China as Philippines remain silent
(ls) Vietnam has asked China to withdraw military equipment from the South China Sea, following media reports this month that China had installed missiles there. “Vietnam requests that China, as a large country, shows its responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in the East Sea,” a Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman said. U.S. news network CNBC reported this month that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its outposts in the South China Sea. [Reuters]
While Vietnam has protested China’s alleged missile deployment in the disputed waterway, the Philippine administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to say what it intends to do about the installation of high-tech weapons on Philippine territory. Several lawmakers have urged Duterte to protest the missile deployment, but presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the government has yet to verify the information. [Inquirer]
Nonetheless, US and Philippine forces have begun their largest annual military exercises so far under President Rodrigo Duterte. The decades-old exercises opened on Monday and involve combat drills in mock urban settings to train special forces in battling terrorists in cities, following an Islamic State-linked siege on southern Marawi city last year. Duterte initially vowed to scale down America’s military presence and involvement in combat drills as he sought closer ties with China and Russia. [South China Morning Post]
Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China is committed to a peaceful settlement of bilateral disputes with ASEAN nations over the South China Sea, despite differing views. Li made the remarks after holding talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in West Java, in his first visit to Indonesia as Prime Minister. China is the third-largest foreign investor in Indonesia, with investment amounting to US$3.4 billion (S$4.5 billion) in 2017. [The Straits Times]
13 May 2018
Environmentalism and authoritarian politics in Vietnam
(ls) In a thorough analysis of environmental activism in Vietnam, Thieu-Dang Nguyen and Simone Datzberger examine how environmentalist campaigns have formed an unparalleled civic movement. They describe how activists have not only won unprecedented public participation, but how the movements have also unified historically fragmented civil society segments and actors. They hold that the environmental movement provides a unique opportunity of how fundamental freedoms can take root and be exercised even in the context of political oppression. As such, they argue that it clearly differs from previous forms of civic activism in Vietnam and invites a re-imagination of new frontiers for social and political change in the future. [Transnational Institute]
Just this week, a Facebook user was jailed for 4-1/2 years who spread news on social media about the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster and attacked individual leaders of the Communist Party. [Reuters]
6 May 2018
Vietnam: Changes of personnel to be expected at the Central Committee Plenum
(ls) The Vietnam Communist Party’s 7th Plenum of the Twelfth Central Committee will be held this month. On that occasion, as many as three new faces could be entering the Politburo, the Vietnamese Communist Party’s top decision-making body. Dinh La Thang, the former Ho Chi Minh City party secretary, was dismissed for corruption last year already. Earlier this year, Dinh The Huynh, head of the Party’s Secretariat, announced he would step down because of ill-health. And President Tran Dai Quang, who has been suffering from poor health for months, might also be replaced. [The Diplomat]
ISEAS’s Le Long Hiep shares information who could be the candidates to fill the open seats. He holds it highly likely that Nguyen Thien Nhan, currently Politburo member and Party Secretary of Ho Chi Minh City, is the frontrunner for the replacement of President Tran Dai Quang. Hiep also discusses the possible inner-party consequences of these appointments. [ISEAS]
David Brown argues that, at the plenum, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong will be able to advance his proteges the several vacant politburo positions. Named to the top party post in 2011, Trong embodies tradition, unswerving faith in Marxism-Leninism and moral rigor. Brown describes how he has campaigned for years to restore the Vietnamese Communist Party’s internal discipline and, so doing, improve its image. [Asia Sentinel]
29 April 2018
Indian strategic ties after the Modi-Xi meeting: the case of the US, Russia, and Australia
(hg) After the first ‘informal’ summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping was concluded with a careful rapprochement between the countries, it is interesting to assess Indo-Pacific´s strategic environment on more general terms. Worth mentioning in this regard are some recent developments concerning India´s relations with the US, Russia and Australia.
Starting from the finding “it appears the Asia-Pacific region is due for a grand strategic makeover”, a recent article in the [The Diplomat] takes a historical perspective to highlight the dynamics of the current Indian-American alignment. Regarding the ongoing strengthening of military, diplomatic, and economic ties between India and the US, the author is looking at “the last time the US and India were this aligned”, namely in the 1780s when both tried to jointly contain the British Empire.
The article´s quintessential conclusion – “if history rhymes, it tells us that a U.S.-India strategic alignment is not so new” – sounds a bit trivial though. After all, it seems debatable if a short and unsuccessful strategic alignment around 220 years ago makes a strong case for the actual prospects of US-Indian relations and their impact on China. The point is, however, that it is exactly the fact that the still limited depth and momentum in Indian-American relations warrants the sort of narrative underpinnings the article is trying to provide. From this point of view, media attention might be read as part of the very pattern that are forming or accompanying the competing trends of the currently emerging geopolitical order of Asia.
Another article focuses on the Indian withdrawal from plans to jointly develop a stealth fighter jet with Russia earlier this month, tracing back the long decline in bilateral attempts between the countries to finalize the project. Against this background and given the fact that “New Delhi shares more political interests with Washington than it does with Moscow”, India´s further steps concerning its air force modernization will be of interest “as a gauge of how comfortable New Delhi is with further deepening its relationship with the United States”. [The National Interest]
The picture is complex indeed. On the one hand, the US wish that Delhi might decide for American weapon systems. At the same time, the US Countering America’s Enemy’s Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is a disincentive for Delhi to deepen its already profound relations with Russia regarding arms supply from Moscow. Section 231 of the CAATSA mandates secondary sanctions to any nation entering into high-value deals to procure military hardware from Russia.
Whereas a Bloomberg report suggests the US – probably Lockheed Martin – might provide the Indian Air Force with its combat jet technologies in the near future [Bloomberg], [Sputnik News] features an Interview with Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal B. S. Dhanoa, who says that “it is incorrect to report that we are interested in F-35 [or F-35 technology to equip F-16]”. The Indian Air Force chief has also categorically denied any threat to India-Russia defense deals due to the American CAATSA. [Sputnik News]
Meanwhile, India seeks US exemption to buy the legendary Russian S-400 air defense missile system from Russia worth about $5.5 billion. Reportedly, the Indian government has informed the US that India cannot abruptly scale down its reliance on military hardware from Russia after decades of bilateral defense cooperation and applied for a waiver from sanctions. The S-400 long-range air defense missile system with its capability to destroy incoming hostile aircraft, missiles and even drones at ranges of up to 400km can fire three types of missiles and simultaneously engage 36 targets to create a layered defense is also effective against stealth multi-role fighter jets. The system, which Russia has started supplying to China, is expected to be delivered to Turkey next year and has also been deployed by Russia in Syria. [The Economic Times]
The Indian application for a waiver to obtain the S-400 is a sensitive issue due to the reputation of the S-400 as setting the gold standard of comparable weapon systems including American ones, its success in action and the fact that Turkey as a major NATO member decided to buy the system before Turkish-American tensions grew to the current degree.
An example for the high benchmarks set to obtain a CAATSA waiver is the Trump administration´s announcement last Friday that it would not issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including oil giant Exxon Mobile, authorizing drilling in the Black Sea prohibited by current sanctions against Russia. [The New York Times]
Moreover, on the sidelines of a NATO gathering April 27, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just explicitly warned his Turkish counterpart against purchasing the S-400. [Radio Free Europe]
Against this background, the ongoing attempts of the Pentagon to enable a waiver for India are remarkable. US Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis appealed last Thursday to the Congress to urgently provide India the requested national security waiver, saying imposing sanctions on it would only hit the US. [The Times of India]
In other words, the ongoing Indian S-400 story is worth to be further observed. This is even more true as Vietnam, another regionally important country, is generally in a similar situation as India, both being interested to lever a strategic partnership with the US against China, while being highly depended on Russian arms supply.
A serious setback for the emergence of a solid anti-China coalition formed around the US- Indian-Japanese-Australian axis has meanwhile just manifested regarding Indian-Australian relations. Australian Defense Department spokesman has confirmed Australia won’t participate in a major Indian-lead multilateral naval drill, reportedly because it has not been invited by the Indian government.
The Indian silence is significant after India, the US, Japan and Australia have revived their plan to form a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the so-called Quad, a military partnership to contain China. In January, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said discussions on Australia returning to multilateral naval exercises with India were progressing well. The eventual non-invitation by Delhi might be seen as a casualty of India’s just improving relations with China and is definitely a blow for the Quad. [The Australian]
Concerning the long-term character of Sino-India relations, the recent, basically positive meeting between Modi and Xi should not be overloaded with highflying expectations for the long-term future. A temporary betterment of bilateral relations seems to express both countries´ current strategic considerations. This notwithstanding, India seems too important as a strategic weight, its leadership too determined, and its South Asian backyard too volatile, to not eventually being inclined to decide either in favor or against China and the US respectively. This, at least, is the perspective reflected by the headline and conclusion of a [Forbes] article that conjures up “the coming clash between China and India” without, however, providing much substantive arguments.
22 April 2018
South China Sea
(jk) With increased Cross-Strait tensions and Taiwan climbing up the list again of most-concerning flashpoints in East Asia, the attention of international news reporting has slightly shifted away from South China Sea issues. Notwithstanding, there are plenty of stories that are worth keeping an eye out for.
Last month, state-owned enterprise PetroVietnam withdrew its consent for Spanish energy firm Repsol to move ahead with a drilling project in Vietnman’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the South China Sea. This is the second time that Repsol could not move on with an already well prepared and heavily invested in drilling project after a similar incident in July last year.
It is reported that coercion by the PRC, such as the threatening of military clashes should the drilling go ahead were to blame for the sudden pull of the plug of the project by Vietnam. Observers are concerned that for a second time, the PRC has coerced a littoral SCS state into not exploring resources within their EEZ. Apparently, recently improving ties between Vietnam and the US did not instill enough confidence in Vietnam’s leadership for them to go ahead with the project [BBC News; South China Morning Post 1]. It is worth remembering that as we have noted in AiR before, Vietnam has become the most forward leaning of the claimant states in the SCS vis-à-vis China. Now, after the Repsol episode, Vietnam is negotiating with China on joint exploration and production efforts.
In the meantime, Vietnam and Indonesia are working towards a mechanism to deal with fishing violation in their respective territorial waters which could turn into a positive example of cooperation amongst claimant states and so-called “interested parties” such as Indonesia. Over the past few years, Indonesia has destroyed hundreds of fishing vessels from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand, for violating its waters. Last week, the two nations sat down as part of their third installment of a bilateral cooperation committee meeting which focused on maritime security in particular [South China Morning Post 2].
In the Philippines, photographs of Chinese military aircraft on one of the artificially developed islands within the Philippines’ EEZ have raised doubts about China’s official line not to further militarise any of the South China Sea features it has built. The pictures were allegedly taken in January this year and have now been verified by the government in the Philippines which is now considering filing an official complaint. China’s seems to keep to its successful strategy of creating facts on the ground [The Straits Times]. Despite its competing claims in the Spratly chain, the Philippines is increasing its economic ties with China. This includes plans for joint developments of gas and oil. President Duterte and President Xi agreed on this last week in a meeting in Hainan.
22 April 2018
Royal Australian Navy warships visiting Vietnam
(hg) Three Royal Australian Navy (RAN) warships, including the helicopter frigates HMAS ANZAC and HMAS TOOWOOMBA and support ship HMAS SUCCESS, docked at Ho Chi Minh City’s Sài Gòn Port on April 19 as a part of a goodwill visit 17 years after the visit of three Australian Navy ships in Vietnam at the same time. Recently bilateral relationships have been elevated to a strategic partnership. [Vietnam News]
15 April 2018
Vietnam: Emulating China in cracking down on dissent?
(jk) We reported last week that a Vietnamese human rights lawyer and activist was jailed for 15 years along with five other activists who were given prison terms of seven to 12 years. [AiR 2/4/2018] This was of course only the latest of a number of cases of this kind (see for more examples [The Interpreter]).
Vietnam is an authoritarian, single-party state and whilst it seeks to cooperate with external partners to balance against China on some issues, it does emulate aspects of China’s methods to deal with dissent. It therefore leaves observers that were hoping for a reform and opening in Vietnam as it strengthens its ties with Western democracies doubtful. [The Interpreter]
Amnesty International adds fuel to these doubts with a recently published report on intensifying crackdown on dissent [Amnesty International]. The report finds that authorities “primarily targeted human rights defenders, religious followers and peaceful environmental, social and political activists – including individuals expressing themselves online”.
15 April 2018
Cambodia and Vietnam following Malaysian example to fight ‘fake news’?
(hg) The Cambodian government is looking to draft a “fake news” law, after similar legislation has been introduced in Malaysia (see above). The announcement followed a meeting between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc during which the Vietnamese PM expressed concerns about ‘fake news’ coverage suggesting both countries should exchange information to cooperate on countering inaccurate news. [The Phnom Penh Post 1]
In Cambodian context, such a ‘fake news’ act would complement an array of repressive means already taken to stifle media freedom and civil society opposition. [Deutsche Welle]
After one of the countries newspapers, the Cambodia Daily, had to close due to a $ 6.3 million tax bill, more than a dozen radio stations having been closed for allegedly violating their contractual obligations and Radio Free Asia having ceased in-country operations over tax and registration issues, media freedom in general is massively reduced already. [The Phnom Penh Post 1]
Now, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has again delayed a defamation trial against the Deputy Publisher of the closed Cambodia Daily. Background of the trial is a defamation case filed by the General Department of Taxation for alleging that the tax body had leaked a confidential document and that the $ 6.3 million tax bill was politically motivated. [The Phnom Penh Post 2]
15 April 2018
Japan-Vietnam relations: Security cooperation to be enhanced
(dql) This week, Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich visited Japan for talks with his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera on strengthening bilateral security cooperation. [Vietnam Net]
The visit, concluded by a Joint Vision Statement of Vietnam-Japan Defense Relations, comes against the background of a series of Hanoi’s recent reach out activities to partners with similar concerns about China´s increasing clout in the region. This has been recently reflected for instance by the Vietnamese President’s trip to India, or a historic U.S. aircraft carrier visit to Vietnam, all steps shedding light on the dynamics of the ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’ concept as well as the ‘Quad’ initiative both formulated to contain China’s growing influence in Asia [The Diplomat]
15 April 2018
Vietnam considers law for more assertive coast guard
(jk) According to a draft law released this week, Vietnam is looking to allow its Coast Guard to open fire in order to “protect sovereignty and sovereign rights in defense and security situations” [Reuters/ Stratfor]. Shots could be fired as a warning to ships operating illegally in Vietnam’s waters if they did not heed its request to halt illegal activities. The new law would be a serious upgrade for the Vietnamese Coast Guard which is currently independent from Vietnam’s Navy but plays an increasingly important role in the South China Sea, maybe not completely unlike the Chinese Coast Guard ships which are by some observers regarded as “white warships”, rather than Coast Guard vessels [COM 4/2017].
15 April 2018
Challenges and prospects for the BRI in Vietnam
(jk) A brief ISEAS “Perspective” piece that looks at the Belt and Road Initiative and how it is likely to fare in Vietnam. Vietnam has been sceptical towards Beijing’s possible ulterior motives given its history with the PRC and strategic competition particularly in the South China Sea. Nonetheless, infrastructure projects are badly needed and Hanoi by no means rules out doing more business with China. It has alternatives however, so it is not in a position where it has to agree to “bad deals” on loans and projects as sometimes proposed by the PRC [ISEAS].
15 April 2018
Trans-Pacific Partnership: No renegotiations if US wants to join CPTPP
(hg) Members of the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – formed by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam – have jointly opposed any re-negotiations to accommodate the US should the country decide to participate in the trade deal. This notwithstanding several ministers including those representing Japan and Australia, welcomed President Donald Trump directing officials to explore the possibility of returning to the CPTPP. Japan´s Finance Minister said he expected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Trump to discuss the trade deal at their summit meeting next week. Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s minister in charge of TPP, said it would be difficult however to change the deal, calling it a “balanced one, like fine glassware”. Similar, Australia Trade Minister stated: “We welcome the US coming back to the table, but I don’t see any wholesale appetite for any material renegotiation of the TPP-11.” [New Straits Times]
8 April 2018
Vietnam: Human rights lawyer sentenced to 15 years in prison
(ls) Vietnamese human rights lawyer and activist Nguyen Van Dai was jailed for 15 years on Thursday along with five other activists who were given prison terms of seven to 12 years. Dai and others were charged with activities “aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” by having formed the “Brotherhood for Democracy” which conducted pro-democracy activities in Vietnam. [Reuters]
The trial was conducted under heavy security. A group of supporters were blocked by uniformed and plainclothes police as they marched toward the courthouse in central Hanoi. Some of them were hauled into unmarked vans by plainclothes security agents and others put on a bus. Dai has long been a thorn in the side of the communist authorities and served four years in prison for anti-state activity from 2007 to 2011. [The Straits Times]
8 April 2018
South China Sea: China tries to counterbalance US influence in Vietnam
(ls/dql) China and Vietnam vowed to keep the peace in the South China Sea. “Both sides should not apply unilateral measures that would complicate the situation,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Hanoi during an official visit to Vietnam. His Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh said, “we are ready to work with China to resolve arising issues.” The meeting came at a time when Vietnam has publicly promoted deepening security ties with the US in recent weeks. Earlier this month, a US aircraft carrier made a historic visit to Vietnam and last week Washington handed over six patrol boats and equipment to Hanoi. [The Straits Times]
Meanwhile, Beijing in a latest show of military might launched on Thursday an unprecedented week-long series of live-fire exercises in the South China Sea, involving the aircraft carrier Liaoning and up to 40 other vessels, which will converge with three US aircraft carrier battle groups Washington has sent to the South China Sea to prepare for their own exercises. [Nine News]
Furthermore, sources close to the military revealed this week that China’s first home-built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A Shandong, is ready for its maiden sea voyage, possibly scheduled for April 23, just before the 69th anniversary of the founding of the PLA Navy. With a capacity to carry up to 24 Shenyang J-15 multirole fighter jets as well as around ten rotary wing aircraft, the Shandong is believed to serve in the PLAN’s North Sea Fleet or East Sea Fleet and deployed for regular carrier strike group operations. [The Diplomat]
8 April 2018
Vietnam: Russia or US?
(hg) The ongoing deterioration of Russian-American relations put stress on old Russian allies orienting now at the US to contain China. This applies in particular to India and Vietnam with India fostering also strategic ties with Iran.
As much as India and Vietnam seem to have taken a clear anti- China stance, as much is Russia a traditional defense partner and friend to them, – a status which will become increasingly difficult for all sides due to the increasing US-Russian tensions and the corresponding Russian-Chinese accord.
In the Vietnamese case, the link to Russia is the even closer, even if it seems to fall short of the facts to see US-Vietnamese relations as a delicate plant and relating more to the realm of “public relations rather than strategic dialogue”
Yet, that diminishes not the Russian factor as thoroughly described by Nate Fischler. When the US maintained a decades-long arms embargo until 2016, Russia provided weaponry unrestrained to the extent that 93% of Vietnam’s procured armaments from 2011-2015 were delivered by Russia with Vietnam being Russia’s third biggest arms market worldwide at current, trailing only India and China.
In terms of inter-operability and familiarity, Russian arms are still unbeatable for the foreseeable future from a Vietnamese perspective, while a switch to American systems would come with high costs and a complicated process of weapons integration. Despite recent visits and lobby efforts by US President Trump and more recent Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, there are no indications for a significant momentum for such a turn. Not long ago, the Vietnamese Deputy Defense Minister declared that thanks to Russia the Vietnamese Navy can now “fully master the technology and techniques of modern military shipbuilding”, a significant boost to its naval combat capabilities in the strategically important South China Sea. Since 2011, Vietnam has acquired a total of 129 missile systems, 36 aircraft and eight naval vessels from Russia. [Asia Times]
In February, Vietnam has received two Russian-built Gepard-class frigates joining two others that had been delivered in 2011 as part of a $350 million contract. [Newsweek]
Beside these vital links, however, Russia is an old friend, deer to not a few party cadre and older officers as well as a predictable ally that has no ideological demands such as the US.
While relations to Russia are valued with the top designation of a “comprehensive strategic partnership”, the US and Vietnam share only a “comprehensive partnership”, a term first employed after an upgrade in bilateral ties in 2013 which is used for links to 11 other countries as well.
However, Russia has on the other side also refrained from destabilizing the maritime region’s balance of power to the disadvantage of Vietnams adversary China by not offering relevant weaponry to Vietnam. [Asia Times]
Now, Russia has nevertheless agreed to a new military cooperation roadmap with Vietnam signed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Vietnamese counterpart General Ngo Xuan Lich in Moscow last Wednesday on the sidelines of the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security.
As part of the agreement, Russia will deploy a rescue boat from its Pacific fleet to Vietnam, which will take part in search and rescue operations, send a delegation to continue work on a draft deal on search and rescue operations for disabled submarines and both countries will conduct joint military training including 176 Vietnamese soldiers supposed to travel to Russia for instruction. [Newsweek]
What might serve as a restrainer in the increasingly complicated situation however, is the dedication of Vietnam’s defense and foreign policy to the “three no’s”: no military alliances, no foreign military bases on Vietnamese soil and no relationships directed specifically against third parties. [Asia Times]
25 March 2018
South Korea-Vietnam relations: Bilateral trade to be increased
(dql) Vietnam and South Korea agreed on Friday to seek to boost their bilateral trade to from $63.9 billion to100 billion USD by 2020. A memorandum of understanding, signed in Hanoi during a visit by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, also lays out guidelines for aiming to reduce Vietnam’s deficit in bilateral trade. Since the free trade agreement in 2015, trade between Vietnam and South Korea has risen rapidly resulting in South Korea replacing the United States as Vietnam’s second largest trading partner in 2017, second only to China. It is also the largest source of foreign direct investment in the Southeast Asian economy. [The Korea Times]
18 March 2018
50 years after My Lai: Lessons (to be) learned
(ls) 16 March 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam war. On 16 March 1968, US soldiers landed on the northeastern coast of South Vietnam with instructions to launch an assault against Viet Cong fighters. Instead, the troops butchered women, elderly men and children, cutting off hands, slitting throats and murdering villagers with gunfire and grenades. This article revisits the events and asks which lessons could be learned from them. [Deutsche Welle]
18 March 2018
Israel´s biggest weapons customer: India and Vietnam
(hg) Israel – as the world´s fifth largest arms supplier following the US, Russia, France and Germany – is delivering most of its arms to India for which Israel is the second largest source of arms, lagging far behind Russia, still significantly ahead of both France and the US.
According to the database, Vietnam is Israel’s second largest customer, having purchased $142m. in arms in 2017, making Israel its second largest arms supplier, after Russia. [The Jerusalem Post]
18 March 2018
Vietnam: New criminal code introduces corporate criminal liability
(ls) Already on 1 January 2018, a new criminal code came into effect in Vietnam. It introduces a number of provisions on corporate criminal liability. The changes are particularly significant because, under the previous Vietnamese criminal code, only individuals could be criminally liable. The new criminal code also criminalizes private sector corruption, something that was absent from Vietnam’s anti-corruption regime. This article sums up the most important changes. [Lexology]
11 March 2018
Bangladesh and Vietnam aim to raise trade to $2b by 2020
(ca/ik) Bangladesh and Vietnam aim to raise their two-way annual trade to $2 billion over the next three years from nearly $1 billion, a business association official said on Monday. Bangladesh mainly imports agriculture products, such as rice and livestock products from Vietnam while it imports textiles and cloths, leather and leather products, plastic products and medicine from Bangladesh. [Prothom Alo]
11 March 2018
South China Sea
(jk/ls) The South China Sea remains one of the main flashpoints in Asia, continuing to involve littoral, regional as well as extra-territorial actors. The situation on the ground is changing mainly for two reasons. On the one hand, extensive land reclamation and military build-up of islands and other features in the SCS by the PRC have created new facts on the ground and essentially present the world with a fait-accompli on behalf of China. On the other hand, unsuccessful policies and growing uncertainties regarding the commitment of the US and a significant policy change in what used to be the most forward-leaning claimant state other than China, the Philippines, have led to political circumstances facilitating Chinese actions. For an update on the island-building and reclamation activities of all five claimants, please refer to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative out of the Center for Strategic Studies who have overhauled their Island Tracker. It now includes imagery of every outpost in the South China Sea which amounts to over 90 facilities at nearly 70 features [AMTI].
In more recent developments, the second iteration of the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea between China and the Philippines has made some headlines. The bilateral meeting – the preferred cooperation modus by China who opposes any extra-territorial nations to be involved- is in a way an outcome of the Philippine’s softening stance on the SCS dispute since 2016, although the idea of joint development projects – which the meetings discussed – has been around much longer and their success is questionable. Major ‘breakthroughs” that are announced more often than not fail to extend beyond very low hanging fruits and carefully worded statements that do not change facts on the ground or go beyond what has already been achieved in an ASEAN wide context [ISEAS, The Diplomat 1].
Another relevant development is this week’s US aircraft carrier port call to Vietnam – a first since the end of the Vietnam War over 40 years ago. Since the Philippines has changed its stance on the SCS, Vietnam has taken over as the claimant that is seen to challenge China most, with the US intensifying ties to it [The New York Times].
The response by Beijing to the port call- although critical, was not overly aggressive with the People’s Daily acknowledging the fact the Hanoi engages in a hedging strategy and that it long has done so. It did find however that the US move was all but a “waste of money” [Asia Times].
In a related development India and Vietnam have, in a high-level joint statement, once again affirmed their support for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where Vietnam is a claimant along with five other states — China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan. Hanoi has been particularly pro-active in the dispute in recent years. In addition to approaching India, Vietnam has grown closer to the United States as well. [The Diplomat 2]
In the meantime, the UK has announced that it will send a Royal Navy vessel to conduct a “Freedom of Navigation” voyage in the SCS [The Times UK].
4 March 2018
Looking at Vietnamese–Indian ties on occasion of high level visit
(hg) Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang visited India following up to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vietnam in 2016 during which New Delhi extended a credit line of $500 million to Vietnam to buy defense equipment and issued a joint statement on the respect of the international legal order of the seas implicitly referring to the South China Sea issue which is of importance especially for Vietnam. The present visit – besides an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation as well as for the development of a port in Vietnma’s Nghe An province – much continued with both lines, a rules-based regional architecture and enhanced cooperation in trade and defense. [The Economic Times] [NDTV]
Vietnam is a key country for the Indian government´s ‘Act East Policy’ with both countries sharing a similar stance towards China on the one hand and those powers trying to contain the Chinese influence in Asia – the U.S., Japan and Australia – on the other. Yet, given the potential, Indian-Vietnamese relations are still to be expanded in this framework, remaining modest in a number of key areas including defense business, bilateral trade in general and people-to-people relations, in particular in terms of tourism. [The Diplomat]
25 February 2018
Vietnam: Draft cybersecurity law a sign of progress or a step backwards?
(ek) In May 2018, the National Assembly will vote on an Internet bill that has both proponents and opponents within the country. Proponents of the law emphasize that local data centers would improve access to online services for the Vietnamese people and would generate high demand for highly skilled IT professionals. Critics, however, point to the fact that data localization would harm privacy and open a way for a more comprehensive censorship by the government [East Asia Forum].
11 February 2018
Vietnam: Corrupt oil executive gets second life sentence, environmentalist blogger gets 14 years
(ek/ls) The Vietnamese oil executive Trinh Xuan Thanh got his second life sentence for corruption, in particular for embezzling $ 622,000 from a property project developed by a unit of state-owned Petro Vietnam. Embezzlement carries a maximum sentence of death in Vietnam. Thanh was allegedly kidnapped in Germany by Vietnamese agents in Berlin last year. Hanoi denies the accusation and said Than returned to Vietnam voluntarily. [Deutsche Welle]
In a separate development, a court in central Vietnam sentenced an activist to 14 years in jail on Tuesday for live-streaming fishermen marching to file a lawsuit against a Taiwan-owned steel plant’s spill of toxins into the ocean. He was convicted of abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state, organization and people and opposing officers on duty. The toxic spill, which was one of the country’s worst environmental disasters, killed massive amounts of fish and other sea life along more than 200km of coastline. The company has paid US$500 million in compensation. [South China Morning Post]
4 February 2018
Vietnam: Hanoi’s municipal government
(ek) Hanoi is one of the municipalities under Vietnam’s Central Government. Now, Hanoi has received the Politburo’s permission to pilot the municipal government model. According to Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Nguyen Tien Dinh, this will lead to offer adequate and better-fitting services to citizens. Prospectively, the different needs of ur-ban and rural areas could be reconciled better with the municipal government model. [Hanoi Times]
4 February 2018
Remnants of better times between India and Russia
(hg) It is one of the significant expressions of the present process of a realigning Asian order that old friends estranged and new relations emerge. Among the greatest changes in this sense are the US-Pakistan and the Indian-Russian relations. Yet, in case of the latter, there are still closer bonds than in the former. On occasion of the recent Indian national day, President Putin has now once more acknowledged the Indian nation’s achievements and expressed his appreciation for both country’s “relationship of privileged strategic partnership” [TASS], which, however, is arguably fading.
The actual perception from the Russian side seems well captured by an academic’s meanwhile published account on the Russia-Indian strategic dialogue and the related recent bilateral meeting and its “specifics”. The author acknowledges the reality of an Indian participation in the newly formed anti-Chinese alliance between the Asia – Pacific’s “largest democracies” but reiterates, at the same time, that India would still be interested in Russia’s approaches to the Greater Eurasian partnership, the Chinese Belt and Road initiative and how these initiatives can be linked to the plans to create a North-South corridor and other infrastructure projects of India. [Valdaiclub]
Even if this might sound a bit optimistic at present, not all is lost for the possibilities of Indian – Russian cooperation either as India may join hands with Russia for expanding its presence in the hydrocarbon sector in Vietnam reflecting another increasingly difficult, yet still standing friendship, namely those between Russia and Vietnam which the Russian side has kept when China and Vietnam clashed over South China Sea issues in 2014.
Despite growing US-Vietnamese ties, Vietnam, like India, still has long established military ties with Russia, possessing for instances Russian SU-27 fighter jets, kilo class submarines and Yakhont missiles. India, on its part, is also planning to sell its Brahmos missiles, which it has jointly developed with Russia to Vietnam. All these ties and recent moves however do not change the more dominating reverse trend in all three country’s relationships whereas they do show that the strategic realities remain complex and dynamic. [The Economic Times]
4 February 2018
Vietnam sees Russia as a priority partner in military technological co-operation
(ek) Vietnam supports and expects Russia to play a greater role in the Asia-Pacific region, and Russia considers Vietnam a traditional friend and an important strategic partner, as the Vietnamese government has vowed to continue relying on Russian support for the maintenance and serving of military platforms. [Hanoi Times]
4 February 2018
US seeks to engage Indonesia and Vietnam to counter Chinese maritime expansion
(hg) U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to Indonesia – before a visit to Vietnam – highlights the American efforts to enhance regional strategic partnerships to counter China’s expanding presence in Asian waters reiterating the basic themes of the just announced US National Defense Strategy. While Indonesia – despite not a claimant state in the South China Sea issues – has come forward to protect its exclusive economic zone off the Natuna Islands where it overlaps with the southern reaches of China’s self-proclaimed “nine-dash line”, Indonesia also courts China economically to invest.
Noteworthy, Mattis could not escape criticism of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and was confronted with the call to support a two-state solution regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict with East Jerusalem as the Palestine capital. [Nikkei Asian Review]
26 January 2018
Vietnam: Long sentences handed down in corruption trial
(ls) The Vietnamese former state oil executive who was allegedly kidnapped from Germany was jailed for life for em-bezzlement on Monday, in the highest-profile corruption trial to target the Communist country’s business and politi-cal elite. Another trial has started this week for embezzlement that could see the same executive put to death. Twenty other officials were also sentenced, receiving between 22 years in prison and 13 months suspended sen-tence. The trial has been criticized as being, at least in part, politically motivated. [South China Morning Post]
26 January 2018
U.S.-Vietnam relations to counter Chinese influence
(ls) U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis is also visiting Vietnam. The Trump administration sees Vietnam as a partner in opposing China’s assertion of territorial claims in the South China Sea, including the Spratlys, an island chain where Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei also have claims. However, on occasion of Mattis’ visit, which takes place almost exactly 50 years after the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, memories of the past may also play a role during the visit. Mattis has never been in Vietnam before. [South China Morning Post]
19 January 2018
Vietnam: Migrant crisis because of climate change?
(ls) Though governments and communities in developing countries around the world have already begun taking action to manage climate change impacts through adaptation, rising temperatures and sea levels threaten to exacerbate the existing trends of economic migration. In Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, the impacts are expected to be particularly severe. The co-authored article shows how various groups of people would be forced to migrate from the Mekong, partly even due to decisions originally taken to protect them from the climate. The authors describe how the poor and the landless can no longer find fish to eat and sell, and that the dykes prevent free nutrients being carried on to paddies by the flood. [The Conversation]
19 January 2018
Laos’ foreign policy between China and Vietnam, and in partnership with Myanmar
(ls) John McBeth describes in the Asia Times how Laos skillfully balances its foreign policy between its mighty neighbors China and Vietnam. Whereas China is heavily invested in mining, hydro power and a (planned) new railway line connecting Kunming and Vientiane, the Lao government agreed to a similar rail link from Savannakhet to the Vietnamese border town of Lao Bao. Also, Vietnam’s foreign direct investment in Laos, mostly in hydro-power, mining, transportation and plantations still claims to match China’s FDI in the country. One explanation for the close Laos-Vietnamese ties is that most Politburo members in Laos are Vietnamese-trained war veterans, and Lao officials still mostly study in Vietnam, not China. [Asia Times]
Regarding Laos’ relations with its other neighbor, Myanmar, the governments of the two countries agreed to enhance bilateral ties and cooperation on the occasion of Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith’s official visit to the country. The documents comprised MoUs on electricity cooperation, science and technology cooperation, and anti-corruption cooperation. [Eleven Myanmar]
12 January 2018
Vietnam: Major corruption trial has begun
(ls) A Vietnamese court began a major corruption trial of 22 defendants, including a former senior Vietnamese Com-munist Party official and a top oil executive the government is accused of snatching from Germany. Explaining the current campaign, ISEAS expert Le Hong Hiep says that political power in Vietnam was previously fragmented. But since the party congress in early 2016, the power is concentrated in the hands of Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, and the corruption crackdown is intensifying [Kiro7].
Reuters has put together a useful explainer on the background of the crackdown, examining who is involved and what the political significance of the corruption campaign is [Reuters].
29 December 2017
Army creates cyber warfare unit
(kj) Vietnam’s People’s Army has disclosed that it recruited over 10,000 people for a new unit dealing with “wrong” views that are spread via the internet to which a growing number of Vietnamese have access. Vietnam, as many other countries in the world has decided that a free and unregulated internet is likely to spread chaos and needs to be monitored. [Financial Times]. AiR has recently reported on an exemplifying case of a young Vietnamese blogger who was detained for conducting propaganda against the stat in his blog post about a toxic spill in a steel plant [BBC News].
29 December 2017
EU “yellow-cards” Vietnam’s seafood industry
After yellow cards for Thailand and Taiwan as well as issuing a red card for Cambodia recently, the EU now added Vietnam to the list of “booked” countries. The regime in Hanoi has until April 2018 to review its fishing industry and make sure they comply with EU standards, so they can remain an exporter into the European Union which accounts for just under 20% of Vietnam’s seafood exports [Financial Times].
29 December 2017
Japan: Security and economic ties in Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean increased
(ls) Japan and Australia are close to agreeing a visiting forces agreement (VFA), which would foster smooth military operations between the two countries. A VFA comprehensively stipulates the legal status of foreign forces engaged in temporary activities, such as joint exercises and disaster-relief missions, in a nation’s territory [The Sydney Morning Herald].
In economic terms, Japan has returned to be the top foreign investor in Vietnam in 2017, pushing South Korea on the second rank after a three-year gap. Japanese investment more than tripled to a record $9.11 billion, accounting for a quarter of the total. Infrastructure exports were a major driver of Japanese spending. South Korea was the top foreign investor in Vietnam from 2014 to 2016 as, for instance, Samsung Electronics set up massive smartphone production facilities in the north [Nikkei Asian Review].
Japan and Oman seek to ensure maritime order amid China’s assertiveness. An agreement was reached as Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his counterpart Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah met in the Omani capital of Muscat, about 500 km southeast of the Strait of Hormuz, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes for crude oil [Japan Times].
29 December 2017
On Sino-Vietnamese Relations
With ties between China and Vietnam improving of late, this article identifies both push and pull factors that will ensure both countries remain on this path despite each focusing on their own strategic calculations. The degree of scepticism will, however, remain large [ISEAS].
15 December 2017
Corruption campaign moves ahead
As reported in last week’s AiR, the corruption case against the former head of a subsidiary of state-owned PetroVietnam, the country’s largest energy firm, illustrates increased activities of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party to root out mismanagement and corruption. A former top party official has since been arrested in the case [The Straits Times]. Again, as was mentioned last week, the corruption crackdown is seen as more as just a genuine crackdown on graft. Some of its political background and political implications are laid out here [Reuters].
8 December 2017
High-profile anti-corruption trials
The corruption case against the former head of a subsidiary of state-owned PetroVietnam, the country’s largest energy firm, illustrates in-creased activities of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party to root out mismanagement and corruption. However, David Hutt also points to political calculations as the anti-corruption campaign is targeting particularly allies of former two-term Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who was sidelined at last year’s Party Congress. Earlier this year, Vietnam’s largest ever anti-corruption trials got underway over alleged corrupt dealings between PetroVietnam and Ocean Bank, a partially state-owned bank, involving 51 defendants and resulting in harsh sentences [Asia Times].
1 December 2017
Cyber security and cyber crime on the legislative agenda
Vietnam’s parliament has begun debate on a cybersecurity bill that would echo the law in neighboring China by requiring technology companies, such as Google and Facebook, to store certain data on servers within the country. The bill would also force companies to hand over data to law enforcement and provide technical assistance to unlock data, maintain records on data breaches and anti-government content, and gain government approval to transfer data abroad [Bloomberg].
Earlier this week, a blogger was found guilty of spreading anti-state propaganda for producing videos and writing about protests over a chemical spill that devastated the coast of central Vietnam last year. In June, a court sentenced another blogger to 10 years in prison for blogging about the fish kill connected with the spill [The New York Times 2]. However, a real crackdown on internet freedom might be difficult to implement. Vietnam has one of the highest rates of social-media usage among countries with comparable per capital incomes. There are about 52 million Facebook active accounts for a population of about 96 million. Google and YouTube also are very popular. Therefore, Dien Luong argues that the bill currently being discussed may backfire [The New York Times 2].
In Malaysia, the government is keen on exploring the possibility of becoming a member to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, also known as the Budapest Convention. The convention, drawn up by the Council of Europe in 2001, aims at providing for domestic criminal procedural law powers, necessary for the investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes. It is open for ratification for all countries worldwide. In Asia, only Japan has signed and ratified the convention so far [New Straits Times].
1 December 2017
Transregional cooperation: Vietnam-Australia, Singapore-India, and the “Asian NATO”
The Vietnam National Assembly backs the upgrade of the Vietnam-Australia relationship to a strategic partnership. Australia is among Vietnam’s largest providers of non-refundable official development assistance. The National Assembly’s Chairwoman also “noted with joy” the effective collaboration in national defence-security and the fight against crimes and illegal migration [Vietnam News].
India and Singapore on Wednesday signed an agreement to deepen cooperation in maritime security and called for ensuring freedom of navigation in critical sea lanes in the backdrop of China’s increasing assertiveness in the region. The two sides also signed the revised Defence Cooperation Agreement to further strengthen the longstanding defence relationship between the Singapore Armed Forces and the Indian Armed Forces. Moreover, Singapore’s proposal to expand the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea to all ADMM (Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting)-Plus countries as well as to establish guidelines for air encounters between military aircraft was discussed too [Livemint].
Moreover, the US, Japan, Australia and India announced this month they had agreed to create a coalition that would patrol and exert influence on waterways from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific to the East and South China Seas. The grouping of the four countries – known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad – was first suggested by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, but the idea was dropped after Beijing protested. It made a sudden comeback when senior officials from the four nations met in Manila on November 11 – on the sidelines of regional summits during US President Donald Trump’s maiden tour to East Asia [South China Morning Post].
24 November 2017
Vietnam-US relations: Defense cooperation at new heights
During President Trump’s visit in Hanoi last week both presidents expressed their strong determination to deepen their countries’ defense cooperation aimed at defending both Hanoi’s and Washington’s strategic interests in the South China Sea against Beijing’s assertiveness. Their joint announcement to initiate a memorandum of understanding to operate the implementation of prior bilateral security agreements, Trump’s reaffirmation of the intention to send next year a U.S. aircraft carrier to Cam Ranh Bay, where China unilaterally placed an oil-drilling rig in waters 120 miles from Vietnam’s coast in May this year, as well as Trump’s offer to sell missiles to Vietnam reflect the current soaring of Vietnam-US relationships [The Diplomat].
17 November 2017
Youth protest culture and press freedom in Southeast Asia
Julian CH Lee takes Malaysia as an example for the importance of youth protests in the political culture of Southeast Asian countries. He argues that such civil society efforts need not necessarily be thought of as separate from party political engagement. Moreover, according to his analysis, the solution of future crises would depend on the networks, values, and ideas that are taken into society – and, he argues, young people have been and continue to be key in articulating and communicating that which matters [New Mandala]. The second article addresses the situation of press freedom in ASEAN countries. As censorship by state authorities, harassment and intimidation by armed forces, and repressive press laws continue to stifle free expression, the article provides a country-by-country overview of the current state of press freedom [Rappler].
17 November 2017
Philippines-US relations: Vital for military – less so for trade
US president Donald Trump said that strong US ties with the Philippines were vital for military reasons, as he ended a trip to Manila, the last stop on his tour of Asia: “We have a very, very strong relationship with the Philippines, which is really important: less so for trade, in this case, than for military purposes.” [South China Morning Post 1] Duterte, for his part, seems to have warmed to the United States and President Trump as the current US president did not, as his predecessor had done, remind the Philippine leader to follow the rule of law in tackling the illegal drug trade [New York Times 1]. But the longer-term game for Mr. Duterte has been his determination to court China. A spokesman described his policy as a deliberate turn toward closer relationships with countries in Asia, and with China in particular [New York Times 2]. It is against this background that both the Philippines as well as Vietnam have been wary of Trumps offer to mediate in the South China Sea dispute [South China Morning Post 2]. However, in terms of trade, critics warn that joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (RCEP) that includes major players such as China, India, Japan and South Korea would be a “suicide plan” [Inquirer].
17 November 2017
China: Xi visits Vietnam and Laos following APEC Summit
President Xi has wrapped up consecutive state visits to both Vietnam and Laos this week. Besides economic cooperation, in Vietnam, the South China Sea featured high on the agenda [ABC]. In Laos, infrastructure and cooperation were talked about with the goal of a China-Laos economic corridor [ChinaPlus]. Vietnam and Laos, like China, are ruled by their respective communist parties.
3 November 2017
Major drug scandal under investigation
A court of appeal in Ho Chi Minh City has ordered a fresh investigation into a major cancer drug scam that riveted the nation by showing how bribery and forgery plague the country’s healthcare sector. The appellate court made the decision in response to an appeal by the city’s prosecutors, who said the charges put forward at the previous trial in August were inaccurate. Vietnam’s government had already ordered an investigation into the Ministry of Health’s role in the headline-grabbing scandal [VN Express].
28 October 2017
Southeast Asia: Autocratic redux
Not the first time in history, Southeast Asia is almost entirely undemocratic and by large and large in the hands of those who seem to be willing to readily extinguish liberal democracy altogether. With democratic, liberal regimes under pressure all over the globe, this region is particularly susceptible to authoritarian leadership, Dan Slater from the University of Michigan argues [New Mandala].
28 October 2017
ASEAN: Next Secretary General most likely to be Brunei’s chief TPP negotiator
Lim Jock Hoi of Brunei is expected to take over the role as ASEAN chief negotiator later this year when the current, Vietnamese Secretary General’s term is coming to an end. The Secretary General is chosen for a term of five years and rotates among ASEAN countries [Vietnam Plus].
28 October 2017
Indonesia-Vietnam Defense Ties
The recent defense minister meeting culminating in the signing of a new joint vision statement for 2022 looks back to a steady development that has started from a comprehensive partnership agreement in 2003 [The Diplomat].
28 October 2017
ASEAN countries: In between major powers
Further intensifying Vietnamese-Indian relations, the deputy foreign ministers of both countries met in Hanoi for strategic consultations on political and security issues. This meeting follows a number of high level visits and exchange in the recent past [Viet Nam News]. In the meantime, Singapore is hedging between the US and China. After a recent visit to China, Singapore’s PM is currently on a visit to Washington upon invitation by President Trump. Whilst business has unsurprisingly been the focal point of the trip, Singapore is trying to position itself neutral, cooperating with both China and the US [Asia Times]. Similarly, the Philippines – after hosting US Secretary of Defense for a routine visit at the sidelines of the ADMM [NPR] – are making headway in diversifying their defense co-operations. New deals have been inked with both Russia [PhilStar 1] and China [PhilStar2].
6 October 2017
Asia’s Maritime Order
The Philippines will begin important upgrades to its primary outpost in the disputed Spratly group in the South China Sea. The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Modernization Program will finance the paving of an airstrip on the largest Philippine holding in the Spratly group, where China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have claims (The Diplomat). Regarding the exploration of oil and gas resources within disputed areas, China reemphasized its commitment to a lifting of a moratorium and a joint commercial development of the petroleum blocks (Manila Bulletin). At the same time, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte voiced rare praise for the United States, calling it an important security ally, and dismissing historic grievances and his slew of past tirades against Washington as “water under the bridge” (South China Morning Post). Australia, in the meanwhile, needs to shift the focus of military presence from the Middle East to Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, if it wants to succeed in coping with emerging security challenges in Asia-Pacific and protect its direct strategic interests (The Australian).
29 September 2017
Australia, Japan and India advance to the South China Sea
Three major countries in Asia Pacific – Australia, Japan and India – are expected to beef up their naval presence in the South China Sea amid the Philippine’s softening sovereignty stance in the disputed waters collaborating with China in oil and gas exploration and accepting the increasing presence of Chinese vessels within its exclusive economic zone. While India and Japan foster ties with Vietnam, Australia is seeking closer relations to Indonesia in the joint strategy to contain Chinese influence.
7 September 2017
Anti-corruption campaign still waits for breakthrough
While the report of the Government Inspectorate, Vietnam’s highest anti-corruption watchdog body, acknowledged progress in the buildup of anti-corruption organizations and their coopera-tion, it also conceded that a breakthrough has not been achieved with corruption remaining a seri-ous and complex problem.
7 September 2017
Sale of state-owned enterprises gathers pace
Confronted with budget deficits exceeding the country’s GDP, Vietnam has started to partially open state-owned enterprises for private investments.
7 September 2017
South China Sea: Vietnam Government slams China over military drills in South China Sea
Hanoi has condemned a military exercise of China in the Paracels Archipelago as a violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty, reflecting the ongoing tensions between the two countries over the South China Sea.
31 August 2017
Vietnam is the cornerstone of India’s “Counter China” policy
Amid news on a weapons deal between India and Vietnam there is a significant rapprochement between both countries that both display a rapprochement with Japan. This places Vietnam at the center of an ‘Anti China Axis’ from India to Japan meanwhile India and Vietnam increasingly fostering ties with the US. The article focuses on the new Indian eastward movement with Vietnam as its linchpin.
31 August 2017
Indonesia and Vietnam mend ties after talks to settle South China Sea disputes
Despite two recent maritime stand-offs in the waters in the South China Sea Indonesia and Vietnam mended ties after President Joko Widodo and Communist Party of Vietnam Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong held talks on their interests in the South China Sea producing also a number of important deals between the countries.
18 August 2017
Standards for Party high-ranking officials issued
High ranking officials of the Vietnamese Communist Party are working from now on under the scrutiny based on written standard and assessment criteria. Introducing a novelty in Vietnam, the Party’s General Secretary signed a related official document on Monday containing specific provisions to assess the performance of party officials falling under the scrutiny of the Party Central Committee, Politburo and Secretariat.
11 August 2017
Politicized Enforcement in Vietnam: Anti-Corruption Campaign Under CPV General Secretary Trong
The fierce anti-corruption campaign pushed by the General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party has resulted in the prosecution and conviction of high ranking state officials and part members. The General Secretary’s motives for the campaign appear to be manifold, including political ones.
11 August 2017
Vietnam to launch online censorship system
Based on a recent approval of the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications, the launch of a censorship system against misleading information and cybercrime activities on the internet in Vietnam will start soon.
27 July 2017
Vietnam confirms order of Russian T-90 tanks
With Russia’s defense industry, according to news agencies in Hanoi, looking to expand its presence in Vietnam, another step into this direction has been taken with Vietnam’s recent order of 64 main battle tanks.
27 July 2017
Vietnam says 4 fishermen wounded by Indonesian navy; Indonesia navy denies wounding 4 Vietnam fishermen in clash
Vietnamese authorities have claimed that the Indonesian Navy has wounded four Vietnamese fishermen in an escalation of a fishing dispute in the contested waters of the North Natuna Sea. The Indonesian navy denies reports that four Vietnamese fishermen were wounded after a warning shot was fired at their boats in a bid to chase them from Indonesian territory. The incident occurred in the North Natuna Sea, the name given to the Southernmost part of the South China Sea in Indonesia. Indonesia has stepped up defense of its maritime territory and exclusive economic zone, regularly destroying foreign fishing vessels [Rappler, ABC News].
16 July 2017
Vietnam to pull the US back to Asia?
The US-Viet Nam joint statement released in the context of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s visit to the White House on 31 May 2017 marks a firm agenda for the deepening of the two countries’ political, diplomatic, and economic ties [East Asia Forum].
16 July 2017
VN vows to lift restrictions to facilitate foreign investors: PM Phúc
Viet Nam is ready to lift restrictions on foreign investment, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc declared at the Việt Nam – Netherlands Business Forum in The Hague on Tuesday [Viet Nam News].
7 July 2017
Vietnam Blogger Gets 10 Years for ‘Conducting Propaganda’
Vietnamese blogger “Mother Mushroom” received a harsh sentence last week on account of “conducting propaganda against the State” and now faces ten years in prison. The law is widely criticised in the international community and thought to be vaguely worded on purpose to suppress dissent [Voice of America News].
7 July 2017
Vietnam for greater Indian role in SE Asia
The Delhi Dialogue IX, marking the beginning of celebrations of 25 years of ASEAN-India dip-lomatic ties, saw a strong call by Vietnamese leaders for ASEAN and India to further strength-en ties amid new geopolitical circumstances in Indo-Pacific Asia [The Hindu].
30 June 2017
Breakthrough solutions needed: NA
The third plenary session of the 14th National Assembly of Viet Nam passed 12 laws and 12 resolutions, marking the determination of Viet Nam’s legislators to urge the government to advance policies important for the socio-economic development of the country.
22 June 2017
Việt Nam, China Discuss Defense Cooperation
Việt Nam hopes to strengthen trust with China, improving the two countries’ co-operation in sustaining peace and stability in the East Sea (South China Sea) based on respect for each other’s interests and international law, …
22 June 2017
Reform Political Apparatus, Experts Say
A revitalised Government is necessary but not enough to achieve targeted economic breakthroughs. Only a thorough reform of the whole political system can do it, experts said at a conference.