Tags: Vietnam | communists | democracy | China

Vietnam Communists Call for Democracy, Shift Away From China

Wednesday, 06 August 2014 09:36 AM

Anger over Vietnam’s handling of a territorial dispute with China has prompted a group of senior communist party members to call on the government to jettison communism for democracy and “get out of China’s orbit.”

Sixty-one prominent members of Vietnam’s Communist Party, including a former ambassador to Beijing, urged Vietnam’s leadership in an open letter to change its political system, “develop a truly democratic, law-abiding state,” allow for greater freedom of political speech and “escape” from its reliance on China.

“The Party needs to get rid of Marxism-Leninism and get out of China’s orbit,” Chu Hao, former vice minister of science and technology and one of the letter’s three co-authors, said in a phone interview. “It is very high time for the party to make a thorough transformation.”

The July 28 letter adds pressure to the government after China’s moving of an oil rig into contested territorial waters set off a wave of Vietnamese nationalism and deadly anti-Chinese riots in May. The dispute has deepened the wedge between the two communist countries at a time when Vietnam’s economy has become more dependent on Chinese investment and trade.

Any move away from China could provide an opening for the U.S. to serve as an economic and security hedge against Chinese influence in Vietnam, said Scott Harold, an analyst in Washington with Santa Monica-based Rand Corp. whose doctorate from Columbia University focused on China’s foreign policy.

“If Vietnam were to decide the strategic future of Vietnam requires a political opening to the West akin to what Myanmar has passed through in the past three, four years, a genuine opening up — not full democracy — if Vietnam were to do something like that, it would be an enormous strategic loss for China,” Harold said.

The letter reflects the sentiment among a growing number of party members that the government was not forceful enough in confronting China over the oil rig, which led to weeks of clashes at sea, resulting in the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat in late May.

The Vietnamese Communist Party’s reputation has been damaged by bad policies, corruption and by agreeing to “kneel down in the face of Beijing’s pressure,” Tuong Lai, former head of Hanoi-based Vietnam Institute of Sociology and adviser to late Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet who signed the letter, said in an interview.

Discontent is also rising over widespread corruption, with senior party members willing to openly criticize the government over the confrontation with China.

“It just adds to their disillusionment,” Alexander Vuving, a security analyst at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, said in a phone interview. “It indicates to the leadership that people are increasingly getting more courage to speak up. They are willing to act.”

Vietnam’s leadership, which did not publicly acknowledge the letter, is unlikely to heed the call for radical reform, Murray Hiebert, a Washington-based senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said in an e-mail.

“The party only wants to make minor tweaks on the margins,” he said. “It is not willing to make major changes for fear of losing power.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comments on the letter.

The letter calls on Vietnam to take legal action against China, something Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the government is considering.

Vietnam’s government has “so far have failed to win people’s trust and failed to prove that the Vietnam government has dealt with China with a smart strategy,” said Hao, one of the letter’s authors. Instead, leaders reveal “their feebleness,” he said.

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Anger over Vietnam’s handling of a territorial dispute with China has prompted a group of senior communist party members to call on the government to jettison communism for democracy and “get out of China’s orbit.”
Vietnam, communists, democracy, China
Wednesday, 06 August 2014 09:36 AM
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