Vietnam: Communist regime intensifies crackdown on dissidents. Why?

Vietnam recently arrested 4 activists, other 2 were just sentenced to 9-10 years.  Do you think that crackdown on dissidents in Vietnam is widening, and why? Does the regime feel somehow insecure? Read few comments.

Jonathan London, University Lecturer of Global Political Economy, Leiden University

Over the last decade Vietnam has seen the development of a surprisingly vibrant political culture, owing both to the availability of internet technologies, which permit relatively free expression, and to the budding interest of the Vietnamese public in participating in discussions about the issues facing their country. The Vietnamese state, unlike China, has not sought to erect a giant fire wall. The result has been the development of a vibrant political scene, if within a repressive political framework. The development of this new political culture the main story and the big picture we should be aware of.

Within the last year and particularly within the last several months conservative elements within the Party have gained the upper hand at the level of elite politics and have launched a campaign aimed at disciplining society and, if possible, eliminating and silencing dissident voices. Harsh prison sentences – in this instance given to two women, each with two dependent children — are meant to achieve this and to achieve a demonstration effect.

In the next year or so it is expected that Vietnam will see a change in top leadership, particularly at the heights of the Party. Historically, cracking down on real and imaginary threats has been a way for political contestants to boost their party credentials…other factors include extreme pressures being placed on Vietnam by Beijing, the absence of a US president interested in rights, and possibly upcoming APEC conference…

Tuong Vu, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Oregon

The Vietnamese government has clearly been widening its crackdown on critics and dissent. The last Party Congress in 2016 unprecedentedly elected 5 police generals or former police generals into the Politburo (19 members); one of who also assumes the State Presidency. The Hanoi regime is certainly feeling more insecure in the last few years with the rise of an increasingly bold civil society. With the expanded power of the police at the top, the new leadership naturally puts greater emphasis on and is more willing to rely on coercion to achieve domestic security.

The government also encountered greater problems last year, beset with corruption scandals and massive protests against an environmental disaster caused by a state-sponsored project. The Communist Party was forced to expel a Politburo member for corruption, but criticisms have not abated.

The collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the election of President Donald Trump, who is not interested in human rights issues, may have allayed Hanoi’s fear of being punished by the US for its crackdown, thus contributing to it.

Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor, University of New South Wales, Director of Thayer Consultancy

I think at least two processes have become intertwined. The first is the bureaucratic process followed by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS). All the activists and bloggers arrested in recent weeks have been known to security authorities for a long time.. The MPS would have conducted surveillance on each of them to determine the extent of their networks. In addition, the MPS would have developed a massive dossier on each activist that includes details of protests and postings on blog sites and Facebook. Once this dossier was compiled the MPS would have approached the family, friends and work mates of the activist under scrutiny and advised them to use their influence to get the activist to stop their “bad activities.” The activist in question in would have been brought in for several rounds of interrogation, designed to elicit more information and to intimidate. Finally, if the activist persisted in public protest the MPS file would have been passed up the chain of command for action.

Once a dossier has reached a high-level in the MPS political and strategic considerations would come into play to determine whether or arrest or not. The most important factor, in my view, is that Vietnam will be hosting the APEC Summit at the end of the year. The MPS would be keen to prevent a repetition of events that took place in 2006 when Vietnam first hosted an APEC Summit. At this time pro-democracy activists, known as Block 8406 (from their founding 8  April 2006) called on world leaders assembling in Hanoi to speak out about human rights abuses inVietnam. Vietnam puts great stock on its international prestige and delayed repressing the activists until after the APEC summit concluded. Block 8406 was eviscerated.

Vietnam is acting pre-emptively to disrupt active pro-democracy networks and bloggers well before APEC meets. In addition, the current repressive actions are aimed at intimidating other would be activists from make public protests either on the internet or in public demonstrations later in the year. The MPS and senior party leaders have plenty of time to gauge reaction from the international community. If necessary, the security authorities could take steps to mitigate any negative fallout by releasing one or more imprisoned activists on a variety of pretexts – good behavior or compassionate reasons.

The Vietnamese regime has always raised the specter of “peaceful evolution” and “color revolution” as a threat to the regime. Almost as an article of faith, following the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Vietnam’s leaders fear bottom up pressures for change that they cannot manage or control. A particularly sensitive issue is the South China Sea, Vietnamese sovereignty and the response of the Vietnamese government to China. All the activists and bloggers arrested predate the recent threats by China to use force to stop Repsol of Spain from drilling for hydrocarbons in the Vanguard Bank. Nonetheless, the issue of how to defend Vietnam’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is particularly sensitive at this time. Vietnam’s leaders do not want relations with China to deteriorate but they have no effective strategy to respond to recent Chinese threats. In this sense the regime is feeling vulnerable. The Vietnam Communist Party has long argued that it successfully upheld nationalism in defeating foreign aggressors, now popular nationalism has overtaken the regime’s claims to legitimacy as activists and bloggers call for stronger action.

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