2 June 2015
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Vietnam is entering a critical period in its leadership transition amid a complex power struggle between different factions, compounded by regional security tension in the South China Sea.
The 12th Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam will be held early next year to review the progress of policies of the past five years. The Congress will also issue a five-year socio-economic development strategy to speed up industrialization and modernization.
Most importantly, the Congress will elect members of the Central Committee, the Politburo, and the General Secretary for 2016-2021 terms. Many observers of Vietnamese politics believe Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will remain the strongman.
He has consolidated his power base, particularly in the last four years. His faction has higher political leverage in power bargaining for the leadership position.
“The Central Committee is mostly composed of cabinet members and top officials from provinces, whose appointment was either decided or greatly influenced by Dung,” argues Le Hong Hiep, visiting research fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “Following the 12th CPV National Congress in 2016, it is likely that the new Central Committee will continue to wield growing power.”
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will likely be chosen to be the next General Secretary, the most influential position in the Party. The next Prime Minister will likely be a candidate close to Dung.
In such a scenario, Vietnam will have stronger leadership. Dung will be Vietnam’s strongman for at least another five years. His faction will consolidate power and further shape Vietnam’s domestic politics and foreign policy.
Economic development is the key yardstick.
Vietnam has been faced with slow economic growth rate since 2011. Annual growth averaged 5.5 percent between 2011 and 2014 compared with a 7.3 percent average GDP growth between 2001 and 2010. The main causes of such slow growth were weak demand, non-performing loans, and bad debts in the banking system.
Due to relatively poor economic performance, Dung faced mounting pressures from his own party. He faced a first-ever confidence vote by members of parliament in June 2013 for his shortcomings.
Since then, he has initiated reforms, calling for greater accountability, transparency, and effective state institutions.
In March 2014 and March 2015, two important resolutions were passed to remove obstacles to doing business in Vietnam, and to improve the business and investment climate in the country.
In the next five years, Vietnam will implement phase two of the Socio-Economic Development Strategy (2011-2020).
This Strategy has three breakthrough areas: promoting skills development especially for modern industry and innovation; improving market institutions; and developing infrastructure. Vietnam needs to increase productivity and competitiveness within the context of regional economic integration, and to further promote export-oriented industrialization.
Pragmatic Foreign Policy
In terms of foreign policy, Dung has scored remarkable results. Vietnam’s role in the region, particularly in Asean, has been strengthened. Vietnam has taken a leadership role in certain regional cooperation initiatives, enhancing sub-regional cooperation in the lower Mekong region.
Under Dung’s leadership, Vietnam has taken a proactive and pragmatic foreign policy towards major powers, particularly in building closer ties with its former foe, the US. Vietnam’s external relations with Japan, India, and Russia have also advanced to new levels.
However, the bilateral relationship with China is not going smoothly. It is being tested by sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. The top foreign policy challenge for Dung is to sustain good and peaceful relations with China.
Vietnam will invest more efforts and resources in maintaining traditional ties with Cambodia and Laos. These two smaller neighbors have moved closer to China, creating certain security insecurities for Vietnam.