News – Vietnam in the top 10 expat’s favourite destinations

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For the seventh time in its history, InterNations, the most important expat community in the world with around 4 million members, has published the Expat Insider survey ranking the countries depending on their attractiveness for foreign workers. Between the 7th and the 31st of January 2021, 12 240 foreign workers coming from 174 nations were questioned about 37 criteria that can be gathered in the following categories and sub-categories:

  • Quality of life including leisure options, personal happiness, travel and transport, health and well-being, safety, digital life, quality of the environment.
  • Finance associated with cost of life.
  • Ease of settling  in composed of the feeling to be at home, friendliness of the locals, finding friends and language barrier.
  • Working abroad with career prospects, work and leisure, economy and job security.

The results are collected and balanced with the question “What’s your satisfaction level living abroad?” to state the overall mark. To be included in the ranking, the host country must welcome at least 50 asked people.

Because the goal of this article is less methodological than analytical , every reader that would like to know more about the survey’s creation conditions is invited to read the survey on InterNations website: https://www.internations.org/e xpat-insider/?ref=fo_exi . In the same way, the following paragraphs are not meant to make a list of the data regarding Vietnam but rather to put it into perspective. Therefore, a list of Vietnam’s raw rankings is available at the end of the article for  ease of reading.

This year’s survey has given the 10th rank to Vietnam on the 59 countries analysed, behind (in the decreasing order) Taiwan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Ecuador and Canada.

Though the overall result is below the 2nd place of 2019[1], it is still honourable and within  the average performance of the country since the leap up of 2016 (from 36 in 2015 to 12). It has to be noticed that 2021’s survey takes the COVID 19 economic consequences and uncertainty into account.

If one takes a look at the details of this statement, it appears that Vietnam benefits from the same assets and suffers from the same weak points as in the previous years. In the following paragraphs we’ll then explain that the country manages to be very attractive for expats thanks to its economic dynamism and the friendliness of its people to attract foreign workers while most of its weaknesses are structural.

I) Vietnam, a financial paradise and source of personal happiness.

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The Vietnamese market is not only affordable and dynamic but also very competitive.

Like all the South-East Asian countries ranked in the first half of the Expat Insider Report (Malaysia #4, Singapore #13, Thaïland #14, Philippines #26, Indonesia #31), Vietnam enjoy the benefits of the regional economic growth to offer an economic environment particularly advantageous for the expats. The country is then at the first place  in the subcategories regarding the cost of living and the personal finance, and so since 2014. 90% of the survey participant loestimate that they earn enough or more than enough to live in Vietnam (against 77% gobally). This performance is mainly based on the low price of the real estate market due to a massive offer in the most important urban centres. Same observation applies regarding  the food.

Another consequence of this economic dynamism, Vietnam is in the top 10 both in terms of easing working abroad (#9) especially in terms of job perspectives (#4). However, the economic backlash of the global pandemic seems to have impacted the performances in this matter, generally badly

Indeed, following its policy of “0 case” in its struggle against the COVID 19, Hanoï hardened its migratory policy in order to avoid the infections, especially the foreigners from bordering countries (Lao, Cambodia, China). Thus, if until now getting a visa against some bills was easy, authorities seem to close the eyes no longer regarding this practices. As a consequence, the companies must from now on start tedious administrative procedures regarding their foreign employees work permit. A new obligation often crippling for some structures like language centres, a big provider of job for foreigners. Whence a relative decrease of the Vietnamese results regarding the categories “economy and job safety” (from #11 to 14 between 2019 and this year) and the overall marks “working abroad” (from #1 to #9 on the same period) and “Easing to settle” (from #15 to #25).

Taking another look at jobs , some domestic economic branches are harshly hit by the diverse sanitary restrictions. It is particularly the case for the touristic sector within which the domestic demand doesn’t cover the extinction of foreigner tourists. Thus, some foreign investors and owners in tourism dependent Vietnamese localities have suffered, are suffering and will suffer from money loss.

It has to be observed that, for the moment, the quite successful management of the sanitary crisis of the Vietnamese government allows the country to keep a certain political and economic stability while the pandemic was shaking the whole world. This resilience and the good economic results that followed – 2.7% of annual growth for 2020, the only positive rate in South-East Asian – even led some international analysts to call Vietnam the next “Asian miracle”. However, that mustn’t hide the fact that some weaknesses have been revealed by the sanitary crisis, like it’s too important dependency to foreign investments or the domestic consumption contraction. As we already treated this topic on the blog, the readers wishing to know more are invited to click the following link for more precisions: https://vinageoblog.wordpress.com/2021/02/14/news-the-xiiith-congress-of-the-vietnamese-communist-party-in-search-of-stability-in-times-of-a-health-crisis-or-a-conservative-stiffening/  . Il est néanmoins à retenir que le Vietnam devrait continuer à . Based on this data, it can be foreseen that Vietnam will be able to ensure a favourable economic environment that would like to settle down there – an attractive country despite a mediocre quality of life.

In addition to this economic and social advantages come the ones related to the generally friendly welcome from the population or to the elements allowing the foreigners to feel home or enjoy the country (exotism, food, local culture, climate, safety, etc…). In this matter also Vietnam seems to have kept its numerous assets despite an overall contraction of the Expat Insider 2021 results (cf. Vietnam raw results list). However, the comparison with the previous numbers allow one to state a relative consistency at the top of the ranking, and this, despite the worst mark since 2014 for the category “Personnal Happiness”. Keep in mind that these categories are based on feeling and that, as a consequence, can widely vary from one group to another in the same condition.

Bia Hoi Junction - Guide Vietnam
It’s always hard to describe the feeling of an atmosphere. If you have any chances to visit Hanoi, go enjoy the cheapest beer on earth (30 cents of euro) on Ta Hien street, in the old quarter, in order to understand the affection of the foreigners for this place.

As a start of explanation for this friendliness, let’s put in perspective the recent history of Vietnam. The disclosure of the country known as “Doi Moi” (“Renewal” or “Revival”) was partly launched to break the isolation of the country after the intervention of the Vietnamese army overthrow the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and the war with China in 1979. Then, for the power – cruelly dependent from USSR and its satellites – as well as for the people – kept away from the world in a North-Korean way – the rupture with the war years and the 11 years of catastrophic collectivist economic policies between the reunification of the country in 1975 and the Doi Moi (1986) has been lived as a relief. This heavy trend has been confirmed with the revelation of the country economic potential with the years, especially regarding tourism. In a same way, Hanoi relies on foreign grey matter contribution – including the Vietnamese diaspora – to make up its technological delay or its educational system flaws (especially for foreign language). As a consequence, the government deployed and is deploying a very energetic diplomatic activity in order to flatten the obstacles to foreigner settling.

Though it doesn’t appear in the raw data of the report since 2017, the language issues have never been crippling for the foreigners to be able to live in Vietnam. Since the new generation of Vietnamese is learning English, you can get access to all the services and goods you need. 72% of the asked people then think that living in Vietnam without mastering the local language[2].

 All of these elements makes  life pretty pleasant in Vietnam. This “seduction power” is even more surprising that everyone seems to agree on the fact that the quality of life is quite bad.

II) An attractive country despite a quality of life assessed mediocre.

As reminded before, the current prosperity of Vietnam is following a period made of austerity, of deprivation, of shortage, of administration manipulated and prohibitively priced black market, of the corruption of the bureaucratic machine and of mass poverty. This situation was both the result of Hanoi diplomatic isolation after the Chinese-vietnamese war of 1979 (doubled with the China-USSR rivalry) and inefficient economic choices.

As a result, the country is suffering from severe lack  of infrastructures , directly impacting the quality of life of the people, especially in town, place of living for most of the expat. It then brings a paradox that characterizes Vietnam so well: the country is at the bottom of the ranking regarding the expat quality of life (#53) but, as we’ve already seen, got a good mark about being a source of personal happiness (#15).

The main pitfall remains the air pollution level in the two main Vietnamese cities: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh-City. The first one even regularly reach es the top 10 of the global most polluted cities in June when the temperature is rising but the rainy season is not there to dissipate the exhaust gas and when the peasant burns the rice paddy around the city. 3 on 5 people asked (around 63%) by InterNation assessed the air quality as “bad” (against 20% globally). This is the direct consequence of the domestic deficiency in terms of public transport (#51 on 59 in the Expat Insider ranking) leading to the massive use of individual transports. Paired with the raising of the number of urban citizens – which means the raise of the density of habitation -, it ensues a growing traffic pressure in big cities every year.

Hanoi residents worry about air pollution | Environment | Vietnam+  (VietnamPlus)
The smog on the city of Hanoi during a particulary high pollution episod. Like Beijing, the Vietnamese capital city had only known 37 of clean air in 2020.

The authorities are aware of the situation and have already launched some building programs in order to step up. However, the stranglehold of the administration on the real estate management as well as the endemic corruption among the offices in charge of this management has resulted in a series of scandal delaying the construction[3]. The most symbolic example of this chaos is the 13km of the hanoian air-train line 2A between Cat Linh and Ha Dong quarters. Financed by the Chinese government development aid up to 552,86 millions of dollars and given to the China Railway Company (public), the construction started in October 2011 and were supposed to be achieved at the end of 2013. But operational and administrative issues arose from the problems of financing finalization bringing the total amount to 868 millions of dollars[4]. The extra cost has been financed by preferential rates loans granted by the Import-Export Bank of China. Then the bulk construction was done only during the third trimester of 2018 before the COVID 19 outbreak and the hardened migratory rules it brought prevent the French consultant team of Apave-Certifier-Tricc (ACT) from executing their control mission. Once done, this mission showed some serious security problems needing 6 months to be fixed[5]. Thus, the date of April 2021 announced by the Vietnamese government for commercial public opening of the line 2A has already passed. Besides the Vietnamese administration being (one more time) discredited for its bad economic affair management in the eyes of the population, the “line 2A case” is feeding the ancestral resentment of the Vietnamese toward their northern neighbours. Some even call out the collusion between some civil servants from the Hanoi People Committee and the Ministry of Transport with the Chinese project manager to make money on the construction delays and their extra costs. It has to be noticed that the bad management of the work has harshly hit the city on 1) the logistic matter due to the road degradation or congestion by the machine at some important traffic knots; 2) the economic matter, many small shops near the construction site suffering from the noise and dust pollution and 3) the urban plan, the delay of the line 2A leading to the delay of 20 more projects depending on it[6]. In comparison, the constructions led by the Japanese companies have taken place without major incident and delays[7]

Vietnam protesters attack China over sea dispute - BBC News
In 2014, the installation of an chinese offshore oil rig in the territorial waters claimed by Vietnam ensued a anti-Chinese feeling peak among Vietnamese people. Here a demonstration in Hanoi.

This type of causal relations between deficient infrastructure and the quality of life degradation can be spread both to the sanitation and water distribution system[8] and the waste treatment circuit. The Expat Insider 2021 is echoing the worries of 42% of the asked regarding the water cleanliness in urban zones[9] and the plastic waste pollution along the coast. Let’s remind ourselves here  that the previous point depends on the domestic management as well as on the international recycling organisation as detailed.

Since 2018, the InterNation’s report includes the “digital life” criteria in order to assess to what extent the country is using the informatics tools to ease the expat’s life. In this matter, Vietnam got one of its worst mark (#54) with half of the expats’ sample estimating the dematerialized public services hard to access[10]. For one fourth of them the payment solution out of cash are still not good enough. This is just one  more paradox in a country of young people who are  fond of technology and online services[11].

All these previously detailed aspects lead without surprise to mediocre results for Vietnam about the categories “Health and wellness” (#46) and “Quality of environment” (#57). If the ranking about the health issues is the best since 2014 thanks to the slow but sure improvement of the services (health staff and infrastructures), it is clear that, based on the current data, no radical change is to be expected from Hanoi on the ecological side.

Conclusion: as you maybe have already understood, the Expat Insider 2021 portrays Vietnam as a country in need of qualified foreign workforce ready to ready to offer a wealthy environment. Though burdened by its history, its political system and its developing country status, Vietnam has some certain assets to give anyone a good reason to settle down on its territory despite a bad quality of life. During the year 2021, it remains to be seen how the coronavirus crisis will impact the financial performance of the country.


[1] Because of COVID 19 outbreak, the 2020’s survey focused on sustainable development and cities ranking.

[2] InterNation, Expat Insider 2021 : The Year of Uncertainity, mai 2021, p.60

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jul/18/long-wait-hanoi-metro-vietnam-motorbike

[4] The contracts renegociation following the financing issues results in a retention of the safety reports by the chinese company because it didn’t feel bound anymore: https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Transportation/Vietnam-s-China-built-metro-line-falls-2-years-behind-schedule

[5] https://ezydict.com/hanoi-metro-set-to-miss-yet-another-deadline-12868141 and https://tienphongnews.com/ministry-affirms-cat-linh-ha-dong-metro-line-certified-as-safe-by-french-consultant-175261.html/amp

[6] https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Transportation/Vietnam-s-China-built-metro-line-falls-2-years-behind-schedule

[7] https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/business/article/2104149/vietnams-tale-two-metros-one-built-japanese-and-other-chinese

[8] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1087724X18780045

[9] InterNation, Expat Insider 2021 : The Year of Uncertainity, mai 2021, p.60

[10] Ibid.

[11] https://www.temasek.com.sg/en/news-and-views/stories/future/generation-v-how-vietnams-youths-are-powering-the-e-conomy


News – The XIIIth Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party : in search of stability in times of a health crisis or a conservative stiffening?

Disclaimer:This article is a translated version of one I published in French. The references were originally in French so I changed it to English ones every time it was possible.

From the 25th to the 31st of January, the XIIIth Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VPC) was held in Hanoi, during which the 1587 delegates representing some 5.1 million Party members elected new representatives of the Politburo (the seat of power) and the main policies for the 5 next years. Despite the obscurity surrounding the Marxist-Leninist process, the result of such political events may offer clues to the observer to speculate on the dynamics of Party leadership.

Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party

As will be demonstrated below, this year Congress was marked by the reelection of Nguyen Phu Trong – former General Secretary of the Party and President of the Republic – breaking some internal rules of the Party and strengthening of the interests of the Party within the Politburo. This begs the question: are these elements bringing about a stiffening of the Vietnamese political establishment, or a pragmatic twill to adapt to the specific situation of the current sanitary crisis.

To do so, let’s explain the context the Congress happened in and then put the composition of the Politburo in the post-Doi Moi governance in perspective.

I)                 A Congress contemporary to COVID-19 issues.

Regarding the context, the Vietnamese decision-makers are among the few people considering the year 2020 as a success. Indeed, Hanoi shows an advantageous result of 1985 COVID-19 cases and only 35[1] deaths thanks to a strict and legally binding sanitary protocol. From an economic perspective, Vietnam saw a 2.7% GDP growth in 2020, being the only South East Asian country with a positive growth rate in the last year[2].

Consequently, Vietnam enjoys a very good international reputation, particularly among the rating and development agencies. For example, Ruchir Sharma, Strategy Manager at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, published an article on the 13th of October entitled “Is Vietnam the next “Asian miracle”[3]?

       It should be specified here that Vietnam’s growth model relies on manufacturing to attract foreign companies. This is based on its comparative advantages such as wage competitivity, workforce abundance, and political stability[4]. Hence, the inflow of foreign investment – and, by extension, a good reputation – is of particular importance for Vietnam, representing 20% of the GDP and 60% to 70% of the exportations[5]. Hanoi also hopes that the establishment of foreign companies will allow an upgrade of the workforce and subsequently, an upgrade of the domestic producers.

Conscious of this need to maintain the country’s good reputation and suffering the negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on foreign investment (-15% for the first semester of 2020)[6], the government implemented a special workgroup under the responsibility of the Ministry of Planning and Investment in order to work on the country’s attractiveness[7].

Due to these measures, most of the development and rating agencies foresee a quick rebound in growth once the COVID-19 issues have disappeared. Rates  of GDP growth between 6.5% to 7% have been announced for 2021[8].

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Vietnamese propaganda poster.: « Together, let’s fight against COVID-19 »

However, this enthusiasm quickly dissipated once you read the Vietnamese language press, which is closer to reality. The Vietnamese economy certainly displays encouraging macro-economic indicators, but many concerns remain and must be addressed by the new leading team .

Indeed, domestic consumption, representing 68% of the GDP[9], contracted following the crisis. According to the official statistics, 31.8 million of the 54 million workers (59%)[10] saw their income drop due to the COVID-19, even though the country had only 22 days of strict lockdown and 27 trillion VNDong (970 million euros)[11] in financial aid. The average revenue decreased by 5% since the beginning of the crisis[12]. It must be noted that this statistic is not accurately representative: 20 to 30% of the Vietnamese economy is “off the radar” because it’s informal.

This decrease in purchasing power also reduces the chance to see domestic demand replace international demand in the tourism sector (12.4% of GDP)[13], the country’s most damaged industry.

Finally, several questions arose regarding the capacity of Vietnam to put in place and enforce measures that will maintain the foreign investment inflow and allow domestic companies to cope with international competition[14]. Indeed, the country has many structural issues preventing investment attraction and impacting their efficiency, the main ones still being corruption and real estate rules. The problem is that, for a few years, Vietnam has opened its market through free trade agreements – the last one being the RCEP – putting its companies under the pressure of harsher competition. Some analysts presume that some measures then have to be implemented in order to avoid weakening the least competitive domestic branches.

These elements are crucial for both the country’s and the Party’s future in the sense that, at present, the current legitimacy of the VPC is mainly based on its ability to take Vietnam out of the economic catastrophe and the diplomatic isolation it was subject to during the late ’80s. The long- term economic prosperity is then considered as an indispensable component of national security by the Ministry of Public Security[15].

However, despite the pandemic-related troubles, the Congress’s preparation phases were fairly peaceful, as the Party reached all its goals proposed during the 2016 XIIth Congress.

This didn’t prevent a crackdown on dissident voices, which reached new records this year. Censorship on Facebook (the first social network in Vietnam with 61 million accounts) and Youtube skyrocketed, as both social networks complied with 95% and 90% of government requests respectively[16]. In addition, on the 6th of October, the journalist Pham Doang Tran, founder of the online magazine, Luât Khoa, which allowed citizens to ask the application of the state of rules, was arrested because she investigated the recent events of Dong Tam[17].

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The 29 convicted in the Dong Tam case. Dong Tam people refused the requisition of their land for a big real estate project. The tension raised until the government sent the anti-riot police. 3 policemen died during the fights with the villagers

This episode cast light on a paradox that may threaten the Party’s popular backing: the masses accepted a strict and efficient sanitary protocol because the process was fully transparent. Let’s specify here that, in a Marxist-Leninist country like Vietnam, this phenomenon is quite rare. Thus, the average Vietnamese citizen may start to link the efficiency of public action to its level of transparency, conferring a significant pressure on the authorities[18]. This would result in a relative share of the VPC’s power monopoly. Indeed, some precedents have already been set, such as the aforementioned Dong Tam case. The Party had to officially disclose some information related to the events in order to appease the masses; the Ho Duy Hai cases marked a similar backtracking last year[19].

This request for transparency would also undermine a defensive process often used by the Party: “blame avoidance”[20]. This consists in reporting the legitimate criticisms for a failure from the central organization to the local one in order to safeguard the prestige and the legitimacy of the highest members of the Party[21]. If something goes wrong, it’s not because of bad central management or a bad rule but because of a bad implementation at a local level. But the adept management of the sanitary crisis has only been possible thanks to tight cooperation between the different levels of power. Thus, this experience may provoke the exasperation of people if an outrageous case of “blame avoidance” were to happen again, and then tighten the corridor of action of the Party[22].

Having specified these issues, let’s find out about the XIIIth Congress issues.

II)               The XIIIth Congress: conservative decay or institutional resilience?

Here, the idea is to draw conclusions based on the factual aspects of the Congress.

One of the first aspects is that 9 of the 18 former members of the Politburo have been re-elected for the XIIIth Congress[23]. The 9 new members insist that the interests of the Party have been strengthened within the Politburo, increasing the number of its defenders to 13 (compared to 8 on 18 for the XIIth Congress)[24]. The Vietnamese People’s Army also saw its number of representatives double with the election of General Luong Cuong (head of the General Political Department) and General Phan Van Giang (VPA’s Chief of General Staff), as well as the Police with the Ministry of Public Security To Lam and, indirectly, through Pham Minh Chinh ( former vice-minister of the Public Security) and Nguyen Hoa Binh ( former high-rank civil servant of the Ministry of Public Security) as well as the Prosecutor General of the Supreme People’s Procuracy.  But the main change is the presence of 7 representatives of the Party’s central authorities: the Head of the Central Committee’s Organization Commission, Economic Commission, Mass Mobilization Commission, Ideology and Education Commission, Internal Affairs Commission, and Inspection Commission. It’s the first time since Doi Moi that the Politburo has included the head of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy. The head of the Vietnam Fatherland Front (in charge of worker’s unions, religious association, and civil society management) as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of the supreme court complete the list.[25]

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The last meedting of the XIIIth Congress of the VCP

The second aspect is the third term of Nguyen Phu Trong as General Secretary of the VPC and the ascension of Nguyen Xuan Phuc to the position of President of the Republic.  Confirming the strengthening of the position of the Party, the head of the Organization Commission, Pham Minh Chinh, became Prime Minister. Lastly, Vuong Dinh Hue, ex-secretary of the People’s Committee of Hanoi et ex-Vice Prime Minister became Chairman of the National Assembly.

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Le Duan (1908-1986)

In order to analyze these nominations in the right way, it must be noted that keeping Trong in power breaks some of the rules implemented in 1986 to avoid institutional blockage after the death of Ho Chi Minh in 1969[26]. Indeed, the successor of the Vietnamese independance’s father, Le Duan, former head of the South Vietnam Liberation Front (also known as Viêt Công), concentrated power and prevented the country from economic and diplomatic reform, resulting in economic catastrophe and diplomatic isolation[27]. The situation only started to improve after his death in 1986, allowing the Party to open the country to the international economy. After this episode, it has been decided that the people at the “4 pillars” positions (quoted in the previous paragraph) mustn’t be allowed to serve more than 2 terms and can’t attend the position if they are more than 65 years old. Yet, Nguyen Phu Trong, 77 years old, has just started his third term. Though the age rule has seen many exemptions since 1986 (Nguyen Xuan Phuc is currently 67), it’s the first time that the “2 terms” rule has been broken. Let’s not forget that Trong also suffered a stroke during Spring 2019, showing the limits of his health[28].

At first sight, one can be tempted to interpret these violations as a “classical” abuse of power often seen in the political spheres. Indeed, the number 1 of the VCP was already an exception in recent Vietnamese history as he endorsed the title of President of the Republic when the former President, Tran Dai Quang (1956-2018), died. Being at the same time President and General Secretary of the Party, he was the most powerful politician of the regime since Ho Chi Minh[29]. Some can’t help but compare him to Xin Jinping, the president of the Chinese Communist Party, and who currently holds the same titles. This point may be confirmed by the implementation of a cult of personality, only reserved until now for “Uncle Ho” and Vo Nguyen Giap. According to Reuters, a biography was then published describing him as an “intelligent, brave, and pure leader” striving to bring Vietnam “shoulder to shoulder with the powers of the five continents, as Uncle Ho respectfully wished[30].”. Concerning his anti-corruption campaign, Trong is described as “a noble man, sent by the spirits to purify the system,”, “hammer and sickle in hand, he dispels gloom, waiting for the sunshine[31].”

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Nguyen Tan Dung

Thus, desipte showing a monolithic front, the Party is shared by some factions that can’t be described here for time reasons. In 2016, the XIIth Congress publicised the clash between these factions through the conflict between Nguyen Phu Trong and the former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. The former, supported by the conservative wing, managed to overthrow the latter, champion of the liberal wing, via an anti-corruption campaign to restore the legitimacy of the Party. Dung was indeed at the centre of many corruption cases that were publicly revealed and that caused a loss of faith of the population toward its leaders[32].  Though strengthened by this experience, the Party let its divisions appear as well as its weaknesses – in the case that the factions are unable to reach a consensus, separatism could threaten the monopoly of the Party on power.

As a result, during the preparation Plenum of January 2020, Trong introduced 2 new criteria regarding the “4 pillars” of election conditions. Rule 214 then stated that the candidates have to be “unity factor” among the Party and “enjoy a good popular reputation”. In a few, they would have to come from the VCP mould and be appreciated by the masses[33]. Many think that issuing these rules was a way for Trong to push his protégé, Tran Quoc Vong to the forefront. Vong has indeed been the right arm of Trong during the anti-corruption campaign and was quite popular for that[34].

However, despite his influence within the Party, the number 1 didn’t manage to impose Vong on the 200 delegates of the Central Committee. For many observers, it would be the reason why he has remained in power, as nobody else fulfils the aforementioned criteria. The possibility that Trong would leave his position before the end of his term in case someone manages to meet the requirements of Rule 214 seems credible for some of them[35].

This point is even more relevant considering that the country has experienced direct suffrage at a local level for dozens of years. The aim of this evolution is to limit the excess of a system that, if it guarantees stability, is easily manipulated by the holder of the power[36]. Indeed, based on the Soviet principle of “democratic centralism”, the local People’s Congress vote for the election of the local People’s Committee, then vote for the local General Secretary. The process is the same at the national level. In 2020, Vietnam had its highest proportion of direct election at the city and provincial level (11%), quite a big change for a Marxist-Leninist country[37]. In this way, this hybrid system of “selectorate” could give political opinion enough weight to influence the Congress of 2026 if the system is extended to the national level[38]. In this way, it is perfectly understandable that the Party wants to prepare for this term by choosing popular leaders.

In a similar vein, one should remember that 43% of the Party’s local secretary are less than 50 years old and, growing up after Doi Moi, are less conservative than their elders[39]. Then, in the Party interest, the third term of Nguyen Phu Trong at the General Secretary position shouldn’t prevent the new generation of officials from emerging. In fact, if a too small number of places are left for them, resentment could grow among the new generation as well as increased competition within the party that could lead to a deeper phenomenon of “factionalization” to access rarer seats[40]. If it were to happen, this generational and institutional blockage could also impact the motivation of the officials regarding their efficiency and destroy the process of Party legitimization based on performance[41]. The VCP would then be in a situation similar to the Brejnev era in the USSR when that fact that a conformist political class was unable to reform itself indirectly brought the country to its collapse.

Conclusion:

               The XIIIth Congress is symptomatic of a political class at a crossroads during an uncertain period of world pandemic and economic troubles. It is testament to the dilemma of emergency/sustainability the Party has to cope with regarding the choice of its leaders. Similarly, there is a rising tension between the “democratic centralism”- warrant of stability – and the needs for internal democracy within the Party to limit nepotism.

               If this keeps in power a team and a political line that has already proved they are efficient, its conservative accent – expressed through the strengthening of the Party’s interests among the Politburo – could endanger the institutionalization process of the VCP and undermine its legitimacy despite its good performances.

               It remains to be seen whether, once the health and economic situation has stabilized, the ruling class will be able to avoid the pitfalls of a standstill in order to prevent the addition of a generational conflict to pre-existing factional ones. The entire process of political reform carried out since Doi Moi, aimed at securing the Party’s monopoly on power, is at stake.


[1] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/viet-nam/, data of the 11th of Februrary

[2] Jean-Phillipe Eglinger, « Vietnam : les autorités face aux enjeux économiques et sociaux de l’après Covid. », Asia Centre, the 24th of April 2020

[3] Ruchir Sharma, Is Vietnam the next « Asian Miracle » ?, New York Times, the 13th of October 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/13/opinion/vietnam-economy.html

[4] Rémy BARAIZE, Quel bilan pour le sommet de l’APEC 2017 au Vietnam, Vinageo blog, 19th November 2017 https://vinageoblog.wordpress.com/2017/11/19/actualite-quel-bilan-pour-le-sommet-de-lapec-2017-au-vietnam/

[5] https://vneconomy.vn/chiem-725-tong-kim-ngach-xuat-khau-viet-nam-muon-hut-them-von-fdi-
20181221142840247.htm cité par Jean-Phillipe Eglinger, « Vietnam : les autorités face aux enjeux économiques et sociaux de l’après Covid. », Asia Centre, the 24th of April 2020

[6] Jean-Phillipe Eglinger, « Vietnam : les autorités face aux enjeux économiques et sociaux de l’après Covid. », Asia Centre, the 24th of April 2020

[7] Chi Hiêu, Thành lập tổ công tác đặc biệt về thu hút các tập đoàn đa quốc gia, 23 mai 2020 https://thanhnien.vn/tai-chinh-kinh-doanh/thanh-lap-to-cong-tac-dac-biet-ve-thu-hut-cac-tap-doan-da-quoc-gia-1227852.html?fbclid=IwAR1gbDV-seII-JqU8X81WCp6ogDmFbYVvolRnuzFEmOh4BN6T9piJe7FwYo

[8] Jean-Phillipe Eglinger, « Vietnam : les autorités face aux enjeux économiques et sociaux de l’après Covid. », Asia Centre, the 24th of April 2020

[9] Bruce Duteil, Matthieu François, Nga Nguyen, Emerging from the pandemic, Vietnam must position itself for recovery, Mc Kinsey Company, 1er juillet 2020 https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/asia-pacific/emerging-from-the-pandemic-vietnam-must-position-itself-for-recovery#

[10] Jean-Phillipe Eglinger, « Vietnam : les autorités face aux enjeux économiques et sociaux de l’après Covid. », Asia Centre, the 24th of April 2020

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Phuong Pham, Economic Security: Vietnam’s Cardinal Policy Goal, The Diplomat, the 18th of September 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/economic-security-vietnams-cardinal-policy-goal/

[15] Ibid.

[16] Tomoya ONISHI, Vietnam’s Communists brace for next 5 years after big 2020, Nikkei Asia, the 22nd December 2020 https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Asia-Insight/Vietnam-s-Communists-brace-for-next-5-years-after-big-2020

[17] RSF, RSF condamne l’arrestation de la journaliste vietnamienne Pham Doan Trang, Reporter Sans Frontière, the 7th of October 2020, https://rsf.org/fr/actualites/rsf-condamne-larrestation-de-la-journaliste-vietnamienne-pham-doan-trang

[18] Ibid.

[19] Eugene Whong, Vietnam’s National Assembly to Review Ho Duy Hai Murder Case, Radio Free Asia, the 18th of May 2020, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/ho-duy-hai-05182020160929.html

[20] Hélène CAUNE, Blame Avoidance dans : Laurie Boussaguet, Dictionnaire des politiques publiques, p114-123, Editions Sciences-Po Paris, 2010, available at  : https://www.cairn.info/dictionnaire-des-politiques-publiques–9782724611755-page-114.htm

[21] Mai Truong, Vietnam’s COVID-19 Success Is a Double-Edged Sword for the Communist Party, The Diplomat, the 6th of August, https://thediplomat.com/2020/08/vietnams-covid-19-success-is-a-double-edged-sword-for-the-communist-party/

[22] Ibid.

[23] Zachary Abuza, The Fallout From Vietnam’s Communist Party Congress, the 2nd of February 2021, The Diplomat https://thediplomat.com/2021/02/the-fallout-from-vietnams-communist-party-congress/

[24] Ibid.

[25] http://news.chinhphu.vn/Home/BREAKING-NEWS-LIST-OF-NEWLYELECTED-POLITBURO-MEMBERS/20211/42832.vgp

[26] Sabastian Strangio, Vietnam’s Communist Party Chief Reelected to Third Term, the 1st of February 2021, The Diplomat https://thediplomat.com/2021/02/vietnams-communist-party-chief-reelected-to-third-term/

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Rémy BARAIZE, Nguyen Phu Trong, secrétaire général du PCV et nouveau président du Vietnam: mimétisme du n°1 chinois?, the 2nd of December 2018, Vinageo blog, https://vinageoblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/actualite-nguyen-phu-trong-secretaire-general-du-pcv-et-nouveau-president-du-vietnam-mimetisme-du-n1-chinois/

[30] Sabastian Strangio, Vietnam’s Communist Party Chief Reelected to Third Term, the 1st of February 2021, The Diplomat https://thediplomat.com/2021/02/vietnams-communist-party-chief-reelected-to-third-term/

[31] Ibid.

[32] Rémy BARAIZE, Nguyen Phu Trong, secrétaire général du PCV et nouveau président du Vietnam: mimétisme du n°1 chinois?, the 2nd of December 2018, Vinageo blog, https://vinageoblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/actualite-nguyen-phu-trong-secretaire-general-du-pcv-et-nouveau-president-du-vietnam-mimetisme-du-n1-chinois/

[33] Sebastian Strangio, Vietnam Party Conclave Readies Key Personnel Appointments, the 15th of December 2020, The Diplomat https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/vietnam-party-conclave-readies-key-personnel-appointments/

[34] Sabastian Strangio, Vietnam’s Communist Party Chief Reelected to Third Term, the 1st of February 2021, The Diplomat https://thediplomat.com/2021/02/vietnams-communist-party-chief-reelected-to-third-term/

[35] Ibid.

[36] Nguyen Khac Giang, Vietnam’s 13th Congress: Institutional Resilience or Institutional Decay?, the 7th of  January 2021, The Diplomat https://thediplomat.com/2021/01/vietnams-13th-congress-institutional-resilience-or-institutional-decay/

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Nguyen Khac Giang, Vietnam’s 13th Congress: Institutional Resilience or Institutional Decay?, the 7th of  January 2021, The Diplomat https://thediplomat.com/2021/01/vietnams-13th-congress-institutional-resilience-or-institutional-decay/

[41] Ibid.


News – What to expect from the European Union – Vietnam Free Trade Agreement? (Part II)

II) The fireproof of the social and environmental disposals and the agreement controversies.

The EVFTA, as a « new generation » agreement, includes, in addition to purely commercial disposals, a series of measures aiming to align Vietnamese standards with European Union (EU) ones in terms of work rights and environment (A). However, if everyone can be delighted by this kind of phenomenon, the off-putting aspects of this changes and the will to extend the content of the agreement to the whole South-East Asia could bring the Union’s institutions to not be careful about the application of this measures though there are already disputed in Europe (B)

A) What does the EVFTA provide about labor rights and environmental issues?

The idea defended by the European authorities by introducing some problems linked to ecology and the fundamentals rights of the workers is the following one: the Free-Trade promotes social progress in the long term. In this way, it follows the Kuznets’s curve theory, conceptualized by Simon Kuznets at the beginning of the ’50s. It will be then extended to the environment matters by the work of Gene Grossman and Alan Krueger at the beginning of the ’90s. Then, once a certain threshold is passed, free trade is socially and environmentally good. It has to be noticed that this ideological perspective is shared by international institutions like the World Trade Organization.

 

PDF] The Environmental Kuznets Curve A Primer | Semantic Scholar
The Kuznets Curve about Income inequality. Applied to the environment, the theory implies that, at a certain point, economic development will improve the environmental situation after a period of degradation.

 

It is also for the Union to restore its image in these

Peter-Sutherland-2011.jpg
Peter Sutherland, considered as one of the globalization’s father.

areas after some events tarnish it. We can quote here the Canadian European Trade Agreement (CETA) ratification which raises many reactions about its environmental costs, but also the Sutherland report of 1992 that was calling for the end of the heterogeneity within the EU, without forgetting the reports regularly published by some famous actors of the global civil society like Oxfam or the CETRI.

 

Anyway, these concerns form Chapter 13 of the EVFTA (text of the agreement here: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:L:2020:186:FULL&from=EN#page=132). It starts with the reminder of the parties’ attachments to the sustainable development principles with the association of economic, social, and environmental spheres. It also refers to some famous international texts (like …, article 13.1) while maintaining the sovereignty of every country about the necessary decisions (article 13.2). In this sense, Brussels and Hanoi show their will to prevent the down leveling of standards in order to attract investors et transnational companies wishing to relocate their production to low-cost manpower countries from a competitive perspective (article 13.3).

More precisely, even if both parties are designated by the text, Vietnam will have to sign, enforce, and promote the disposals of the International Labor Organisation (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in 1998 (article 13.4.2), which bears four main principles:

  • The abolition of Child labor
  • The elimination of the discriminations at work
  • The elimination of forced labor
  • The freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining

For each of these matters, the parties must pursue the efforts to apply the ILO fundamental conventions, consider the signature of other conventions proposed by the ILO, stay in contact with the other party (article 13.4.3) and make them effective in their domestic laws (article 13.4.4).

The environmental component implies that the parties’ participation in environmental agreements and multilateral meetings (article 13.5), that they acknowledge the importance of the struggle against global warming and commit to apply all international texts, especially Kyoto and Paris Agreements(article 13.6).  The disposals are the same about biodiversity protection (article 13.7), the sustainable exploitation of the forest (article 13.8), and the sustainable management of marine resources and sea industry products (article 13.9). The sustainable investment is encouraged (article 13.10).

All the previous disposals have to be implemented in the light of the scientific knowledge (article 13.11), interpreted according to the principle of transparency (article 13.12), and assessed through regulars impact studies (article 13.13).

To this end, article 13.14 lists both the matters that the parties have to stay in contact about (the process of impact studies, scientific cooperation, etc…) and the means in order to maintain the partnership, the whole thing while keeping in mind the chapter 16 of the EVFTA about the reinforcement of the cooperation and the capacities of each party.

In order to ensure the general application and the social and environmental disposals in particular, and it’s the originality of the EVFTA, chapter 17 provides the settlement of a Trade Committee (article 17.1) and a sub-committee dedicated to sustainable development (article 17.2.1.e). They will respectively rule the application of the agreement (article 17.1.3.a) and settle disputes related to work and environmental issues (article 17.1.3.e).

Finally, it seems that the EVFTA has the means of its ambitions both on the commercial aspect – with the drastic reductions of the customs fees – and on the social and environmental ones through the alignment of legal orders on the international standards. They represent the lowest common denominator on which one can agree. However, just like the situations involving the CETA or the one that will be signed between the EU and the MERCOSUR, some voices raise to denounce the EVFTA within the European civil society and the European institutions.

B) A controversial birth and application.

The critics against the EVFTA could be classified into 3 categories: 1) the conceptual ones, 2) the relevance of the signature of such agreement, especially due to the recent COVID-19 and 3) the doubts about the application of the social and environmental disposals previously described. They will be successively reviewed in the following development.

   About the conceptual aspect first, the Kuznets theory extended to environmental issues seems to convince less and less about its efficiency because many political movements – both on the left and right political side – tend to see the social and environmental dumping as the real engine of the trade globalization. In other words, for these actors, the showed intention to prevent the race-to-the-bottom between the developing countries in order to attract foreign investors is completely contradictory with the elimination of the tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers. For them, the roaming of textile production (from western countries to China, then from China to less expensive manpower countries like Vietnam or Bangladesh and finally to even more competitive countries, Ethiopia being now the best example) is proving their right interpretation.

In this perspective, the free trade can only mean a further de-industrialization among the members of the European Union and a transfer of low- or middle- valued jobs that will make the unemployment and economic inequality problems worse. In the same way, the representatives of the European and Vietnamese peasant world fear that this exacerbated competition will lead to hard pressures on small operators that can’t integrate the international trade structures.

The trade balance between the European Union and Vietnam, widely in deficit on the European side, would also see its imbalance amplified.

About the environmental component, some point out the paradox of the will to fight against global warming and to enforce measures that will intensify global trade through container ships. In fact, maritime transport is one of the worst economic sectors in terms of Co2 production. Moreover, the difference of standards about bio labeling should also generalize the “bio fraud” as, to get the label, the requirements of developing countries are way inferiors to the developed countries’ ones.

Some others blame the EVFTA to be an instrument of European intrusion in Vietnam, placing the country under a kind of moral guardianship through economic promise, that seems, considering Vietnam’s ancient and recent history (especially the multiple independence wars against China and the French and American ones), quite exaggerated. However, as seen in the first part, the EVFTA arise from blockages of the WTO due to the “rich” and “poor” countries’ interests’ dissymmetry and tend to recycle the disposals sowing discord to implement them in a bilateral way. This lead to the conclusion that the agreement favors European interests, the “duty to interfere” in the name of fundamental rights sometimes leading to neo-colonialism.

 On the second hand, the sanitary crisis linked to COVID-19 revealed the dependence of western nations to developing economies regarding their supplies and their production capacities as well as the developing countries one to west’s consumption. Since then, many wonder about the relevance of signing an agreement based on comparative advantages theory that will deepen this reciprocal and crippling dependence in case of international trade jamming. If total relocation of industrial and agricultural production seems to be a chimera, continuing on the free-trade way without learning the lessons of the coronavirus crisis and its economic consequences that we can’t see yet.

On the Vietnamese side, as we’ve already seen, the agreement is considered as a means to diversify the economy and to escape from the Chinese group on the domestic economy by the opening of the market. The aim is also to make Vietnamese products rise in quality by confronting them to European demanding consumers. However, even if the professors Zhai Kun and Yang Yaoyuan predict that Chinese competitiveness can be impacted in some sectors (textile, furniture, shoes, low- and middle value electronic) by the implementation of the EVFTA and that some investments can be transferred from China to Vietnam, limits of this phenomenon will quickly appear. Thus, Trinh Nguyen, an economy analyst working for Natixis,has estimated that the increase of Vietnamese exports toward the Union will be balanced by the dependence of the country to Chinese imports for its production capacities. According to him, to solve this situation, Hanoï should improve its university-level education and encourage the providers to settle down in Vietnam, matters that are not covered by the EVFTA. Thereby, even if Vietnam has taken profit and will take profit from the trade war between Beijing and Washington, the lack of training of Vietnamese workers and scale differences between Vietnam and China (preventing the manpower mass mobilization required in some sectors) will prevent a massive relocation of industrial activities toward Vietnam, especially in strategic sectors like artificial intelligence of high valued electronic. Let’s remind here that the average Chinese salaries are three times higher than the Vietnamese ones and that it didn’t provoke any investors to rush from a country to another. Let’s finish this development with the following evidence: with “only” 96 millions of citizens, Vietnam is way less attractive in terms of consuming market compared to its northern giant neighbor.

Finally, some critics concerning the EVFTA are about its real capacity to enforce its social and environmental disposals. In short, it is accused of “greenwashing” and “fundamental rights washing”. In fact, 70 NGOs already urged the European deputies not to ratify the agreement, estimating that “the situation of human and labor rights is still worrying” and that the European Commission was complacent towards Hanoi.

Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly (@EUOmbudsmanEOR) | Twitter
Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman since 2013

 

 For the civil society’s actors, the problem is based on the fact that, without binding measures, the principles of the EVFTA can’t be guaranteed as they will depend on the balance of power between the Union European and Vietnam at the moment a dispute has to be settled. The fact that social and environmental improvements are, because of their own nature, long processes that can’t solve the climate emergency issues for some people. In fact, resuming the WTO mechanisms, the dispute settlement works according to the “experts panel” process, previously defined and jointly constituted, and is under the influence of an interpretation related to instant interests but not to intangible principle. Therefore, worrying about the extension of the disposals of the EVFTA to the rest of the ASEAN and the safeguarding of the main provisions about the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers or intellectual property rights, the Union could be inclined not to focus on social and environmental issues. In its own resolution, the European Parliament declared itself not convinced about the guarantees of environmental and human rights provided by the agreement. In the same vein, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly considered on the 26th of February 2016 that the refusal of the European Commission to proceed to an impact report on the EVFTA’s social and environmental disposals constituted a bad administration act.

Let’s point out that in May 2020, the World Bank published a report aiming to implement the agreement and in which almost no change is required in the Vietnamese legal order to comply with the EVFTA content, starting from the principle that all the measures have already been taken in order to prepare the signature of the Transpacific Free Trade Agreement (since then aborted). It has to be said here that the establishment of workers’ unions independent from the Vietnamese Communist Party is completely contrary to the foundations of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in which the Party does not share power. All of these elements, therefore, suggest that, apart from social and environmental advances directly related to commercials purposes (for example the improvement of the quality of farmed shrimps to access the European market), the progress on these topics will be slow (if they even occur).

EVFTA et EVIPA : une nouvelle porte s'ouvre - Le Courrier du VietNam

Conclusion:

Ultimately, the EVFTA is in keeping with Cecilia Malstrom’s description (quote in the introduction to Part I): it seems to be the most ambitious treaty that the European Union has signed with a developing country so far.

       Commercially speaking, it is a diplomatic and symbolic victory for Brussels, as it managed to extend its influence and to bargain to implement some beneficial measures, especially on the aspect of non-tariff trade barriers and intellectual property rights, allowing the European Union to get around the WTO blockages and the failures of the ASEAN-EU negotiations. In this sense, the EVFTA is a test balloon that should achieve to convince the South-East Asian countries about their interests to ratify that kind of treaty. The series of the disposals aims to transform Vietnamese law on diverse topics as well as implementing a committee dedicated to the agreement application make it one of the trade agreements creating the deepest relationship between the parties.

On the Vietnamese side, the agreement appears to be a means to go out of the economic Chinese orbit even if it’s not considered as the panacea to this problem. It will allow the exporters to increase their annual sales against the commitment to respect some international standards regarding labor rights and the environment. Even if they should influence Vietnamese deciders as to their economic choices (in order to avoid public call out that could damage its damage), it’s a safe bet that they will not be very binding. Moreover, through the signature of the EVFTA, Vietnam shows white paw for eventual participation in other commercial agreements of this kind.

News – What to expect from the European Union – Vietnam Free Trade Agreement? (Part I)

Disclaimer: This article is a translated version of a former one published in French. The references were originally in French and were changed to English ones every time it was possible.

           On the 9th of June, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s National Assembly ratified the European Union-Vietnamese Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), following the European Parliament’s voting of the 12th of February 2020. It could then come into force this summer.

Vietnam-UE: Signature des accords de libre échange et de ...

               This agreement is an « important turn » according to Cecilia Malmström, the trade European commissioner who signed it in Hanoi on the 30th of June 2019, adding “this is then most ambitious treaty that the European Union (EU) signed with a developing country”.

               The following development will try to analyze these declarations by trying to find out the ambitions that the European commissioner. First, we’ll see that, of course, the EVFTA aims to foster trade and get around the World Trade Organisation’s frozen negotiations to establish a free-trade zone with ASEAN (I). Then, it has to be said that the EVFTA is to be categorized as a “new generation” trade agreement for its social and environmental disposals (II).

I) Trade liberalization to reach an interregional agreement.

Before placing the EVFTA’s ratification in a political and historical perspective (B), let’s have an overview of the trade disposals included in the trade (A).

                 A) The progressive elimination of trade barriers between Vietnam and the EU

           The following words will describe the overall content of the agreement. For reading comfort, details won’t be given here. If you are interested, you can find on the European Commission website: https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2016/june/tradoc_154622.pdf

               About the trade disposals, EVFTA will reduce the customs duties to 0% for 99% of the exchanged goods on a 10 years’ term. As soon as it will come into force, 65% of the Vietnamese tariff lines against 71% for the European ones. Aimed products are mainly textiles and electronics. 7 years will be necessary for the trade barriers on auto parts and over 150 cm3 motorbike to be wiped out. Taxes on chemicals will disappear over 3 to 7 years.

               Concerning the food industry, all the customs duties will be reduced to 0% after 3 years for beef meat, 7 years for the frozen pork meat, from 3 to 5 years for dairy products, and 10 years for the chicken. In the wine and spirits category, taxes will be lifted after 7 years except for beers, for which 10 years will be needed. On the non-tariff side, Vietnam managed to get some quotas on imported eggs, its mushrooms, its rice (from 20 000 to 30 000 tons depending on its transformation degree), its sugar (20 000 tons), and its ethanol (1 000 tons). Hanoï also committed to abolish almost all of its export incentives. Agricultural subsidies on traded goods will be abrogated by both sides.

               In terms of intellectual property, 169 European protected geographical indications (PGI) are recognized and protected by the Vietnamese authorities, against 39 on the EU side (especially sauces, tea, coffee). It has to be noticed that 5 of them, namely Champagne, Fontine, Asiago, Gorgonzola, and Feta cheese, a coexistence with already registered indications had to be bargained. Generally speaking, the World Intellectual Property Organization’s standards about patents, trademark law, and industrial designs are adopted by the Vietnamese government that will have to implement few reforms to concretely comply to it. The most important transformation is surely the inscription in the Vietnamese law of the concept of “normal use of a brand” that doesn’t limit the recognition of a brand to the degrees of its prominence among the consumers of a given country. In the application of the La Haag Agreement concerning the international recording of industrial designs (recently signed by Hanoï), Vietnam expends the protection of the rights of up to 15 years.

               Services are not outdone. In the financial field, during the 5 following years, a couple of European banks will be able to acquire up to 49% of the capitals of some Vietnamese trade banks. Insurance companies will be able to settle down in Vietnam to offer health covers or open reinsurance companies. Vietnam will also internationally open sea passenger transport and freight. European investors could also settle down in the country to create a business in this field.

               Access to the Vietnamese public markets is now guaranteed for European companies.

               A second text is attached to the EVFTA: the investment protection agreement. Because of some specials juridical aspects referring to the EU’s capacity to ratify this kind of text, all the 28 countries composing the Union will have to ratify it for it to be implemented. Some among you may know that these disposals had sown discords within the countries negotiating the transpacific and transatlantic, especially among the two American parties. Indeed, in addition to including “classic” legal guarantees allowing the attractiveness of Foreign Direct Investments (national treatment, most favored nation treatment, fair and equitable treatment, compensation in the case of expropriation), the agreement provides a mechanism of dispute resolution between a State and an investor through international arbitration. In short, if an investor thinks that he’s injured by the enforcement of new regulations in the given country, then he will be able to sue the government of this country. Traditionally, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an organ of the World Bank, is the qualified institution for this matter. Nevertheless, the EVFTA brings its own dispute settlement system both for the investor/state provisions but also for the rest of its content. This jurisdiction will be composed of 9 members: 3 designated by the EU, 3 by Vietnam, 3 by independent actors. It could be seized after a fruitless mediation attempt that will have lasted at most 90 days.

               That is to say, at this point in the reasoning, the material scope of the EVFTA will deeply transform the nature of the exchange between Vietnam and the Union. Thereby, the studied agreement is seen as a test that will have to prove the viability of this kind of partnership to the other members of the ASEAN.

            B) The first stone of an interregional trade deal?

              Just like the CETA or the dead transpacific and transatlantic trade agreements, the EVFTA was born due to the negotiations blockages within the World Trade Organization (WTO) since the Cancun summit in 2003. This one has been the witness of the change of the balance of power between the “developed economy” trio West Europe – North America – Japan on the first hand and the emerging economies on the second hand. The dispute is based on the difference of interests: the firsts want the protection of intellectual properties (patent, controlled designation of origin and trademark rights to avoid counterfeiting), less tax on services and high-valued goods and the protection of their investments in developing countries whereas the seconds want to get more access to technologies, reduce currency tariffs on low and medium valued goods and, the main point, on no or minimally processed agricultural products. Thereby, the Doha negotiation round is at an impasse and, with it, the multilateral approach of trade negotiation that would allow a global harmonization of the trade rules.

cancun
French cartoon entitled « disagreement in Cancun » after the failure of the Cancun WTO summit in 2003.

          Since then, most of the international trade actors tempted to get around this obstacle by starting a marathon of bilateral negotiations with developing countries.  Not derogating to the rule,the EU canvass especially the ASEAN in 2007, wishing by that way getting access to a 640 million persons’ market and benefit of the economic dynamism of the region pulled by the east Asian economies (China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea). In a few data, the EU is the second economic partner of the ASEAN (13% of its foreign trade) while ASEAN is the third trade partner of the EU. The total amount of traded goods and services reached 237 billion dollars in 2018 and the EU was the main source of DFI to ASEAN in 2017 (27 billion dollars). Nevertheless, lacking common interests and because the negotiations implied deep political reforms for the ASEAN countries, the talks between the parties were suspended form a common agreement in 2009.

carte-ASEAN

         The ASEAN and it’s 10 members

        Right away started some consultations to establish some trade agreements between Brussels and every country in the region. In chronological order we can find: Singapore and Malaysia starting from 2010, Vietnam in June 2012, Thailand in march 2013, the Philippines in December 2015 et Indonesia in July 2016. Until now, only the negotiations with Singapore and Vietnam succeeded (respectively in 2014 and 2015) while the one with Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines are on hold. Indonesia is the only country pursuing the process for the moment.

        Certainly, the EVFTA is not the first free trade agreement to be signed between the EU and a member of the ASEAN as Singapore ratified one on the 19th of October 2018 that come into force in November 2019. Its disposals regarding the progressive elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers, the intellectual properties, the services are similar to the EVFTA. However, the financial hub situation of the City-State of Singapore is hard to compare to its peers of South East Asia (except the oil City-State of Brunei Darussalam), in the sense that 1) its more performing economy compared to the average south-east Asian level[1] and 2) rests on different bases[2], thereby 3) its laws, especially considering intellectual properties[3] and financial guarantees, don’t need a reform on an equivalent scale.

        On the other hand, Vietnam has almost all the characteristics shared by the others ASEAN countries: an economy resting on agriculture and low- middle- valued manufacturing (mechanical and electronic assembly, textile), an export-oriented model of global market integration leading to the development of services linked to trade and placing the country at the center of global value chains, the emergence of a middle-class boosting intern consumption, a strong dependence to FDI. Let’s add that Vietnam is the second trade partner of the EU in the region (after Singapore), with 47 billion dollars of goods exchanged in 2018. Note that, according to the European Commission estimation, this agreement would generate a 15 000 million euros commercial added value per year from export from Vietnam to EU, while exports from the EU to Vietnam would increase 8 300 million euros per year.

        On a purely political level,Hanoï is also a particular fervent defender of an inclusive vision of ASEAN after having been its most conservative member. It has to be said that Vietnam is the country that is suffering the most from its dependence on the Chinese economy in the region, therefore the diversification of economic exchanges is of particular importance. To quote Benoit de Tréglodé, director of the Military School Strategic Research Institute (Institut de recherche stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire, France) and specialist of Vietnam: “The agreement allows Hanoï to go away from the China-US face-to-face that makes them suffocate economically and puts them in the position of the referee”. Vietnam can then play its “China+1[4]” asset in order to attract foreign companies that want to limit their dependency on China (brutally revealed by the COVID-19 sanitary crisis) and avoid the consequences of Washington-Beijing commercial war.

        These two elements allow the European institutions to state without any risk that the EVFTA, if successful, will ease the subsequent negotiations with each of the ASEAN members and the regional association. However, this success largely depends on the ability of Hanoï to implement the social and environmental standards prescribed by the free trade agreement and of the level of requirement of the European Union regarding their application.

(To be continued…).

[1] With Brunei, Singapore is the only country of the region to be classified as a “high income” country according to the World Bank. In order to further understand the Singaporean exception, some statistics: in 2018, the average GDP per capita in the city-state is 65 000 USD against 4 600 USD within the ASEAN. Though it only has 5,6 million, Singapore managed to reach 364,16 billion of GDP in 2019, which is inferior to Thailand and Indonesia (504,99 billion and 1042,17billions for the same year) but show its economic efficiency despite the demographical and geographical constraints.

[2] Even if the economy of Singapore is resting on an outgoing economic model requiring a constant foreign investment flow like every other country in the region, Singapore stands out for its lack of agricultural production. As a result the share of agriculture in the city-state’s GDP is close to 0 (from 0,1 to 0,5%). In the same way, the country is highly industrialized and specialized in advanced electronic and petrochemicals. Services represent 70,4% of the GDP and 83% of the jobs. It has to be noticed that Singapore is at the second global rank in terms of container transhipments, behind Hong Kong.  More statistics: https://www.singstat.gov.sg/modules/infographics/economy

[3] To make Singapore’s business environment the best of Asia, the Singaporean government launched the “Ip Hub Master Plan” in 2013 to become a regional pioneer in that matter.

[4] The expression « China +1 » designates the situation of some countries like Vietnam showing the same economic advantages than China for foreign investors (especially numerous, young and low-cost manpower) but without the political hazards that regularly impact the stability of Chinese economy or tarnish the international image (Hong Kong or Uighur crisis).

News – Global recycling crisis: South-East Asia doesn’t want to be the world’s plastic dump. – Part I

Industrialized countries of Europe, North America, and Asia won’t be able to send their non-recyclable plastic waste to signatory countries of the Basel Convention and not a member of OECD. That’s basically the main consequence of the inclusion of plastic wastes in the scope of the Basel Convention on the initiative of Norway through a conference about dangerous wastes organized in Geneva from the 29th of April to the 10th of May 2019.

As we’ll see later in detail, this decision is the result of a quite short process started by the refusal of the Popular Republic of China to continue to welcome huge amounts of plastic wastes coming from all around the world (I). Then, the recycling and treatment activities of plastic wastes have naturally been reported to South East Asia, most of the time under the direction of Chinese companies delocalizing their factories. As a result, social and environmental conditions in which these “professionals” operate quickly provoked the angriness of local populations and of the civil society. Social troubles were so intense that their government didn’t have the choice to strongly react (II).

Beyond the fact that the evolution of the Basel Convention’s terms in this way was predictable (III), this juridical and diplomatic new deal shows the crisis of the recycling industry (IV) but also the efforts of the lobbies to hide this situation (V).

Due to the amount of data, this article will be divided into 2 parts in order to guarantee reading comfort.

I) At the beginning of the crisis: the “National Sword of China” operation.

In July 2017, Beijing notified to the World Trade Organization that from the next 1st of January China will drastically reduce its recycling importation of 24 kinds of dangerous solid wastes (including some categories of paper and textile, but mostly plastic one) in order “to protect China, its environment et its citizen”: it’s the National Sword of China.

The effect is immediate: from more than 600 000 tons of plastic wastes imported by month in 2016, China only gets 30 000 tons a month since 2018. “ It was like an earthquake”, Arnaud Brunet, director of the International Recycling Office (Bruxelles, Belgium) explained to AFP, “China was the first market for plastic wastes and this limitation created a shock all over the world”[2].

La Chine absorbe presque les trois quarts des exportations de déchets plastique mondiaux. © Amy L. Brooks et al., Science Advances
Map of China’s plastic waste imports before the 1st of January 2018. © Amy L. Brooks et al., Science Advances

Diverse reasons led to that position. First, it has to be noticed that this decision is linked to others purchasing the same goal. Indeed, the Chinese government already acted in the energy sector by reducing the rate of coal in the national mix and by preferring green energies (even if it quickly came back on that decision despite the good results); in the Résultat de recherche d'images pour "plastic China"automotive industry by forcing the country to buy electrical vehicle; in the mining sector by shutting down 6000 sites not conforms to norms; some regiment of the Chinese army also received the mission to plant trees. Terminated the 10 000 recycling factories hiring 300 000 people with terrible working conditions (reported by the very good documentary “Plastic China” of Wang Jiuliang), closed without warning and in a very coercive way, typical of Popular China.

Though, improving its environmental performances and its image through ecology is not the only objective of Beijing. In fact, it seems clear that this decision is a boost for the Chinese recycling sector in order to allow it to upgrade to a higher range, on the first hand because the Chinese gluttony for raw material would forbid to cut this source of plastic and on the other hand for the simple reason that the main actors of the industry are close to the Chinese Communist Party. It has to be added that most of the factories ruled by this new law moved their activities to other countries while keeping their clients. Finally, for Thibaut Petithuguenin, communication director of Paprec Group (3rd recycling group in France), this drastic change is a tool for the government to improve the quality of the wastes imported in China in order to raise the profits, the most expansive step during the recycling being the selection of the wastes depending on their type and their cleanness (see paragraph IV).

Then, by deduction, you understood, dear reader, that only low added value activities have been transferred from China to South East Asia.

II) The report of the flow to South East Asia and first reactions.

If the imports of plastic wastes were redistributed between all the countries of the region, 3 countries are particularly concerned: Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Of course, those imports for treatment are not new but their amount impacted these nations, both by degrading landscapes but also by affecting directly people’s life.

Indeed, treatment methods (if existing, most of the wastes having to be buried at the end) are problems.

The following developments will attempt to describe the recycling cycles generally witnessed and reported by NGO GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) only including the 3 countries previously quoted (the report could be found on the following website: https://wastetradestories.org/ ). It’s evident that the situation is variable from a country to another and that, as a consequence, the aim here is less to be exhaustive than to show the problematics the South East Asian countries have to face during this plastic waste crisis.

Most of the time, the garbage (plastic or paper/carton) are imported by “professionals” of recycling (the GAIA report detailed that, for example, in Malaysia, on 200 centers, 139 weren’t in accordance with the national environmental regulations in February 2019), hiring peasant communities around in order to pick up the last valuable pieces after refining. Let’s point out that, in fact, some garbage imported is stamped recyclable when it’s not. For energetic purposes, some wastes could be “valorized” as fuel in the incinerators.

Keep in mind that in the “grey economy” already, the wastes generally make the fortune of local mafias (i.e the Napolitano Camorra), that, in exchange for money, are in charge of the last step consisting in burying it.

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A plastic dump near Kuala Lumpur.

In addition to this violence and these threats, locals have to face the extreme pollution coming from the dump or from the incinerators. If this topic will be detailed in paragraph IV, it can be mentioned here that the combustion’s smokes provoke chronic respiratory problems and acid rains full of heavy metals while the disintegration, even slow, of the wastes, released endocrine disruptors. Those micro-elements then pass in the eco-system, contaminating plants, animals, and then humans, and provoking cancers, hormonal perturbations, and nervous troubles. Many elements leading to the fury of people exposed taking local and governmental representatives as responsible, that have to quickly react to prevent riots.

This is how Indonesian and Malaysian civil societies were the most influential actors of the Norwegian amendment to the Basel Convention. Among the militants that were in Geneva for the conference to support the proposition, could be found Prigri Arisandi (from Indonesian association Ecoton) and  Mageswari Sangaralingam (from the Malaysian branch of Friends of Earth/Sahabat Alam Malaysia and also representative of GAIA). On their impulsion, an online petition to warn the international public opinion reached about one million signatures.

More « splash » happened in the region. On the last 15th of May, the sulfurous Philippino President Rodrigo Duterte called back his ambassador in Canada after promising a “plastic war” to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. It was the result of an ultimatum thrown by Manilla to Ottawa: within 5 years starting in 2013, Canada had to take back a hundred containers supposed to contain recyclable wastes (spoiler: it wasn’t) sent by Bolloré Logistics Company under penalty of diplomatic retaliation. Duterte even threatened to spread the garbage in the territorial Canadian waters. Even if it tried stopping the Canadian companies to send their rubbish to South East Asia in 2016, the government of Ottawa wasn’t able to solve the problem. Though, it accepted to take back the containers on the 23rd of May in 2019. This diplomatic crisis was the occasion for many NGOs and local community representatives to show up and ask for the ratification of the Norwegian amendment to Basel Convention, which the government isn’t hostile a priori. Reynaldo San Juan, general executive of NGO Ban Toxics, though deplore that the Canadian case is only a drop in the ocean by reminding that 1400 tons of plastic waste have already been sent back to South Korea in 2018.

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Ban Toxics philippines canada"
Besides the diplomatic move of Manilla, many demonstrations have been organized in Philippine et in Canada in order to pressure on Justin Trudeau’s government.

As this blog is Vietnam-centred, few lines about its situation would be relevant here. Already facing plastic wastes treatment issues because of its own inner production due to the people consumption raise (1,8 millions of tons every year according to the NGO Keep Vietnam green and clean) and the disorganization of the collecting, selecting and treatment system, Vietnam almost get into the same situation than Malaysia or Indonesia. Importations of plastic wastes then reached the pic of 100 000 tons/month in the middle of 2017 before progressively bringing back 16 000 tons/month at the end of 2018 thanks to tougher legislation and a strengthen watch in seaports. It has to be mentioned that Vietnamese people, often disinclined to discuss political issues due to the Communist Party monopoly, are particularly sensitive to the environmental issues in general and plastic wastes in particular. For example, in 2015 demonstrations happened in Hanoi after the publication of the decision of the  People Comity to cut down the trees of the capital city in order to sell the wood and urban planning. Same after the marine pollution in Ha Tinh Province. Thus, the «#Trashtag challenge» on social networks, initiated by the Algerian citizen Younès Drici Tani on the 5th of March 2018, meet a frank success among the Vietnamese youth (even in the rank of communist youth organization) and the nation has even been a pioneer by replacing some current consumption plastic articles with a green surrogate (packing and straw in particular).

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A beach in Ha Tinh province (Center) before and after the cleaning in response to the « Trashtag Challenge ».

Though, endemic corruption (especially in the customs) and the involvement of local administration in some juicy traffic (heroin/opium coming from the golden triangle and ivory), in addition of a typical Marxist-Leninist opacity of the public management of the waste (while Vietnam is the closest country to China in the region), allow observers to wonder about the real situation of the country.

Challenge 30 days/30 articles – Pham Xuan An (1927 – 2006) – The « perfect spy[1] »

Disclaimer: This article is a translated version of one I published in French from a series of articles named “Challenge 30 days/ 30 articles” about Vietnamese geopolitics, news, and history. The aim was both to write about topics I couldn’t approach in the China Sea or the Mekong River articles (that were my only topics at that time) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). 

Image associée« Now we are in the American operating room » used to joke the General Vo Nguyen Giap when referring to the North-Vietnamese intelligence service and especially to one of the most prolific spies of the Vietnam war (if not the whole cold war): Pham Xuan An.

Undercover as a full-time journalist with Time Magazine, he provided lots of reports about American activities (troops, tactics, political issues, intelligence…). He distinguished himself by revealing the counter-insurrection/attrition war tactics of the General Westmorland and the American special forces very early in the war. His second exploit was to definitively confirm that the United-States would not intervene to counter the North-Vietnamese general attack on the South in 1973.

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Edward Landsdale, counter-insurrection expert and “thinking head” of the CIA during the second Indochina war.
He started his career with Vietnamese communist Intelligence: in 1944, he was a simple messenger as the Viet Minh prepared their insurrection against the French. He was 16 at that time. Spotted by Pham Ngoc Thach, personal doctor of Ho Chi Minh, he fully integrated the communist spy network while being a soldier in the “fantoche” (puppet) army supporting the French. Smart and speaking perfect French and English, he managed to be assigned in the French-American liaison office. At that time, he met the “legendary” Colonel Edward Lansdale[2], with whom he stayed in contact until the end of the war.

In order to develop An’s potential, Viet Minh’s leaders sent the young spy to Fullerton College in California to study journalism. He prematurely came back to Vietnam after two years of study while the repression of communist activities in South Vietnam had destroyed 80% of the intelligence network.

An then started living a double-life that lasted until the downfall of Saigon in 1975. First journalist for the Associated Press then for Reuters and finally for the Time Magazine, he was charged by Tran Kim Tuyen, head of the South-Vietnamese intelligence service, to manage the correspondence of the official news agency of South-Vietnam.

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The journalist-spy Pham Xuan An in Saigon during the ’60s. To cover his activities, he specialized in rare birds trade and dog’s dressage.

Affable man and good journalist, “the quiet Saigonese” sympathized with everyone who must be known to get sensitive pieces of information, including journalists, responsible to the CIA and the South-Vietnamese army, members of the government in Saigon. As a result, he was able to go everywhere, (American Embassy, the CIA, Presidential Palace, and US Army headquarters) and was one of a handful of reporters admitted to off-the-record briefings, to the extent that some people were thinking he was working for the American Intelligence service[3].

Though many people of his network had been discovered, he has never been spotted by the counter-spy office and the Americans were shocked to discover his role when he was elevated to the status of “Heroes of the Nation” by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1978.

Though he stayed largely discrete about his activities during the war, he was still trusted by Hanoi’s government after reunification.

Indeed, if Pham Xuan An became legendary because of his career as a spy, he represents the complexity of the Vietnamese conflict in the sense that he engaged himself as a patriot, thinking that neither the French nor the American were legitimately holding power in Vietnam and that the country had to be reunified. However, he felt no hatred against the people and kept many friendships in these countries. In the last days of the war, he persuaded American officials to fly several Vietnamese friends of his out of the country, saying they would be punished by the Communists if they were left behind. His wife and four children were also taken to the United States, but he remained[4]. Worse for him, having lived in the United States and in the capitalist comfort made him an eternal suspect for the government. He’s been thrown in political re-education camp – “kind” according to him – where he was mediocre. Despite his title of “Hero of the Nation”, his 4 medals for “Exploit of the Liberation” and his 6 medals for merit as an “emulation soldier”, he finished his life in house arrest and wasn’t allowed to leave or communicate with anyone outside of the country.

Many among the people who frequented him during the ’90s reported his bitterness regarding the evolution of the country and in particular the corruption, he who only benefited from a General Pension after his retreat (30 dollars/month). Recognizing his admiration for the early communist revolutionary for their nationalism and their dedication to the cause, the retired spy never missed an occasion to mention with acerbic derision the shift between the propaganda and the realizations of the government.

As a heavy smoker, An died because of emphysema in 2006 in the military hospital of Saigon.

News – The Vietnamese declaration of independence: what happened on the 2nd of September 1945?

Disclaimer: This article is a translated version of one I published in French. The references were originally in French so I changed it to English ones every time it was possible. The following article is based on the book Le Communisme Vietnamien (1919-1991). Construction d’un Etat Nation entre Moscou et Pékin, by Céline Marangé.

 

Today, festivities are planned in Hanoi in order to celebrate a constitutive event of the modern Vietnamese state: the declaration of independence founding the modern Vietnamese nation.

But what are the events leading up to this turning point which shattered, symbolically, 80 years of foreign domination?

Let’s start with some clues provided by context.

First, the declaration of independence followed a power void. Indeed, on the 9th of March, the Japanese decided to “neutralize” the French authorities, who were vulnerable when the Imperial forces arrived in the country during summer 1940, when the Nazi regime crumbled in Europe under the assault of Americans and Soviets pressure and the treaty between Tokyo and Vichy became void. 40 000 French, civilian and military, were confined in camps or in the urban quarter, 800 officers were murdered and Admiral Decoux – General Governor of Indochina for Vichy – was arrested. The Japanese commanders seized power in the country as well as the means of production. They resurrected the monarchist system and Bao Dai, the last king of Vietnam, and proclaimed the end of the protectorat Treaty on the 10th of March. Nobody but the fascistic independentist party named Dai Viet supported the coup in the Vietnamese political sphere.

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Containment of the French-Vietnamese troops by the imperial Japanese army, Lang Son, 9th of March 1945. The officers were systematically executed. The discoveries of many mass graves indicate that many massacres happened during the Japanese attacks.

The Japanese only looking for means to support their war effort, exploited the entire production system to serve the needs of the army. Then, terrible starvation –threatening since 1944 – began in Tonkin causing from 600 000 to 1 million deaths (around 10% of the population of the North of Vietnam).

Viet Minh – at that time more of a league gathering many independentist factions (catholic rebels, cao daist, democrats, nationalist, traditionalist, etc…) infiltrated by communist than a grassroots communist party – strengthened its anti-colonial and anti-fascist line by agitation-propaganda activities aiming to attract more militants (some targeted murders and intimidations were necessary to create this unity under the Viet Minh flag).

From the 17th of March, the organization of Ho Chi Minh –which had been an agency of the OSS in China against Japan – received American support (officially) in order to chase the Japanese away but also to prevent the French from returning to the zone (in preparation for the coming cold war). Captain Charles Fenn was in charge of providing weapons and instructing officers among Viet Minh’s troops, he was then replaced by captain Archimede Patti.

II_1945_Ho-Chi-Minh-standing-third-from-left-at-a-farewell-party-for-the-OSS-1945
The Viet Minh commandment and the officers of the American “Deer Team”. You can see the captain Archimede Patti with Ho Chi Minh on his left and Vo Nguyen Giap on the right.

Following the Nazi’s surrender and their string of victories in the Pacific, the Americans decided to intensify their support for the Viet Minh hoping they would instigate general insurrection to wipe out Japanese occupation and eliminate the remnants of the French administration. Ho Chi Minh used the American Intelligence network to transmit the Viet Minh’s intentions to the French Intelligence settled in China: independence in 5 to 10 years, opium prohibition, nationalization of economic infrastructure (against retribution), respect for public liberty.

HoChiMinh_Sainteny_1946-500x380
Ho Chi Minh and Jean Sainteny during the visit of the Vietnamese leader in France for the Fontainebleau conference.

At the same time, the Allies, gathered in Potsdam, assign the disarmament mission of the Japanese forces in Indochina to Chinese nationalists north of the 16th parallel and to the British south of this line.

On the French interim government’s side, the Viet Minh’s claims are ignored and the Allies’ decision – without consultation – is booed. It has to be noticed that at that time Paris didn’t want to hear about independence and was proposing a colonial empire reform to reorganize “the most advanced one” with a better status for “indigenous” people.

At the beginning of August, everything accelerated: after a massive napalm bombing in March, the first atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th, the USSR declared war on Japan on the 8th, Nagasaki was hit by the second atomic bomb and Manchuria was taken by the Red Army on the 9th.

This list of events created confusion and demoralization in the Japanese ranks and the Viet Minh sought to take advantage of the chaos: this was what came to be called the “August revolution”. The partisans came down from their northern mountainous sanctuary on the 16th with the Deer Team and marched on Hanoi. Their aim was clear: take and hold important positions on the battleground before the Allied disarmament mission arrived in order to negotiate from a position of strength.

On the same day, General De Gaulle – the interim president – appointed Admiral Thierry d’Argenlieu as « Haut Commissaire de France en Indochine » (general governor) and General Leclerc commander in chief of the French expeditionary corps in the Far East.

As a presage, Soekarno declares the independence of Indonesia the day after.

On the 19th, Viet Minh partisans paraded in Hanoi amidst popular jubilation and in the eyes of the already defeated Japanese soldiers. The same day, Bao Dai, understanding the popularity of the Viet Minh and abandoned by his ministers, broadcast a message for Charles De Gaulle, advocating for independence. He contacted the American president the day after with the same message.

Between the 20th and the 22nd, 3 Viet Minh organized the peaceful occupation of Hue. After this event, the league controlled the northern half of the country. The news spread quickly and non-violent demonstrations for independence sprung up everywhere. Popular committees were organized to replace the French administration.

Not able to accept this, De Gaulle managed to get the recognition of the French sovereignty over Indochina from Washington, London, and Moscow between the 22nd and the 24th.

Bao Dai abdicated in favor of the Viet Minh on the 23rd and made it public on the 25th in front of the aristocracy.

abdication
Since 2014, the museum of the revolution of Hué has been proposing a reconstitution of the ceremony during which Bao Dai officially gave the seal and the sword of his ancestor Gia Long (founder of the Nguyen Dynasty) to the Viet Minh representative.

On the 27th, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and a provisional government were established.

When the Emperor of Japan signed the surrender on the 2nd of September, everything was in place for Ho “with Enlightened Will” to declare the independence of Vietnam on Ba Dinh square. This speech was too long to be repeated here (the complete version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7vSdj_qo9A), Ho Chi Minh’s speech referred to fundamental principles of the American declaration of independence of 1776 and the french declaration of rights of man and citizen of 1789. He only focused on nationalist issues, hiding for the moment the social revolution and class struggle.

This event was a triumph for Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh. The crowd was excited by the historical moment it was witnessing: the “French colonialists” were symbolically ousted. After that, the leader was seen as the only viable interlocutor about the future of the country even as Bao Dai, now the citizen Vinh Thuy and “special counselor” of the new government, was to be “recycled” by the French to become an alternative to communist power.

ba dinh
Ba Dinh square during Ho Chi Minh’s speech. The French spies estimated that the crowd was composed of 500 000 people.

The ambiance was very different in Saigon, where the Viet Minh’s power was much weaker and was rivaled by multiple parties. In fact, Tran Van Giau, a communist agent that had studied in Russia, managed a tour de force on the 21st by making the population believe that the Allies allowed the Viet Minh coup. But in the following days, the constitution of the people’s committees raised indignation among the non-communists’ spheres as the Indochinese Communist Party was overrepresented. The tension reached its highest point when, after the declaration of independence, the people’s demonstration turned into an anti-French and anti-Viet Minh’s opponents’ manhunt. Troubles only stopped when the British General Douglas Gracey arrived in Saigon on the 6th of September.

leclerc grasset
General Leclerc meeting General Gracey in Saigon.

The first French troops arrived on the 12th of September and the French expeditionary corps in the Far East on the 23rd. This French come-back after the euphoria of the 2nd provoked riots and French people were massacred. At the same time, wanting to profit from the chaos, diverse factions denounced the Viet Minh’s leadership and organized their own armed forces to gain territory, partisans, and resources. The Viet Minh responded very violently with a wave of targeted murders and massacres against recusant leaders (Trotskyists in particular). This campaign of assassinations would only end in the middle of 1946, without any solution for the French Sureté (intern intelligence in Indochina), who was beheaded on the 9th of March.

 

leclerc et massu
Leclerc and Massu in My Tho, Mekong Delta, 1945.

Despite American weapons and training, the Viet Minh couldn’t resist the French army led by Colonel Massu that “cleansed” the road between Saigon and Hanoi from September to November. A provisional government, only composed of French or French partisans’ elements, was established.

 

Isolated, exhausted and weakened, the Vietnamese Communists retreated to their mountainous sanctuaries in northern Vietnam, near the Chinese border. Ho Chi Minh and his comrades dissolved the Indochinese Communist Party on the 11th of November (without approval from Moscow). The “people war” strategy against the French to defend the independence would start once the Chinese and British troops in charge of Japanese disarmament had left the territory.

In short, the declaration of independence of the 2nd of September was a tour de force that, even if quickly countered, inspired the Vietnamese people by eliminating the last notions of French invincibility which had initially been shattered by the Japanese. It also allowed the Viet Minh to establish an embryo of administration.

The troubles of this unsafe period enabled the Vietnamese Communists to be considered as independentist and avant-garde by managing to conclude alliances, sometimes unusual ones (all the bishops of Tonkin and Annam, the nationalist of the Dong Minh Hoi but also Bao Dai), and by murdering their main opponents, mostly by accusing them of treason or of being reactionary (whatever that means). The number of assassinations is estimated by David Marr to be in the thousands during this period.

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French propaganda poster for the Indochinese Union. This political construction was never able to remedy French colonial contradictions and represents the best example of the lack of solutions on the French side.

By dismantling the structures of French power in Indochina and by rejecting the old colonial formula, Ho Chi Minh pushed Paris, still wounded by the second world war and the Nazis’ occupation, to promote the shaky concept of “modus vivendi” in “Indochinese Union”. The context of early cold wars would also make the American and Soviet hegemons over critical of the French position.

 

Moreover, the 2nd of September already announced the impossibility of negotiation between the French government and the communist rebels and the failure of the last chance peace conference of Fontainebleau. Plus, the advent of the unstable fourth Republic in France dominated by communist, socialist, and center-leftist parties, as well as the indifference among the French population, would prevent the French government from determining the real aims of their war, and wasted the lives of many young soldiers.

Today, even if the date is seen as important in Vietnam, the 2nd of September is a bit underrated because of the 30th of April, the date of the fall of Saigon, for although the victory of Dien Bien Phu is the outcome of the declaration of independence, Vietnamese people tend to remember the Geneva conference bitterly, because despite formalizing the independence of Vietnam, the conference also exacerbated divisions in the country with the agreement of the Soviet and Communist Chinese as “allies”.