Vietnam: Nong Duc Manh Sets Priorities


Professor Carlyle A. Thayer

Since Nong Duc Manh became Secretary-General of the Vietnam Communist Part (VCP) in April, he has presided over two executive sessions (or plenums) of the VCP Central Committee. Under Manh’s leadership policy implementation is being strengthened by a more proactive Politburo and by the use of party committees within the state apparatus including the National Assembly. Manh has given priority to five main areas: strengthening leadership, infrastructure development, party-building, state-owned enterprise reform, and redress of ethnic minority grievances in the Central Highlands.

  • Strengthening Leadership. Manh engineered a number of changes in the areas of ideology, personnel and security by appointing Politburo and Central Committee members to key leadership roles. New appointments were made to the Central Committee and a major reshuffle was carried out in the military where a new Chief of the General Staff and new head of the General Political Department were appointed.

  • Infrastructure development. The VCP Central committee’s second plenum gave the go ahead for the massive hydroelectric project at Son La to commence in 2003, despite grave concerns about its environmental and social impact. Resettlement into the Central Highlands has been identified as one of the contributing causes of unrest that broke out in February-March this year.

  • Party-building. Nong Duc Manh has moved to strengthen his control over the party apparatus by drawing up statutes governing the operations of the Central Committee, Politburo, Secretariat and Control Commission. In addition, the Politburo Directive on ‘party-building and rectification’ requires all party members to declare their assets including property ownership. Party members are now individually responsible for corruption, wasteful spending, and bureaucratism in agencies or localities under their authority. Official fact-finding teams will visit the grassroots to ensure compliance.

  • State-owned enterprise reform. Over the next five years Vietnam will basically complete the restructuring and reform of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including both partial equitization and the creation of a number of ‘economic conglomerates.’ The third plenum made clear, however, that SOEs ‘should serve as a tool in the hands of the state to regulate the economy, ensure adherence to the socialist path, and maintain political, economic and social stability.’ The plenum also noted that the issue of SOE reform, including the ending of subsidies, was ‘a difficult and controversial issue’ and ‘closely related to social and economic stability.’
  • Ethnic minority grievances in the Central Highlands. Nong Duc Manh came to office in the wake of widespread unrest in the Central Highlands. This issue received his personal attention in September when the Secretary General visited Dac Lac, Kon Tum and Gia Lai provinces. He met with local officials as well as tribal elders and commune chiefs. He advised the former to work closely with the latter. Manh offered support to overcome economic difficulties caused by the sharp drop in prices for coffee on the world market. Manh urged local authorities to adopt an ‘affirmative action’ plan to educate, train and recruit ethnic minorities into government service. Manh also stressed the strategic importance of the Central Highlands and the need to be vigilant to detect hostile forces who sought to undermine political stability.

    WATCHPOINT: Postscript: On 12 September the President and Foreign Minister of Vietnam responded to the terrorist attacks on the United States the previous day by sending messages of condolence to their American counterparts and especially to the families of the victims. Both messages noted that Vietnam had consistently condemned all acts of terrorism that caused civilian deaths. Similar sentiments were voiced by the Vietnamese Ambassador to the United Nations. The Vietnamese media adopted the line of expressing sympathy, condemning terrorism and cautioning against a counter-productive over-reaction. The army newspaper, Quan Doi Nhan Dan, argued that the United Nations and regional organizations bore the responsibility to act to ensure a peaceful and stabile environment. The United States was cautioned not to unleash violence and launch a destabilizing war under the pretext of ‘anti-terrorism’. Saigon Giai Phong, a party newspaper, argued that the U.S. would lose international support for a prolonged war against terrorism if it launched massive strikes against countries accused of harbouring terrorism. ‘Violence will not bring genuine peace’, it editorialized, and terrorism ‘cannot be solved by just a military campaign’. A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry expressed Vietnam's official reaction with these words, ‘the United States must be very careful in its retaliation. Terrorist culprits and offenders must be accurately identified and any action against terrorism must comply with the UN charter and fundamental principles of international law. Other countries' sovereignty must be respected while actions should not complicate international relations’.


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