Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies in the world.1 Over the past 30 years, Vietnam has transformed itself from one of the world’s poorest nations to a lower-middle income country ripe with investment opportunities.2 Yet despite these economic achievements, this one-party state still encounters significant obstacles to sustained and democratic political development in each of the USAID’s five key elements of democracy, human rights and governance: consensus, inclusion, competition and political accountability, rule of law and human rights, and government responsiveness and effectiveness.3
VIETNAM IN CONTEXT
Colonialism, Conflict, & Communism: An Historical Perspective
Vietnam’s political history is one marked by colonial conquests, military conflicts, and regional tensions that span across many centuries. Much of this historical narrative finds its origins in the one thousand years of Chinese rule over Vietnam until A.D. 938, which left long-lasting influences on Vietnamese culture, education, law, and language.4 In the nine centuries of independence that followed, internal struggles and warfare between the Nguyen and Trinh noble families eventually lead to a weakened Vietnam vulnerable to the colonial pursuits of the French.5 Anxious that their footprint in Asia was falling behind that of their European peers, the French succeeded in bringing Vietnam into their global empire in 1887 as part ofFrench Indochina.6
In the early 20th century, French suppression of Vietnamese modernization movements - Dong Du (“Go East”) and Duy Fan (“Modernization”) - led revolutionaries to turn to Marxism with the founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930.7 With the foundations now in place, the Vietnamese Communist Party was able to set the stage for the struggle against foreign rule - including the Japanese following their invasion during World War II - lead by Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh umbrella group.8 In 1947, war erupted between the French and the Viet Minh, leading to the Geneva Accords of 1954 that ended France’s colonial presence and divided the country into the communist North and anti-communist South.9
In the 1960s, South Vietnam became incredibly unstable, leading the U.S. to send troops and economic aid to the South while simultaneously bombarding the North in what would soon become a long and violent war.10 In 1975, North Vietnam overran the South, reuniting the country under communist rule under the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the leadership of Ho Chi Minh.11 This rapid victory left little time for preparation, resulting in a unified country without a post-war plan on how to unite the disparate socialist and capitalist economies. In the decade that followed the victory, economic stagnation gripped the one-party state, particularly as skirmishes between Cambodia and China resulted in large military budgets and growing international isolation.12 Yet as other one-party states in the world started to relax state control over their economies, Vietnamese leaders began exploring ways to ease their economic hardships and continue rebuilding their devastated nation.
Reform, Recovery, & “Renovation”: A Current Perspective
In December 1986, the 6th National Congress of Vietnam’s Communist Party decided to abandon the central planning model of socialism in favor of a “market-oriented socialist economy under state guidance.”13 Termed Doi Moi (Renovation), these sweeping economic and political reforms - in concert with a 1992 revision of the Constitution favoring progressive relations with both the world and capitalism - set the stage for a dramatic transformation that would launch the isolated one-party state into a period of rapid growth and development.14 From 1991-2000, Vietnam’s economy began to grow at an average annual rate of 7.5%15, only catalyzed by the lift of the U.S. trade embargo in 1993 and the full normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995.16
Vietnam’s current economic performance is propelled by robust bilateral trade relationships with the United States and China - 20.1% and 14.5% of Vietnam’s total exports, respectively.17 Vietnam’s current GDP of $223 billion - 15 times the size of the pre-Döi Moi years18 - is witnessing a slow shift away from the agricultural sector to the industrial, with well- diversified sub-sectors of mining, garments, footwear, and vehicle assembly accounting for 33% of GDP.19 This growth is only undergirded by an immense expansion of the service and retail sectors, each supported by record levels of private consumption and tourism in the last five years.20 Investors have also flooded the country, with Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment reporting registered FDI at $29.68 billion and a 23% increase in foreign-operated factories throughout 2017, much of which originated in South Korea, Singapore, Japan, or Taiwan.21 The integration into international markets and subsequent high economic growth over the past two decades has translated into greater economic opportunity and decreasing poverty rates across the country, all while creating greater unequal distribution of incomes and widespread corruption.
In recent years, Vietnamese leadership has positioned the purge of high level officials accused of corruption at the center of national politics. At the helm of this crackdown is Nguyen Phu Trong, the current General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam and newly appointed President following President Trän Dai Quang’s death on September 21, 2018.22 In a rare consolidation of power unseen since the days of the Vietnam-American War, Nguyen Phu Trong’s ascendancy to the two highest positions in the Vietnamese government has only solidified growing international and domestic concerns over what many consider “strongman tendencies.”23 Vietnam’s political framework rests on the very notion of consensus, with a “four-pillar” system designed to diffuse power at the top. The president, prime minister, chairperson of the National Assembly, and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam all have equal footing in Vietnam’s top leadership. That being said, recent events now leave Trong with half of the power in a structure meant to originally act as a check and balance on top leaders.24
USAID ANALYTICAL FRAMEWORK
As a one-party state, Vietnamese political life and culture are dominated by the ideology and tenets of the Communist Party, leaving little room for disagreement or diverse perspectives. While “artificial” consensus may exist within the country, this is due in no small part to the use of intimidation and coercion to force a public dialogue that aligns with the interests of the party. While there are limited opportunities for civic engagement, this should not be mistaken for an ability to openly engage in the public sphere, check the government’s power, or influence government policy.25 Additionally, social and cultural norms play an important role in society, particularly in creating the artificial consensus touted by the regime. Nevertheless, these norms are responsible for the exclusion of ethnic minorities, women, and other marginalized communities in much of the public sphere.26
Political & Ideological Pluralism
The government continues to actively suppress and restrict any public debate or criticism of the one-party state, effectively abolishing any semblance of national dialogue or consultative processes. Opposition parties to the CPV are illegal and any members affiliating with such are subject to arrest and imprisonment.27 The constitution asserts that the CPV is the “vanguard of the working class and the Vietnamese nation.. .[and] the leading force in the state and society.”28 As such, Vietnamese political life is often described as “mono-organizational socialism”, with one party exercising full control over state institutions, military forces, and organizations in society.29 This forced consensus actively prevents the development and proliferation of alternative narratives, ideologies, or opinions related to political culture and life. This is witnessed in the state’s crackdown and suppression of political expression through surveillance, intimidation, and confiscations of computers and cell phones in recent years.30 Similarly, university professors and student groups have been instructed by the government to refrain from teaching or writing on political topics that may undermine the state, with reports of university students engaged in human rights advocacy being prevented from graduating.31 Although ethnic minorities and women are represented within the CPV, their numbers are few due to the societal biases that discourage these individuals from “running for office.”32 Rare moments in recent years have offered some resemblance to pluralism in the state, most notably a 2013 initiative by the party that welcomed critique and public comment on the national constitution.33
Acknowledgement of Human RightsAbuses
Vietnam’s human rights situation has been the subject of international scrutiny for many decades, though the government has done little to acknowledge these abuses. As a one-party state, violations of international human rights norms are commonplace, with civil liberties being virtually nonexistent, human rights activists consistently assaulted or detained, and no recognition for civil society groups engaged in human rights- and governance-related work.34 A 2017 Human Rights Watch report highlighted 36 incidents of men in civilian clothes beating activists over a span of four months,35 while a September 2017 report detailed police using excessive force to disperse protestors of a Hong Kong-owned textile factory in Hâi Duong - a textbook example of Vietnamese police cracking down on public gatherings, assemblies, or protests.36 Furthermore, intimidation and harassment have been cited by police and local officials against religious groups operating outside government-controlled institutions. The Cao Dai church, Hoa Hâo Buddhist sect, independent Protestant and Catholic churches, and the Unified Buddhist Church are all examples of religious institutions under constant surveillance by state authorities.37
Forced labor in construction, fishing, agriculture, and manufacturing is common for employed Vietnamese men, as well as used as a punitive measure by the Vietnamese government for a number of crimes. Women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in China, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, as well as brokered marriages, domestic servitude, and forced prostitution at home and abroad.38 While the Vietnamese government has made strides in the last five years to identify victims and provide guidance to local authorities on implementing anti-trafficking plans, a lack of coordination between agencies and inadequate funding have stymied results.39
Vietnam continues to experience impressive economic growth, yet many vulnerable populations throughout the country have neither witnessed nor reaped the benefits. Though not an exhaustive list, ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, rural households, those living with HIV/AIDS, and women all continue to struggle to gain access to adequate social services and equal economic opportunities.40 While the past decade has brought national laws and constitutional provisions aimed at preventing discrimination and providing equal access to public services, substantial societal and economic obstacles - as well as systemic corruption and disregard on behalf of public officials - have rendered many of these initiatives futile.
Vietnamese law prohibits discrimination against ethnic minorities, though societal discrimination and disparity still exist between the country’s 53 ethnic minority groups and the majority Kinh people.41 Despite making up around 13% of Vietnam’s total population, ethnic minority groups account for 66% of people living in extreme poverty and possess significantly higher child and maternal mortality rates.42 In the rural Northern and Central Highland regions, where a majority of ethnic minorities live, public officials have been cited preventing children from accessing education and forcing local families to perform or modify cultural practices to satisfy tourist demand.43 In a 2016 report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Vietnamese government stated that they would “preserve selectively and phase out the obsolete [traditions]” when referencing certain ethnic minority groups.44 And while Article 5 of the Law on Belief and Religion adopted by the National Assembly in 2016 forbids discrimination against beliefs and religion, the stigmatization of religious people - most of whom are ethnic minorities - has remained unchanged.45 Nonetheless, ethnic minorities in Vietnam have seen an increase in decision-making power and representation in recent years. Vietnamese law requires that 18% of final candidates for the National Assembly be from ethnic minority groups in an attempt to provide equal representation, with the most recent elections for the National Assembly resulting in 86 out of 498 seats and two ministerial cabinet positions awarded to ethnic minorities.46
Gender & SexualMinorities
Vietnam has made significant strides in achieving gender equality on many levels, much of which has been strengthened by the passage of the 2006 Law on Gender Equality and the 2007 Law on the Prevention and Control of Domestic Violence.47 Nevertheless, Vietnamese women continue to face serious obstacles, including poverty, limited access to higher education, fewer employment opportunities, and discriminatory societal attitudes. Despite equal legal standing on the basis of work, wages, property rights, inheritance, marriage, and divorce, subtle discriminatory provisions exist within national laws that have historically restricted opportunities for women - unequal retirement age for men (60 years) and women (55 years), for example.48 Furthermore, despite boasting one of the world’s highest labor force participation rates of women over 15 years old (72.6%), Vietnamese women were still earning less than their male counterparts across sectors.49 Within national politics, the Communist Party maintains a target of at least 30% female representation in the National Assembly,50 though that could be argued as a means of institutionalizing gender inequities in the hope of maintaining 70% of seats for men.51 The 2016 election failed to reach that threshold, with women only accounting for 24% of the total legislative body.52 In the same election, however, Vietnam elected its first female Chairperson of the National Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngân. As the first woman to enter the four pillars of Vietnam’s national leadership, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngân’s election by her legislative peers has led many top voices in the country to declare significant progress for advancing gender equality.53
While the LGBTQ+ community in Vietnam still faces significant inequalities and societal discrimination, the country has been lauded by many as a trailblazer on the Asian continent for LGBTQ+ tolerance and acceptance. Although no legal protections against discrimination, Vietnam has banned conversion therapy, hosts an annual Pride parade, allows LGBTQ+ individuals to serve openly in the military, permits citizens to change their gender after sex reassignment surgery, and abolished a ban on same-sex marriage in 2015.54 Nevertheless, LGBTQ+ and gender nonconforming individuals face persistent societal discrimination and stigma that prevents many of these individuals from living openly.
Competition & Political Accountability
Vietnam is one of the few remaining countries in the world where the Communist Party is dominant and a socialist regime is clearly established. As such, power, political ideology, and policymaking are all centralized within the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), which is led by the Politburo and Executive Secretariat.55 This leaves little room for diverse political opinions or voices that do not align with the interests of the party. The Vietnamese government consequently limits or eliminates important aspects of competition and political accountability, including a free media, access to information, and free and fair elections.
FreeMedia &Access to Information
A 2016 Freedom House Freedom of the Press report indicated that Vietnam’s media environment is “one of the harshest in Asia.”56 The CPV has full legal authority and sets all guidelines for print, broadcast, online, and electronic media via the Ministry of Information and Communications and Propaganda and Education Commission.57 Despite a constitution that recognizes freedom of expression, journalists and bloggers are constrained by government authorities who often bring charges under Article 88 of the criminal code, which prohibits the dissemination of “antigovernment propaganda”, and Article 79, a comprehensive ban on activities aimed at “overthrowing the state”.58 Based on the 1999 Law on Media, the press is prevented from reporting information that is “untruthful, distorted, or slanderous and harmful” to an individual or organization, most notably referring to the CPV and state.59 Critical journalists and bloggers are actively silenced or met with arrest and conviction, with police often using violence, intimidation, and home/office raids to target those disseminating ideas believed to be harmful to national interests.60 As such, Vietnamese media is seen as a tool for the CPV to unequivocally promote messages on the party and state policy, leaving little room for alternative ideas or perspectives.
Political Participation & Elections
In May 2016, Vietnamese citizens took to the polls to select members of the National Assembly in a mirage of democracy with little room for political competition. The CPV won 96% of National Assembly seats, with all candidates on the ballots either CPV candidates or non-CPV candidates who were vetted and approved by the CPV.61 While Vietnamese law does allow citizens to “selfnominate” as National Assembly candidates, academics, legal reformers, activists, and human rights defenders who registered for candidacy in 2016 never made it to the final ballot.62 Despite government claims that 99% of eligible Vietnamese citizens voted in 2016, numerous reports have surfaced throughout the country that election officials were seen stuffing ballot boxes to ensure such an artificially high voter turnout.63 Unfortunately, state law prevents NGOs from monitoring the election process.
Rule of Law & Human Rights
At the core of democratic governance is the rule of law and respect for human rights. As a singleparty state with highly centralized processes and institutions, Vietnam’s governance is grounded in the centralization of power, corrupt public institutions, and the complete disregard for a fair and equitable judicial system.
1 "The Fastest-growing and Shrinking Economies in 2018." The Economist. January 05, 2018. Accessed October 28, 2018. https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2018/01/05/the-fastest-growing-and-shrinking-economies-in-2018.
2 Jennings, Ralph. "Vietnam's Economic Growth Will Accelerate In 2018As Investors Flood The Country." Forbes. December 27, 2017. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphiennings/2017/12/27/vietnams-economy-will-soar-again-in-2018- because-investors-iust-love-it/#1584d9c355df.
3 USAID. “Country Development Cooperation Strategy for Vietnam (2014-2019).” November 8, 2013. Accessed October 7, 2018. https://www.usaid.gov/vietnam/cdcs
4 Odell, Andrew L., and Marlene F. Castillo. "Vietnam in a Nutshell: An Historical, Political and Commercial Overview."NYSBA International LawPracticum 21, no. 2 (2008). Accessed October 14, 2018. https://www.duanemorris.com/articles/static/odell inpr aut08.pdf.
5 "Vietnam Review 2018." Country Watch. 2017. Accessed October 28, 2018. http://www.countrywatch.com/Content/pdfs/reviews/B4838389.01c.pdf.
6 "The World Factbook: VIETNAM." Central Intelligence Agency. October 24, 2018. Accessed October 26, 2018. https://www.cia.gov/librarv/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/vm.html.
7 Odell, Andrew L., and Marlene F. Castillo. "Vietnam in a Nutshell: An Historical, Political and Commercial Overview."NYSBA International LawPracticum 21, no. 2 (2008). Accessed October 14, 2018. https://www.duanemorris.com/articles/static/odell inpr aut08.pdf.
9 "The World Factbook: VIETNAM." Central Intelligence Agency. October 24, 2018. Accessed October 26, 2018. https://www.cia.gov/librarv/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/vm.html.
11 Lien, Vu Hong, and Peter Sharrock. DescendingDragon, Rising Tiger:A History ofVietnam. London: Reaktion Books, 2014.
12 "The Evolution ofU.S.-Vietnam Ties." Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 24, 2018. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/evolution-us-vietnam-ties.
13 D Melanie Beresford. “Doi Moi in review: The challenges ofbuilding market socialism in Vietnam.” Journal of Contemporary Asia. 2008. 38:2, pp. 221-243
15 Stratfor. "Vietnam's Political Economy in Transition (1986-2016)." Stratfor. May 27, 2014. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/vietnams-political-economy-transition-1986-2016.
16 "The Evolution ofU.S.-Vietnam Ties." Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 24, 2018. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/evolution-us-vietnam-ties.
17 "The World Factbook: VIETNAM." Central Intelligence Agency. October 24, 2018. Accessed October 26, 2018. https://www.cia.gov/librarv/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/vm.html.
18 "Country Profile: Vietnam." Data Bank - World Bank. Accessed October 26, 2018. http://databank.worldbank.org/data/views/reports/reportwidget.aspx7Report Name=CountryProfile&Id=b450fd57&tbar=v&dd=v&inf =n&zm=n&country=VNM.
20 "Country Overview: Vietnam" World Bank. Accessed October 26, 2018. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/vietnam/overview.
21 Jennings, Ralph. "Vietnam's Economic Growth Will Accelerate In 2018As Investors Flood The Country." Forbes. December 27, 2017. Accessed October 31, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphiennings/2017/12/27/vietnams-economy-will-soar-again-in-2018- because-investors-iust-love-it/#1584d9c355df.
22 Ives, Mike. "Tran Dai Quang, Hard-Line Vietnamese President, Dies at61." The New York Times. September 21, 2018. Accessed October 27, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/obituaries/tran-dai-quang-dead.html.
23 Campbell, Charlie. "Vietnam: Nguyen Phu Trong Becomes New Strongman President." Time. October 24, 2018. Accessed October 31, 2018. http://time.com/5432855/nguyen-phu-trong-vietnam-president/.
25 OECD. “Social Cohesion Policy Review ofViet Nam.” Development Centre Studies, OECD Publishing, October 28, 2014. Accessed October 27, 2018. Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264196155-en.
27 "Vietnam." Freedom House. May 04,2018. Accessed October 22,2018. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/vietnam
28 Constitution of the Socialist Republic ofVietnam. Article 4. 1992.
29 Thayer, Carlyle A. “Vietnam and the Challenge ofPolitical Civil Society.” April 2009. Vol. 31, No. 1 pp 1-27.
30 "Vietnam 2016 Human Rights Report." U.S. Department of State, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. 2016. Accessed October https://www.state.gov/i/drl/rls/hrrpt/2016humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265386#wrapper>.
31 "Vietnam." Freedom House. May 04,2018. Accessed October 22,2018. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/vietnam
33 "In Surprise Move, Vietnam Asks Citizens for Public Comment on Their Constitution." The Christian Science Monitor. March 26, 2013. Accessed October 29, 2018. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2013/0326/In-surprise-move-Vietnam-asks-citizens-for- public-comment-on-their-constitution.
34 "Vietnam." Freedom House. May 04,2018. Accessed October 22,2018. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/vietnam
35 Human Rights Watch. “The Crackdown on Labor Rights Activists.” May 4, 2009. Accessed October 30, 2018. https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/05/04/not-vet-workers-paradise/vietnams-suppression-independent-workers-movement
38 “Trafficking in Persons Report: 2O18.”US Department of State. 2018. Accessed October 30,2018. https://www.state.gOv/i/tip/rls/tiprpt/2018/index.htm
39 "Vietnam." Freedom House. May 04,2018. Accessed October 22,2018. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/vietnam
40 USAID. “Country Development Cooperation Strategy for Vietnam (2014-2019).” November 8,2013. Accessed October 7, 2018. https://www.usaid.gov/vietnam/cdcs
41 Bob Baulch, Truong Thi Kim Chuyen, Dominique Haughton & Jonathan Haughton. “Ethnic minority development in Vietnam.” 2007. The Journal ofDevelopment Studies, 43:7, 1151-1176.
42 "Out of Sight." The Economist. April 04, 2015. Accessed October 27, 2018. https://www.economist.com/asia/2015/04/04/out-of-sight.
43 Vietnam 2016 Human Rights Report." U.S. Department of State, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. 2016. Accessed October https://www.state.gov/i/drl/rls/hrrpt/2016humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265386#wrapper>.
46 Human Rights Watch. “The Crackdown on Labor Rights Activists.” May 4, 2009. Accessed October 30, 2018. https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/05/04/not-vet-workers-paradise/vietnams-suppression-independent-workers-movement
47 "Cross-cutting Themes: Gender." The United Nations in Viet Nam. Accessed October 31, 2018. http://www.un.org.vn/en/component/content/article.html?Itemid=&id=1081:cross-cutting-themes-gender.
48 USAID. “Country Development Cooperation Strategy for Vietnam (2014-2019).” November 8,2013. Accessed October 7,2018. https://www.usaid.gov/vietnam/cdcs
49 "Cross-cutting Themes: Gender." The United Nations in Viet Nam. Accessed October 31, 2018. http://www.un.org.vn/en/component/content/article.html?Itemid=&id=1081:cross-cutting-themes-gender.
51 USAID. “Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance Strategic Assessment Framework.” September 2014. Accessed September 29, 2018. https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1866/Master SAF FINAL%20Fully%20Edited%209-28-15.pdf
52 "Cross-cutting Themes: Gender." The United Nations in Viet Nam. Accessed October 31, 2018. http://www.un.org.vn/en/component/content/article.html?Itemid=&id=1081:cross-cutting-themes-gender.
53 Qiuyi, Tan. "Vietnamese Lawmakers Elect Woman to National Assembly Top Post." Channel News Asia. March 16, 2017. Accessed October 29, 2018. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/vietnamese-lawmakers-elect-woman-to-national-assembly-top-post-8151402.
54 Lewis, Simon. "Vietnam: A Year After Gay Marriage Law, Homophobia Remains." Time. January 18, 2016. Accessed October 27, 2018. http://time.com/4184240/same-sex-gay-lgbt-marriage-ban-lifted-vietnam/.
55 Odell, Andrew L., and Marlene F. Castillo. "Vietnam in a Nutshell: An Historical, Political and Commercial Overview."NYSBA International LawPracticum 21, no. 2 (2008). Accessed October 14, 2018. https://www.duanemorris.com/articles/static/odell inpr aut08.pdf.
56 "Vietnam."Freedom House. December 01, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2016/vietnam.
57 Vietnam 2016 Human Rights Report." U.S. Department of State, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. 2016. Accessed October https://www.state.gov/i/drl/rls/hrrpt/2016humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265386#wrapper>.
58 "Vietnam."Freedom House. December 01, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2016/vietnam.
60 "Vietnam." Freedom House. May 04,2018. Accessed October 22,2018. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/vietnam
61 Vietnam 2016 Human Rights Report." U.S. Department of State, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. 2016. Accessed October https://www.state.gov/i/drl/rls/hrrpt/2016humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265386#wrapper>.