Party down: Vietnams Communist leaders meet
Once every five years with much pomp and pageantry the bombs communist leadership convenes in a national party congress thirteenth. One again in the capital hanoi. This week the expectation is that there will be a raft of stamp policies and new party leaders john despite the country's relatively low kobe numbers and positive economic performance. The party's position outside. The national conference center is weaker than it seems at the national party congress. They discuss issues confronting vietnam. They set policy and they elect the central committee. Politburo and the four top jobs. Charlie mccann is our southeast asia correspondent among them the most powerful job in the country. That is the party. Secretary-general and what's the overall tone at the congress. This time around pretty self. Congratulatory parties had a good year. They've handled the pandemic pretty well. Had just over fifteen hundred cases and fewer than fifty deaths and the economy actually grew by three percent but there's still a lot of disquiet and the party and indeed in the public disquiet in the party in the form of some kind of opposition. There's no organized opposition. Nobody's going to supplant the communist party anytime soon and ever since the nineteen eighties. When the country embarked on the transition from a century planned economy to market one the party has state its legitimacy on rising incomes on his ability to increase prosperity. And it's done that over. Four decades vietnam has transformed from one of the poorest countries in the world to middle income manufacturing powerhouse. But if you look beyond. Those headline figures are causes for concern. The economy has been growing at about seven percent. The last several years and the economy needs to reach that level of growth to keep the labor market. It's not clear that it can do so however at the same time as you have this depressed. Economic growth inequality is rising and social mobility is declining. okay that's about formal opposition parties but you mentioned disquiet among the public as well. What's happening. They're vietnamese can't express their discontent through politics. Because opposition parties are banned but informal criticism is growing. There are a lot of vietnamese. Social media users about sixty five million out of a total population of one hundred million according to our social british firm as level of education has improved in the country and more and more people have access to the internet. they've been exposed to values that are antithetical to the communist paradise that the regime is trying to build these values like democracy and human rights and they can express views on social media and so it's that disquiet than in the public that's causing the disquiet in the party. I mean how is the house. The party dealt with that space for criticism harshly. They have cracked down over the past five years. They've arrested two hundred eighty people for quote anti-state activities up from sixty eight in the previous five year period instructed the serum press to scrub phrases like civil society and human rights from their pages and in the months leading up to the national congress. This crackdown has intensified earlier. This month day sentenced three freelance journalists famous for criticizing the government to between eleven and fifteen years in prison. It's a lot easier to shoot off an angry tweet or facebook post than it is to organize in vietnam where protest is technically illegal but actually there have been a lot of protests in real life over the last several years so in two thousand eighteen for instance tens of thousands of vietnamese took to the streets. Because they're angry about a proposed law that they were worried would allow chinese companies to lease special economic zones for a ninety nine years as a lot of anti chinese sentiment in vietnam. Because there's a lot of concern that chinese infringing on their offering sovereignty and the protests so violent angry there were clashes between the police and protesters. The government eventually abandoned this law so a good pandemic response and the economic growth. That comes with that somewhat offset by this discontent. What else is on party leaders minds. Ironically trade is going to be a worry as well and i say -ironically because trade is a is a massive driver of economic growth. It is through trade. That vietnam has been able to transform itself into manufacturing powerhouse and yet at the same time it gives its export markets leverage over the government. So for instance in order to get the eu to agree to free trade deal last year. Vietnam had to agree to abolish forced labor and allow the creation of independent labor unions which was a massive concession but surely concerns such as that aren't limited to the you know means the party officials have to think very carefully about their relations with both china its biggest trade partner and the us biggest export market. The trump administration came down really hard on vietnam labeled it. A currency manipulator late last year and trump has described vietnam quote. Almost a single worst abuser of everybody for that reason. So the party will be very keen to rebuild the relationship with the biden administration. But at the same time i can't be seen to cozy up too closely to the us for fear of offending china. With whom it has an incredibly important relationship you know. Shares ideology shares along land border and they have an important trade relationship you know. China is largest source of materials and equipment for vietnam manufacturing industry so that it's a tricky balancing act required of party officials to get that relationship right so whoever emerges from the congress secretary general. There won't be much time for celebrating. He's gonna have a lengthy to do list.