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Thayer China in Vietnam's Domestic Politics

Thayer China in Vietnam's Domestic Politics

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
An examination of the role of a so-called "pro-China" faction in the Vietnam Communist Party, Chinese influence in Vietnam and the role of Vietnam's domestic intelligence agencies.
An examination of the role of a so-called "pro-China" faction in the Vietnam Communist Party, Chinese influence in Vietnam and the role of Vietnam's domestic intelligence agencies.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Apr 30, 2013
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05/16/2013

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Background Briefing:China in Vietnam’s InternalPoliticsCarlyle A. ThayerMarch 21, 2013
[clientnamedeleted]Q1.ItlookslikethetensionsbetweenChinaandVietnamovertheSouthChinaSeahavedeclined,oratleastlesshighbeaddressed/raisedbybothcountries.Isthiscorrect?Andifso,whydidthathappen?ANSWER:InOctober2011,duringthevisitofVietnam’spartySecretaryGeneralNguyenPhuTrongtoBeijing,thetwopartychiefswitnessedthesigningofanAgreementonFundamentalPrinciplestoSettleMaritimeDisputes.LaterthethenvicepresidentXiJinpingvisitedVietnam.SincethentherehasbeenaloweringoftensionsintheSouthChinaSea.Vietnamhasgenerallyfalleninwithbilateraldiplomacywhileinsistingifthirdpartiesareinvolvedamultilateralpathmustbepursued.LatelastyearwhenacablecuttingincidentoccurredVietnamdownplayedit.VietnamhasbeencircumspectingivingitssupporttothePhilippines.AformerseniorUSdefenseofficialclaimsthatdespiteUSpressuretosupportthePhilippines,Vietnamhasprevaricated.ChinahasacknowledgedVietnam’sposition.Netassessment:VietnamandChinahaveadensenetworkofpartytoparty,militarytomilitaryandstatetostatesties.BothhaveworkedhardtocompartmentalizetheSouthChinaSeadisputeinordertopreventitfromdamagingbilateralrelationsacrossanumberofareaswherebotharecooperating.VietnamiscurrentlytryingtoarrangeavisitbypresidentTruongTanSangtoChina.AtthesametimeVietnamishopingtoenticeSecretaryofStateJohnKerrytovisitandlobbyhimforavisitbyPresidentBarackObamalaterintheyear.ReportedlystallednegotiationsonastrategicpartnershiphavebeenrevivedasaresultofVietnam’sdecisiontorespondpositivelytoproposalstheUSrecentlyputonthetable.Q2.Isthereapro-ChinafactionintheVietnameseCommunistParty/Government?Ifitexists,whoarepartofit,howbigistheirinfluenceandhowdotheydealwiththegeneralanti-ChinesesentimentsamongtheVietnamesepopulation?ANSWER:Thereisaloosefaction(orgrouping)intheVietnamCommunistPartywhoviewtheUnitedStatesinideologicalterms.TheyarguethattheUSseekstooverthrowVietnam’ssocialistregimethroughtheplotofpeacefulevolutionbypromotinghumanrightsanddemocracy.Thelabel“pro-China”maynotcapturethe
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dynamicsinplay.SomeviewChinaasalong-termsocialistally.OthersareconcernednottoantagonizeChinabecauseoftheconsequencesthatmightfollow,suchaseconomicsanctions.Vietnam,afterall,hasaUS$13billiontradedeficitwithChina.Theso-calledpro-ChinagroupalsoaskswhathasVietnamgainedbyturningtotheUnitedStates?Intheirview,verylittle.TheywantmoreUSassistanceincleaningupAgentOrangeandunexplodedwartimeordnance.TheyalsowanttheUStoremoverestrictionsonthesaleofmilitarytechnologyandweapons.However,theyfearbeingdrawnintoananti-Chinacontainmentstrategy.Itisimpossibletoquantifythesizeofa“pro-Chinafaction”.Itisnotsopowerfultodominatedecision-makingyetitissufficientlystrongtorestrictrelationswiththeUnitedStatesfromgoingtofar.The“pro-Chinafaction”isprobablybettercharacterizedasagroupthatopposesdevelopingcloserrelationswiththeUSbecauseoftheriskofChinesedispleasureandtheriskthattheUSwouldpromoteregimechangeinVietnam.WhenXiJinpingvisitedVietnaminlate2011,hewarnedeachseniorVietnameseleaderhemetoftheconsequencesoftiltingtowardstheUnitedStates.InJune2011,ChinaandVietnamsignedajointstatementagreeing,interalia,“tosteerpublicopinion.”Inotherwords,bothagreedtorestrictpublicprotestsintheircountries.Vietnamcrackeddownonpublicdissentandbloggers.Vietnameseofficialstelltheprotestorsthattheyareharmingbilateralrelations.Vietnamalsohighlightsthemodernizationofitsmilitarytowinoverdomesticanti-Chinanationalists.VietnamalsousespropagandatohighlightdiplomaticprotestsagainstChineseactivitiesintheEastSeathatencroachonVietnamesesovereignty.Q3.WhatistheroleandpositionoftheVietnameseintelligenceservicesinthis?ANSWER:Verylittleisknownabouttheroleofdomesticsecurityandmilitaryintelligence.ThefewleakedreportsfromtheMinistryofPublicSecurity(MPS)andunverifiableclaimsbybloggersseemstoindicateastreakof“paranoia”thatconflatesdomesticpatriotismwiththeanti-Chinaviewsofanti-communistoverseasVietnamese.Itisthelatterwhoareviewedastheinstigatorsofdomesticanti-Chinaprotests.TheMPSarguesthatoverseasVietnameseareusinganti-Chinasentimenttodriveawedgebetweenthepeopleandthepartyorordertosowdiscordandweakentheregimewiththeaimofeventuallyoverthrowingit.MPSofficialsareeveralerttoanysignofcollusionbetweenBeijingandWashingtonatVietnam’sexpense.ThebottomlineisthattheUScan’tbetrustedasitwillselloutVietnaminordertoimproverelationswithChina.TheusuallineisthattheUSwillnotcontestChinesesovereigntyclaimsintheSouthChinaSeainreturnforfreedomofnavigationfortheUSNavytotransittheSouthChinaSea.AtthesametimetheMPSisalsowaryofChinasattemptstomanipulateVietnamesepartypoliticsthroughinfluencingindividuals–officialsalongtheborderandofficialsinprovinceswhereChinahasinvested.Militaryintelligence–GeneralDirectorateII(GDII)–hasprovidedreportsontheroleofsuspectedU.S.intelligenceagentsinmakingcontactwithVietnamesewiththeaimofengagingin“hostileacts”againsttheVietnameseparty-state.Bysome

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