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Background Briefing: Vietnam: Politburo Expanded With Two New Faces Carlyle A. Thayer May 18, 2013

[client name deleted] Vietnam has appointed Deputy Prime Ministrer Nguyen Thien Nhan, a US-trained academic, and Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, the Deputy Chair of the National Assembly, as the two new faces on the Politburo. We request your assessment of the following: 1. What do you make of these appointments? How significant is it to Vietnam at this stage? ANSWER: Prior to the meeting of the seventh plenum the Politburo approved an important resolution on Vietnam’s proactive integration with the global system. The election of Nguyen Thien Nhan and Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan appear designed to promote this objective. Nhan has educational experience in Germany and the United States which will stand him in good stead in promoting foreign investment. He has also been given responsibility for co-chairing the China-Vietnam Joint Steering Committee. Indeed, Nhan left the Central Committee a day prior its conclusion to cochair the Joint Steering Committee sixth meeting in Beijing. It is significant that both of Vietnam’s new leaders hold advanced degrees, Nhan a PhD and Ngan an MA. This is a sign that Vietnam’s program of orderly generational change among the three age groups will increasingly result in the appointment of individuals with advanced education and foreign experience into high office. 2. Nhan was credited with launching a campaign euphemistically called “Say No to Negative Phenomena in Exams” to combat the problems of cheating and corruption that have plagued Vietnam's education system. But little headway was made on improving the quality of the education sector. Given this, why was he kicked upstairs? ANSWER: Nhan has had a varied career in both education and government service. From my own experience in the education sector reforms cannot be implemented overnight. Nhan served as Minister of Education and Training for only four years. The problems of the education sector are so complex that is unlikely any minister could have brought about immediate reforms. Nhan obviously has the confidence of Prime Minster Nguyen Tan Dung who appointed him deputy prime minister in both his first and second terms in office.

2 3. Nhan's supporters consider him a face familiar to Western investors that could help to revive the economy. What is your view? How could the Party and the government cash in on this potential? What would foreign investors make of this development? ANSWER: Nhan’s fluency in the English language will raise Vietnam’s profile and make his interaction with overseas counterparts in Europe, North America and ASEAN much easier. 4. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan was credited with successfully directing the mass rescue of the Vietnamese guest workers in Libya two years ago. What else did she do that played a pivotal role in her promotion? ANSWER: Ngan has amassed considerable experience in trade and finance, having served as deputy minister in both portfolios. She also has experience in Cabinet having served as Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs and deputy chair of the National Assembly. More importantly, she has served on the party Central Committee for three terms and was assigned to the Secretariat in 2006. 5. Will there be any change in US-Vietnam relations after these appointments? How would it affect the relations between Vietnam and the rest of the world? ANSWER: The appointment of two new members of the Politburo will have only a marginal impact on Vietnam’s relations with the rest of the world and with the United States in particular over the short term. The Politburo functions as a collective and bases its policy on consensus. Both new members are junior and will take their lead from the more senior members of the Politburo. Over the long term both individuals will play increasingly important roles. Of the 16 member Politburo it is likely nine will retire at the next party congress due to age. This means that there are six persons to fill the top five leadership posts: party Secretary General, state President, Prime Minister, head of the National Assembly Standing Committee and head of the party Secretariat. Of course the incoming Central Committee could make exceptions to the age requirement.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam: Politburo Expanded With Two New Faces,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, May 18, 2013.

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