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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Vietnam: Secretary General
Nguyen Phu Trong
Resumes Duties
Carlyle A. Thayer
May 16, 2019

We are writing to request your assessment of a report that Secretary General Nguyen
Phu Trong seems to have recovered and chaired a meeting with his top cabinet
members yesterday night. Our questions are:
Q1. How do you think Secretary General Trong’s first appearance since April 14th will
affect Vietnam’s political climate?
ANSWER: The video of Secretary General and President Nguyen Phu Trong chairing a
senior leaders’ meeting was designed to reassure the Vietnamese public that Trong
has recovered from his recent fatigue and illness and is back in the driver’s seat
directing senior party leaders about preparations for the thirteenth national party
congress among other matters.
The video showed only still shots of Trong with his right hand aloft but left arm down.
There was no voice recording of him speaking. If Trong suffered a brain aneurism it is
likely he may have suffered some neurological damage such as the use of his left arm
and slurring of speech. This video, therefore, will not squelch speculation about
Trong’s health and leadership succession. Rumours and speculation can be put to bed
if Trong appears active and vibrant at the tenth Central Committee plenum expected
to convene this month prior to the opening of the National Assembly’s seventh
session.
Q2. Watching the televised meeting some viewers remarked that Secretary
General/President Trong gave his top cabinet members instructions rather than
discussing ideas with them. What is your assessment?
ANSWER: The TV video was too brief to make any definitive assessment.
Viet Nam News Agency reported that Trong heard and discussed with the senior
leaders a report by Nguyen Van Nen on the activities of the Office of the Party Central
Committee, National Assembly, Office of the President and Government in April. They
also discussed how to follow up with subordinate functional agencies and mass
organisations.
According to VNA, Trong and the four senior leaders also discussed the work program
for May, including meetings of the Politburo, Secretariat and Central Committee as
well as progress on drafting policy documents for the thirteenth national party
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congress. In sum, the VNA report was designed to show that Secretary General Trong
was in charge and directing party and state affairs as usual.
Q3. Among Trong’s instructions were: “We must emphasize the spirit of solidarity is
high in the party, solidarity, unity and consensus, especially in the central and local
areas.It is necessary to continue the fight against corruption, negativity, wastefulness,
not to slow down, so that the people will worry, we may even have to do more in this
respect.” What is your assessment of this quote?
ANSWER: These are all Trong’s flagship themes. The purpose of highlighting these
remarks was to emphasize that Trong is in charge and its back to business as usual. In
other words, there will be continuity not change.
Q4. Among his top five cabinet members, who do you think will be his replacement?
Mr. Tran Quoc Vuong, maybe?
ANSWER: It is unclear if Vietnam’s party leaders have decided to keep the posts of
party Secretary General and state President concurrent, that is held by the same
person, or separate them after Trong retires.
If the party maintains its present policy of retirement at age 65, there are only seven
members of the Politburo who will be under 65 in 2021. Party rules stipulate that a
person can be nominated if they turn 65 after half way in their five year term. Of
course current rules can be changed and exceptions made.
In the case of Tran Quoc Vuong, the Chair of the Central Inspection Committee, he will
be 68 in 2021. This would seem to disqualify him but party sources report there is
flexibility about age limits for candidates for higher party/state posts and the health
of the potential candidate will be a prime consideration. Vuong has party seniority in
his favour but lacks requisite experience in state/government affairs.
In answer to your question, strictly speaking, there are only five members of the
Cabinet on the Politburo – Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of
National Defence, Minister of Public Security and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The
Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence can be ruled out on the basis of age
as both will be over 65 in 2021. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public
Security will be 64, while the Foreign Minister will be 62. If we include the Chair and
Deputy Chair of the National Assembly, both can be ruled out as they will be 67 in
2021. It is my assessment that the next party Secretary General/President will not
come from this group.
There are only six remaining members of the Politburo who will be under 65 in 2021
(Pham Minh Chinh, Vuong Dinh Hue, Truong Thi Mai, Nguyen Van Binh, Hoang Trung
Hai, and Vo Van Thuong). Who is likely to succeed Trong as Secretary General will
largely be determined if the party leadership post is concurrent with that of state
President. Not all of the six Politiburo members who will be under 65 in 2021 have
extensive service at high levels in the government. Most are heads of Central
Committee Commissions. Hue who is Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the
Steering Committee for the Southwest Region will be 64 in 2021, the others are
younger.
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Name Year on Date of Birth Current Position Age in


Politburo 2021*
2013 12 April 1954
Nguyen Thi Chair National Assembly 67
Kim Ngan

Ngo Xuan 2016 20 April 1954 Minister of National 67


Lich Defence

To Lam 2016 10 July 1957 Ministry of Public Security 64

Nguyen Xuan 2011 20 July 1954 Prime Minister 67


Phuc

Nguyen 2013 12 June 1953 Secretary Ho Chi Minh 68


Thien Nhan City Party Committee

Pham Minh 2016 10 Chair Central 63


Chinh February1958 Organization Committee

Tong Thi 2011 10 February Deputy Chair National 67


Phong 1954 Assembly

Vuong Dinh 2016 March 15, 1957 Deputy Prime Minister, 64


Head of the Steering
Hue
Committee for the
Southwest Region
Tran Quoc 2016 5 February, Chair Central Inspection 68
Vuong 1953 Committee

Pham Binh 2016 26 March 1959 Minister of Foreign Affairs 62


Minh
2016 23 January1958
Truong Thi Chair Central Popular 63
Mai Mobilization Commission

Truong Hoa 2016 13 April 1955 Secretary VCP Central 66


Binh Committee

Nguyen Van 2016 4 March 1961 Chair Central Economic 60


Binh Commission
2016 13 December
Vo Van Chair Central Propaganda 51
1970
Thuong & Education Commission
2016 27 September
Hoang Trung Secretary Hanoi Party 62
1959
Hai Committee

*Born 1965 or after


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Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam: Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong
Resumes Duties,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, May 16, 2019. All background
briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the
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