Vietnamese Party Members Call For Democracy, Push-Back Against China

A protester holds up a large photograph of Vietnam Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong (R) shaking hands with China's President Xi Jinping during an anti-China rally in downtown Hanoi on June 2, 2013.

Sixty-one distinguished members of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam have urged their top leadership to embrace democratic reforms and stand up to territorial encroachment and political bullying by powerful neighbor China.

In an open letter dated July 28 and addressed to the party’s Central Committee, the former senior government officials and scholars, newspaper editors, and artists said that the Communist Party must now focus on changing the country’s political structure “from that of a totalitarian regime to one of democracy in a way that is both firm and peaceful” in order to deal with challenges facing the nation.

The letter—whose signatories include a former Vietnamese ambassador to China—also said they regret having supported a government system marked by “corruption,” a lack of transparency, and mistakes in economic policy that have caused Vietnam to “lag behind other nations.”

The Communist Party itself acknowledged recently that efforts to curb corruption have fallen short of expectations as the government struggles to bolster a sluggish economy hit by Southeast Asia’s highest level of bad debt.

“The path that the leadership has been imposing on the country is wrong and is taking us down a blind alley,” Nguyen Khac  Main, a veteran party member and one of the letter’s signatories, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service, speaking in an interview.

Fifty years of communist rule have failed to form a powerful and united nation, he said, adding that only when Vietnam has a “sustainable” internal strength can it create happiness and prosperity for its nearly 100 million people.

Call for legal action

Film director Kim Chi, who also signed the letter, urged that Vietnamese leaders take strong legal action against China for its encroachments on what she called Vietnamese sovereignty over disputed areas of the South China Sea.

“I think that now, more than ever, the Vietnamese government has to take China before an international court as soon as possible, before it is too late,” she told RFA in an interview.

The recent deployment of a Chinese oil rig in waters off Vietnam’s coast, together with the sinking by China of a Vietnamese fishing boat, have lowered relations between Vietnam and China to their worst level since the two communist nations fought a brief border war in 1979.

Violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam followed the deployment of the rig, which was later withdrawn, and left at least four people dead and the destruction of factories believed to be operated by Chinese companies, though many were Taiwanese-owned.

Vietnam’s leaders are afraid to stand up to their powerful northern neighbor, though, Kim Chi said.

“This has caused pain to the entire population,” she said, adding, “These days, everyone in the streets—even the taxi drivers and vegetable vendors—says, ‘We’re about to lose our country.’”

“But the leadership remains quiet,” she said.

“All of us who signed our names asking for change think that strong action needs to be taken from top to bottom and from inside to out.”

Also speaking to RFA, former director of the Vietnam Institute of Sociology Tuong Lai said,  “In the name of socialism and in the name of  having a similar communist leadership, China manipulates the Vietnamese Communist Party and the leaders of Vietnam, making them dependent on China.”

“And it is this dependence that has increasingly damaged the party’s reputation and caused such severe distrust among party members and the people.”

Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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