Vietnam Confirms Top Leadership

Communist Party chief returns for 3rd term . . . 

The Vietnamese Communist Party’s (VCP) 13th National Congress ended a day early Monday due to both the new COVID-19 outbreak in Hanoi and the high level of consensus among delegates on the selection of Vietnam’s next top leaders. As many had speculated, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong will remain in his current role for a third term despite his advanced age. Current Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc will become president. These appointments defy the Party’s rules on term and age limits (65) but have been made to ensure that the VCP continues to project an image of unity and strength.

Stability and continuity, but for how long?

The Party has made it clear that internal consensus is a top priority. A high degree of continuity was also evident in the composition of the 13th Politburo, which was elected during the National Congress. Many members have returned or earlier served in key party institutions such as the Central Committee’s Secretariat. While this week’s appointments favour party stability, a potential political crisis may still emerge if Trong’s frail health prevents him from completing his new five-year term as Party head. In such a case, the VCP will choose his heir from among senior leaders. But, no one seems to match Trong’s popularity and authority.

Still eagerly global . . .

Although reform-minded, technocratic party cadres are underrepresented in this latest leadership shuffle, much of Vietnam’s economic and foreign policies will remain unchanged over the next five years. The country is still committed to economic development and its ambitious goal of becoming a developed economy by 2045. To that end, the VCP will likely continue to introduce broad reforms to create a business-friendly environment in the Communist state. Vietnam has already become a destination of choice for investors, especially in the context of the U.S.-China trade war. But Vietnam’s long-term economic success is also contingent on good relations with the two superpowers. Tensions in the South China Sea and a Biden administration keen on pushing the human rights agenda will pose challenges to Vietnam’s new leadership.