Vietnam’s 13th Party Congress 2021: A Review

The way Vietnam managed to bring a compromise between the two wings by nominating prominent leaders from both wings to hold key positions reflects the depth in the strategic thinking of the National leadership.
Keywords: Vietnam, Communist, National Congress, Socialist, Party, Leadership, Pandemic, Economy, State bureaucracy, Development, VCP
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The Vietnam Communist Party’s (VCP) 13th National Congress held from 25 January to 01 February 2021 confirmed the appointments of the country’s top leaders viz General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, the Prime Minister, the President and the Chair of the National Assembly.

Two wings of the Party often indulge in intense lobbying for leadership positions. The Party wing, represented by officials who rise from the Party hierarchy and incline to the Communist ideology, strives to legitimise one-party rule and counter forces working for change of Vietnam’s socialist regime. On the other hand, the Government wing, predominantly controlled by officials in the State bureaucracy, favours integration with the global economy in order to enhance the legitimacy and standing of Vietnam in the world.

In an unprecedented political development, the Congress adopted a special resolution to elect the 76-year-old incumbent VCP General Secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, for a third term beyond the retirement age of 65. The National Assembly also nominated Pham Minh Chinh from the Party wing and Vuong Dinh Hue, an economist from the Government wing as candidates for Prime Minister and Chair of the National Assembly respectively. The way Vietnam managed to bring a compromise between the two wings by nominating prominent leaders from both the wings to hold key positions – the four pillars of the highest decision-making body reflect the depth in the strategic thinking of the National leadership. In essence, such a grand collaboration between the two wings should enhance stability in Vietnam’s political system and continuity in nation-building. The rise of Chinh through Vietnam’s mighty security hierarchy to head the new government until 2026 shows the commitment of the new dispensation to continue dealing with corruption and political dissent with a heavy hand.

Vietnam is concerned about post-COVID economic challenges, sustaining relations with China, which is an important trade ally that has become unpopular for its hegemonic expansion in the South China Sea, rising nationalism and enhancing the country’s international standing. Given the challenges, the recent Congress adopted a foreign policy resolution for building modern and comprehensive diplomacy – political, economic, defence, public and cultural. The new strategy emphasises the centrality of diplomacy in protecting Vietnam’s sovereignty and enhancing its global status vis-à-vis the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the United Nations (UN), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Greater Mekong Region, etc. Vietnam seeks a well-balanced multilateral and bilateral diplomacy – a strategy to avoid over-reliance on exclusive allies and, at the same time, expand bilateral relations with neighbours and strategic partners.

India-Vietnam Partnership:

Prior to the 13th Vietnam Communist Party Congress, India and Vietnam held a virtual summit in December 2020. PM Narendra Modi said at the Summit that Vietnam is an important pillar of India’s Act East policy and a vital partner of its Indo-Pacific Vision as the two sides signed seven pacts across key sectors including defence and energy and released a joint vision for peace and prosperity eyeing to contribute to the South China Sea region’s stability. Addressing the India-Vietnam Virtual Summit, the PM said, “We see our relationship with Vietnam from a long-term and strategic view. Peace, stability and prosperity are our common objectives in the Indo-Pacific region. Our partnership can contribute significantly to maintain stability and peace in the region.”

The theme of the Congress was “Strengthening the building and rectification of the Party and the political system into purity and strength; rousing the will and determination for national development and promoting the strength of the great national unity bloc in combination with the power of the era; continuing to comprehensively and synchronously accelerate the cause of reform; constructing and firmly safeguarding the Fatherland and maintaining a peaceful and stable environment; and striving to turn Vietnam into a developed, socialist-oriented economy by the turn of the 21st century.”. 

Keeping the motto “Solidarity – Democracy – Discipline – Creativeness – Development”, the 13th National Party Congress reviewed not only the implementation of the Resolution of the 12th National Party Congress but also 35 years of carrying out the “Doi Moi” (Renewal) process, 30 years of implementing the 1991 Political Platform, 10 years of implementing the amended Political Platform (supplemented and developed in 2011) and the National Socio-Economic Development Strategy 2011-2020; setting out socio-economic development orientations and tasks for 2021-2025 (the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the South and national reunification); and determining goals and orientations to 2030 (the 100th founding anniversary of the Party) and a vision for national development to 2045 (the 100th founding anniversary of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam). 

Despite the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which affected the entire world, Vietnam still logged significant achievements in 2020 that were even more special than in the previous years, thanks to its stringent measures and outstanding efforts for curbing the pandemic. While the global economy experienced negative growth of nearly 4 percent, Vietnam still posted positive growth of 2.91 percent, making it one of the world’s economies with the highest growth rates. Vietnam has been regarded by the international community as a bright spot as it fulfilled the dual goals of containing the pandemic and reviving the economy. 

Vietnam today is a fast-growing country well-integrated with the global economy. It has successfully established strategic partnerships with several nations including United Nation Security Council’s permanent members. The commitment of the National Leadership to self-reliance and multilateralisation has enabled Vietnam to become a proactive actor in international affairs.

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Shristi Pukhrem

Dr. Shristi Pukhrem is a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation. She has worked as a Researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), New Delhi. Her areas of research and interest cover India-ASEAN relations, India and Southeast Asia relations, Act-East Policy. She has served as a Visiting Scholar at the ASEAN Studies Centre, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. She was also selected as one of the Canberra Fellows in March 2019.

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