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Vietnam’s political turmoil reveals a turn towards China – and away from the West



Following a power struggle within the Communist Party of Vietnam, it is clearer than ever that its new hard-line leadership has no interest in confrontation with China or being part of an ‘anti-China’ coalition.

In just a few weeks, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has shredded its reputation for boring political stability. A long-running power struggle, disguised by a wider anti-corruption campaign, has resulted in the sudden sacking of both the country’s president, Vo Van Thuong, and the chair of the National Assembly.

The outcome of this fight should cause those who still hope that Vietnam could join an ‘anti-China’ coalition to think again. Although this power struggle is not about foreign policy, it will result in a turn towards China and away from the West.

The sackings in March and May this year follow the dismissal, early last year, of the then president and deputy prime minister. The communist party’s politburo, its paramount political leadership, has lost four top members in a year and a half. The turmoil is unprecedented. 

Although CPV control remains unchallenged, the fissures within it are becoming more obvious. This is not to say that the party will split. The vanquished are being allowed to retire quietly, so long as they cede power to their rivals.

What we are seeing is a takeover. The winners of this power struggle are the hardliners: the police generals and the dogmatic Leninists. Vietnam looks set to follow China in a political inward turn. A recent instruction (Directive 24) instructs officials and party members to limit contacts with foreign organizations. There will be consequences in several areas, not least in slower economic growth.

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