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Encouragement for Democratization Soft-Landing in Vietnam

Nakano Ari, professor, Daito Bunka University (contemporary Vietnamese politics)


Popular anti-China demonstrations have been spontaneously erupting in Vietnamese cities in connection with the territorial dispute over islands in the South China Sea. The crowds fly the Vietnamese flag and assert nationalist sentiments, chanting slogans denouncing China, but their protests are also targeted at the communist system of their own country.

Along with the South China Sea territorial dispute, the issue that arouses Vietnam’s demonstrators is the bauxite development project in the country’s Central Highlands, although the controversy is not much reported in Japan. The development is a huge state-run project, but work was begun soon after an agreement was drawn up between Communist Party leaders of the two governments, without any discussion in Vietnam’s National Assembly.

Informed voices have opened a website called Bauxite Vietnam, which posts information and views on the issue. Signature-collection campaigns have been held to back up the protests, and after the accident at the alumina plant in Hungary in 2010, more than 2,800 people signed a petition demanding review of the Central Highlands development project, putting their names, addresses and occupations on the petition. The number may not seem large, but is in fact quite remarkable in Vietnam, where people can be thrown in jail for criticizing the government under laws against conducting “propaganda against the state.”

The Communist Party and government have moved to suppress such voices by imprisoning movement leaders, detaining people on criminal charges, conducting illegal searches and launching cyber attacks. But popular protests are no longer unusual in Vietnam. Now that Myanmar has begun to wend its way toward democratization, the issues of democratization and human rights in Vietnam will be drawing greater attention. Japan ought to support a soft landing for democratization in Vietnam by actively encouraging the Vietnamesse government to follow the rule of law, clean up the corruption in the bureaucracy, and practice greater information transparency.