Cablegate: Political Change in Vietnam On the Agenda In

Published: Thu 11 Aug 2005 11:04 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary: Political "Doi Moi," or renovation,
is under serious consideration in the highest level of
the Communist Party of Vietnam's (CPV's) decision-
making ranks, according to numerous sources after the
12th Plenum of the CPV Central Committee. The Party is
not ready or likely to share power in the foreseeable
future, but senior Party leaders are concerned enough
about the erosion of popular confidence due to
corruption (euphemized in CPV circles as "the need for
Party building" or "the need for Party strengthening")
that they are pushing for significant senior personnel
shakeups and changes in the way the ranks of the most
powerful Party organs (the Central Committee, the
Politburo and the Control Commission) are filled.
Party activists are also pushing to sever the Party's
ties to economic Communism by eliminating Marxism-
Leninism from the Party's official ideological
ancestry, re-dedicating the Party to the "Vietnamese
people and nation" rather than the "working class" and
opening up Party membership to capitalists and
entrepreneurs. Active consideration is also being
given to abolishing the parallel governing structure of
the Central Committee's commissions, which currently
exist side-by-side with Government ministries to
provide Party guidance to the line ministries on day-to-
day tasks. The Plenums, and the side meetings that
take place during them, shape the agenda and the tone
of the National Party Congresses that occur every five
years (the next is scheduled for 2006). The
quinquennial Congresses set the political, economic and
foreign policy direction for the country. End Summary.
2. (SBU) The Communist Party of Vietnam's (CPV) Central
Committee held its 12th Plenum July 4-13 to finalize
documents to submit to the 10th Party Congress, to be
held in the second quarter of 2006. It also discussed
and adopted personnel recommendations for the Central
Committee that will emerge from the 10th Party
Congress, as well as for the Politburo and Control
Commission. (Note: The Party Control Commission
functions as the Inspectorate General for the CPV and
has the power to investigate any member of the Party
and any Party organ or organization, as well as impose
"Party discipline" and refer criminal activity to the
Ministry of Public Security. It has branches at all
levels of Party organization: local, district and
provincial as well as national. End note.) This
Plenum included a series of meetings in which selected
Party members could talk freely, which interlocutors
interpret as a sign of increased contributions from
ordinary Party members to the formation of Party plans
and policies.
3. (SBU) The Plenum also finalized documents to submit
to the 10th Party Congress. The documents include a
political report, a report on "socio-economic
development orientations and tasks for the 2006-2010
period," a report on Party building and a report on
supplements and amendments to the Party Statute.
Controversial Issues Discussed
4. (SBU) Plenum conversations and deliberations, not to
mention conclusions, are mostly confidential. Post
interlocutors provided some insight into developments
from the 12th Plenum, however. Participants in the
Plenum apparently reached consensus on two long-pending
controversial issues: participation of Party members
in "capitalist economic activities" and "Party
membership for capitalists." The question had been
whether participation by Party members in capitalist
economic activities would violate the Party's current
statute that bans "labor exploitation" by Party
members. In fact, Party members have participated in
capitalist economic activities in Vietnam for a long
time already, according to Lao Dong newspaper, the
mouthpiece of the Party-run General Confederation of
Labor. Two weeks after the completion of the Plenum,
Lao Dong ran an article to this effect on the front
page, claiming that participation by Party members in
capitalist economic activities has become an undeniable
fact, and that Party memberships for capitalists would
strengthen the Party.
5. (SBU) Addressing a conference in May 2005, Tran Dinh
Hoan, a Politburo member and the head of the powerful
CPV Commission for Personnel and Organization, asserted
that "many" Party members have spoken in favor of
allowing Party members to participate in capitalist
economic activities. To implement this decision, Party
members attending upcoming Party Congresses at the
grassroots, local and provincial levels (which will
then elect the members of the National Party Congress)
will be required to discuss amendments to the Party
Statute to allow capitalists to become Party members.
The new Plenum-approved draft of the Statute says, "the
Communist Party of Vietnam is the vanguard of the
Vietnamese people and nation." This is a change from
the current version of the Party Statute, which says,
"the Communist Party of Vietnam is the vanguard of the
working class, the working people and the intellectual
6. (SBU) Another proposed point for discussion concerns
the CPV's ideological foundation. According to current
Party documents and guidelines, the CPV identifies
Marxism-Lenism and Ho Chi Minh Thought as its
ideological foundation. Discussions by Party members
during the forthcoming Party meetings will decide
whether to designate Ho Chi Minh Thought as the Party's
sole ideological foundation. According to Ngo Cuong, a
deputy department director from the Supreme People's
Court (and also editor in chief of the Judicial
Scientific Review, as well as a confidant of several
Central Committee members and close observers of the
Plenum), there is a common belief that the core of Ho
Chi Minh Thought is very much like Sun Yat-sen's Three
Principles of the People, and that Ho Chi Minh was
never truly communist, but rather a Vietnamese
"Renewed" Party Organization
7. (SBU) Ngo Cuong asserted that in several of the
Party meetings surrounding the Plenum, Party members
recommended that CPV Central Committee commissions be
abolished to avoid overlapping jurisdictions in the
execution of State power. The argument used to defend
elimination of the parallel structures is that State
officials holding key positions are always key Party
members who follow Party guidelines and are subject to
the direct control of the Party's committees, and
therefore it is unnecessary to have somebody from a
Party commission tell them what they can or cannot do.
Supporters of the idea propose that an institute be set
up to replace the logistical and administrative
services the commissions currently perform for the
Central Committee.
8. (SBU) Party members in the side meetings of the
Plenum also spoke in favor of a direct election process
for Politburo members and the Party General Secretary,
as well as members of the powerful Party Control
Commission, claimed Tran Nhung, a department director
from the Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army) newspaper.
According to the current Party Statute, National Party
Congress delegates select the Central Committee, and
the Central Committee members select the Politburo, the
Party Control Commission and the Party General
Secretary. The more direct (and more democratic)
election process envisioned would require National
Party Congress delegates to select members of the
Central Committee, the Politburo, the Party Control
Commission and the Party General Secretary directly.
In March 2005, Party members shared copies of a letter
believed to be written by Vo Van Kiet, a former
Politburo member and Prime Minister, that addressed
this issue. Kiet's letter called for "free
nominations" for membership on the Central Committee
and the Politburo, as well as to key Party positions,
for consideration by the Party Congress as opposed to
the current system where the Congress debates lists and
slates of candidates provided by the existing Central
Committee and Politburo.
9. (SBU) Nguyen Thi Doan, a CPV Central Committee
member and the Permanent Vice Chair of the CPV's Party
Control Commission, in her recent article in Tap Chi
Cong San (the Communist Journal), endorsed this
proposal as it applies to the Party Control Commission.
She cited the necessity of having participants in Party
Congresses directly elect members to Party Control
Commissions at various levels. According to Doan, the
fact that members of Party Control Commissions are
selected by members of the Party's Committees
facilitates "reluctance, indulgence or even evasion"
when the Party Control Commission deals with
complicated cases involving ranking members of the
Central Committee. "Given the current negative effects
of the market economy and increased corruption
involving the abuse of power by Party members, Party
Control Commissions should be elected by Party
Congresses at the equivalent level," she argued.
Personnel recommendations for the next Central
--------------------------------------------- -
10. (U) The official press release from the Plenum
proclaimed that Plenum participants reached consensus
on "personnel orientations for the 10th Central
Committee." Speaking at the closing session of the
Plenum, Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh said:
"While mainly focusing on the qualifications of members
of the Party Central Committee, it is necessary to
ensure harmony in the structure of the Party Central
Committee and attach importance to the quality of each
member of the Party Central Committee and the quality
of the Party Central Committee as a whole. A rational
structure will ensure the Party Central Committee's
comprehensive leadership in major localities, fields
and key positions; a combination between members of
three age levels; and, a proper rate of young cadres,
female members, ethnic minority Party members, workers
and farmers. For the Party's comprehensive leadership
based on heritage and years of development, and for
solidarity and unity among Party members, a rational
structure and the combining of structure and standards
will be required to make the Party Central Committee
11. (SBU) Tran Nhung translated that for us. Manh was
referring to the fact that the Plenum has reached an
agreement that any new members to the Central Committee
and Politburo must not be over 50 and 60 years old,
respectively, and re-elected members of the Politburo
cannot be over 65 years old (plus 2.5 years, for "key
positions," meaning the General Secretary of the Party,
the State President, the Prime Minister, the Chairman
of the National Assembly, the Permanent member of the
Party Secretariat, the Minister of Defense and the
Minister of Public Security). According to this
criteria, at least one third of the current 14-member
Politburo would have to step down at the 10th Party
Congress, including President Tran Duc Luong, Prime
Minister Phan Van Khai, National Assembly Chairman
Nguyen Van An, Permanent Secretariat member Phan Dien
and National Defense Minister Pham Van Tra. Some
widely-mentioned candidates for new memberships to the
Politburo include Mai Thanh Hai, Ho Chi Minh City
People's Committee Chairman, Nguyen Ba Thanh, Party
Committee Chairman of Danang, Phung Huu Phu, permanent
Vice Chairman of the Party Committee of Hanoi and Pham
Gia Khiem, Deputy Prime Minister.
12. (SBU) According to official sources, the Plenum
stressed "the significance of the Party building task,"
deeming it "of vital importance" to the Party and the
regime. Widespread corruption, especially recent cases
involving high-ranking Party members holding key
positions, obviously prompted the warning, opined
Professor Ngo Van Hoa from the Institute of History.
(Note: Hoa is an academic observer of Vietnamese
politics who provides a useful unofficial perspective
on political events. End note.)
13. (SBU) Comment: It is very likely that the 10th
Party Congress will endorse the participation of Party
members in "capitalist economic activities," which
means Party membership for capitalists and
entrepreneurs, following a Chinese precedent set
several years ago. That, in addition to dropping
"Marxism-Leninism" and "vanguard of the working class"
from the Party's mission statement, would mark a formal
turning point in the CPV's ideological history and
reflect the reality that private economic activities
have become the fundamental engine of Vietnam's growth
and development. The pressure to reform Party politics
by breaking down existing power structures and opening
up the Central Committee, Politburo, Control Commission
and General Secretary to direct election by the
National Party Congress (which is itself chosen by
directly-elected Party representatives) demonstrates
the current strength of reformists within the Party.
If these initiatives succeed, the 10th Party Congress
will have taken a substantial step towards increasing
popular participation in politics and Government in
Vietnam. End Comment.
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