Continuity expected as Vietnam seeks to balance China and the United States.
Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party meets on Monday for its first national convention since 2016 with the mission of selecting new leaders and shaping policy for the next five years.
The event, the 13th congress since the founding of the Communist Party of Vietnam in 1930, will bring together 1,600 delegates from across the Southeast Asian country in the capital, Hanoi.
In nine days of meetings – mostly behind closed doors – delegates will select a new leadership team aimed at strengthening Vietnam’s current economic success and the legitimacy of party power.
Vietnam has seen its economy overtake much of the region over the past year, keeping the coronavirus pandemic at bay through strict quarantine measures, testing and tracing: it has reported just over 1,500 COVID-19 infections and 35 deaths in total, far fewer than most other countries.
One of the last five countries under communist rule in the world in addition to China, Cuba, Laos and North Korea, Vietnam is already forecasting an average annual growth in gross domestic product of 7% over the next five years.
But a new leadership will face the challenge of balancing relations with China and the United States, for which Vietnam has become an important strategic partner.
In the months leading up to the meeting, there was intense competition for a limited number of top positions. Vietnam officially has four “pillars” of leadership: the party leader; the president of the state; the Prime Minister and the President of the National Assembly.
While a 2016 power struggle and subsequent crackdown on corruption in government deepened factional rifts in party ranks, most analysts expect continuity in shaping the economic, domestic and foreign policy of Vietnam after the congress.
The top contenders for new TBA positions are all widely known in Hanoi political circles, but were officially declared top secret in December to discourage potentially critical debate.
The Communist Party maintains strict control of the national media and tolerates little criticism. The preparation of the event was marked by a intensification of repression. Last year Amnesty International said it had registered 170 “prisoners of conscience” – the highest since it started publishing figures for Vietnam in 1996.