Newspaper article International New York Times

In Vietnam, Communist Party Votes to Keep Chief ; Leader Given Exemption to Serve 5 More Years, in Rebuff of Prime Minister

Newspaper article International New York Times

In Vietnam, Communist Party Votes to Keep Chief ; Leader Given Exemption to Serve 5 More Years, in Rebuff of Prime Minister

Article excerpt

Giving Nguyen Phu Trong, 72, a second five-year term could slow the country's shift to a more market-oriented economy, analysts said.

The Communist Party of Vietnam has chosen the incumbent general secretary as the country's top leader for a second five-year term, the official Vietnam News Agency reported on Wednesday.

The reappointment of Nguyen Phu Trong, 71, could slow the pace of Vietnam's shift to a more open, market-oriented economy, but it is unlikely to alter its strategic balance in relations with China and the United States, analysts said.

Mr. Trong is a leader of the party's old guard, which was trained in Soviet-style economics and has long seen neighboring China, Vietnam's top trading partner, as a critical strategic and ideological ally. Notably, Mr. Trong was reluctant to criticize China when it deployed an oil rig in disputed waters in 2014.

But his visit to the White House last July underlined a growing view among party elites that developing better relations with the United States is in Vietnam's national interest, and an essential counterweight against China's influence in the region. Mr. Trong steered Vietnam into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an American-led trade agreement among a dozen Pacific Rim nations that excludes China.

Vu Xuan Nguyet Hong, a former vice president of Vietnam's Central Institute for Economic Management, said the party's 19-member Politburo, which has more power than any single politician, was in broad agreement on the need for both domestic economic changes and better relations with the United States.

"The reforms and renovation toward the market economy will continue," and Vietnam's relations with the United States will improve at a steady speed, she said.

But Mr. Trong's reappointment sends the United States-friendly prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, a rival who had reportedly sought the general secretary job, into not-so-early retirement.

As prime minister, Mr. Dung has overseen a wave of foreign investment and cultivated warm relations with top American officials, diplomats and analysts said. He has also spoken out more forcefully than other party leaders against China's assertive claims to territory in the South China Sea and won support from ordinary Vietnamese who believe the country needs to escape China's orbit as a way of securing its economic independence.

After China towed a giant oil rig into contested waters of the South China Sea near Vietnam's central coast in May 2014, anti- China demonstrations erupted in Vietnamese cities, and rare riots broke out in several industrial zones. The United States later eased a longstanding ban on lethal weapons sales to Vietnam, although Russia still supplies the vast majority of Vietnam's military equipment.

Mr. Dung, 66, is technically barred from serving another term under party rules because he is over 65 and has already served two terms as prime minister. …

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