Asia in Review Archive (2017)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

29 December 2017

Army creates cyber warfare unit

(kj) Vietnam’s People’s Army has disclosed that it recruited over 10,000 people for a new unit dealing with “wrong” views that are spread via the internet to which a growing number of Vietnamese have access. Vietnam, as many other countries in the world has decided that a free and unregulated internet is likely to spread chaos and needs to be monitored. [Financial Times]. AiR has recently reported on an exemplifying case of a young Vietnamese blogger who was detained for conducting propaganda against the stat in his blog post about a toxic spill in a steel plant [BBC News].

29 December 2017

EU “yellow-cards” Vietnam’s seafood industry

After yellow cards for Thailand and Taiwan as well as issuing a red card for Cambodia recently, the EU now added Vietnam to the list of “booked” countries. The regime in Hanoi has until April 2018 to review its fishing industry and make sure they comply with EU standards, so they can remain an exporter into the European Union which accounts for just under 20% of Vietnam’s seafood exports [Financial Times].

29 December 2017

Japan: Security and economic ties in Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean increased

(ls) Japan and Australia are close to agreeing a visiting forces agreement (VFA), which would foster smooth military operations between the two countries. A VFA comprehensively stipulates the legal status of foreign forces engaged in temporary activities, such as joint exercises and disaster-relief missions, in a nation’s territory [The Sydney Morning Herald].

In economic terms, Japan has returned to be the top foreign investor in Vietnam in 2017, pushing South Korea on the second rank after a three-year gap. Japanese investment more than tripled to a record $9.11 billion, accounting for a quarter of the total. Infrastructure exports were a major driver of Japanese spending. South Korea was the top foreign investor in Vietnam from 2014 to 2016 as, for instance, Samsung Electronics set up massive smartphone production facilities in the north [Nikkei Asian Review].

Japan and Oman seek to ensure maritime order amid China’s assertiveness. An agreement was reached as Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his counterpart Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah met in the Omani capital of Muscat, about 500 km southeast of the Strait of Hormuz, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes for crude oil [Japan Times].

29 December 2017

On Sino-Vietnamese Relations

With ties between China and Vietnam improving of late, this article identifies both push and pull factors that will ensure both countries remain on this path despite each focusing on their own strategic calculations. The degree of scepticism will, however, remain large [ISEAS].

15 December 2017

Corruption campaign moves ahead

As reported in last week’s AiR, the corruption case against the former head of a subsidiary of state-owned PetroVietnam, the country’s largest energy firm, illustrates increased activities of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party to root out mismanagement and corruption. A former top party official has since been arrested in the case [The Straits Times]. Again, as was mentioned last week, the corruption crackdown is seen as more as just a genuine crackdown on graft. Some of its political background and political implications are laid out here [Reuters].

8 December 2017

High-profile anti-corruption trials

The corruption case against the former head of a subsidiary of state-owned PetroVietnam, the country’s largest energy firm, illustrates in-creased activities of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party to root out mismanagement and corruption. However, David Hutt also points to political calculations as the anti-corruption campaign is targeting particularly allies of former two-term Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who was sidelined at last year’s Party Congress. Earlier this year, Vietnam’s largest ever anti-corruption trials got underway over alleged corrupt dealings between PetroVietnam and Ocean Bank, a partially state-owned bank, involving 51 defendants and resulting in harsh sentences [Asia Times].

1 December 2017

Cyber security and cyber crime on the legislative agenda

Vietnam’s parliament has begun debate on a cybersecurity bill that would echo the law in neighboring China by requiring technology companies, such as Google and Facebook, to store certain data on servers within the country. The bill would also force companies to hand over data to law enforcement and provide technical assistance to unlock data, maintain records on data breaches and anti-government content, and gain government approval to transfer data abroad [Bloomberg].

Earlier this week, a blogger was found guilty of spreading anti-state propaganda for producing videos and writing about protests over a chemical spill that devastated the coast of central Vietnam last year. In June, a court sentenced another blogger to 10 years in prison for blogging about the fish kill connected with the spill [The New York Times 2]. However, a real crackdown on internet freedom might be difficult to implement. Vietnam has one of the highest rates of social-media usage among countries with comparable per capital incomes. There are about 52 million Facebook active accounts for a population of about 96 million. Google and YouTube also are very popular. Therefore, Dien Luong argues that the bill currently being discussed may backfire [The New York Times 2].

In Malaysia, the government is keen on exploring the possibility of becoming a member to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, also known as the Budapest Convention. The convention, drawn up by the Council of Europe in 2001, aims at providing for domestic criminal procedural law powers, necessary for the investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes. It is open for ratification for all countries worldwide. In Asia, only Japan has signed and ratified the convention so far [New Straits Times].

1 December 2017

Transregional cooperation: Vietnam-Australia, Singapore-India, and the “Asian NATO”

The Vietnam National Assembly backs the upgrade of the Vietnam-Australia relationship to a strategic partnership. Australia is among Vietnam’s largest providers of non-refundable official development assistance. The National Assembly’s Chairwoman also “noted with joy”  the effective collaboration in national defence-security and the fight against crimes and illegal migration [Vietnam News].

India and Singapore on Wednesday signed an agreement to deepen cooperation in maritime security and called for ensuring freedom of navigation in critical sea lanes in the backdrop of China’s increasing assertiveness in the region. The two sides also signed the revised Defence Cooperation Agreement to further strengthen the longstanding defence relationship between the Singapore Armed Forces and the Indian Armed Forces. Moreover, Singapore’s proposal to expand the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea to all ADMM (Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting)-Plus countries as well as to establish guidelines for air encounters between military aircraft was discussed too [Livemint].

Moreover, the US, Japan, Australia and India announced this month they had agreed to create a coalition that would patrol and exert influence on waterways from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific to the East and South China Seas. The grouping of the four countries – known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad – was first suggested by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, but the idea was dropped after Beijing protested. It made a sudden comeback when senior officials from the four nations met in Manila on November 11 – on the sidelines of regional summits during US President Donald Trump’s maiden tour to East Asia [South China Morning Post].

24 November 2017

Vietnam-US relations: Defense cooperation at new heights

During President Trump’s visit in Hanoi last week both presidents expressed their strong determination to deepen their countries’ defense cooperation aimed at defending both Hanoi’s and Washington’s strategic interests in the South China Sea against Beijing’s assertiveness. Their joint announcement to initiate a memorandum of understanding to operate the implementation of prior bilateral security agreements, Trump’s reaffirmation of the intention to send next year a U.S. aircraft carrier to Cam Ranh Bay, where China unilaterally placed an oil-drilling rig in waters 120 miles from Vietnam’s coast in May this year, as well as Trump’s offer to sell missiles to Vietnam reflect the current soaring of Vietnam-US relationships [The Diplomat].

17 November 2017

Youth protest culture and press freedom in Southeast Asia

Julian CH Lee takes Malaysia as an example for the importance of youth protests in the political culture of Southeast Asian countries. He argues that such civil society efforts need not necessarily be thought of as separate from party political engagement. Moreover, according to his analysis, the solution of future crises would depend on the networks, values, and ideas that are taken into society – and, he argues, young people have been and continue to be key in articulating and communicating that which matters [New Mandala]. The second article addresses the situation of press freedom in ASEAN countries. As censorship by state authorities, harassment and intimidation by armed forces, and repressive press laws continue to stifle free expression, the article provides a country-by-country overview of the current state of press freedom [Rappler].

17 November 2017

Philippines-US relations: Vital for military – less so for trade

US president Donald Trump said that strong US ties with the Philippines were vital for military reasons, as he ended a trip to Manila, the last stop on his tour of Asia: “We have a very, very strong relationship with the Philippines, which is really important: less so for trade, in this case, than for military purposes.” [South China Morning Post 1] Duterte, for his part, seems to have warmed to the United States and President Trump as the current US president did not, as his predecessor had done, remind the Philippine leader to follow the rule of law in tackling the illegal drug trade [New York Times 1]. But the longer-term game for Mr. Duterte has been his determination to court China. A spokesman described his policy as a deliberate turn toward closer relationships with countries in Asia, and with China in particular [New York Times 2]. It is against this background that both the Philippines as well as Vietnam have been wary of Trumps offer to mediate in the South China Sea dispute [South China Morning Post 2]. However, in terms of trade, critics warn that joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (RCEP) that includes major players such as China, India, Japan and South Korea would be a “suicide plan” [Inquirer].

17 November 2017

China: Xi visits Vietnam and Laos following APEC Summit

President Xi has wrapped up consecutive state visits to both Vietnam and Laos this week. Besides economic cooperation, in Vietnam, the South China Sea featured high on the agenda [ABC]. In Laos, infrastructure and cooperation were talked about with the goal of a China-Laos economic corridor [ChinaPlus]. Vietnam and Laos, like China, are ruled by their respective communist parties.

3 November 2017

Major drug scandal under investigation

A court of appeal in Ho Chi Minh City has ordered a fresh investigation into a major cancer drug scam that riveted the nation by showing how bribery and forgery plague the country’s healthcare sector. The appellate court made the decision in response to an appeal by the city’s prosecutors, who said the charges put forward at the previous trial in August were inaccurate. Vietnam’s government had already ordered an investigation into the Ministry of Health’s role in the headline-grabbing scandal [VN Express].

28 October 2017

Southeast Asia: Autocratic redux

Not the first time in history, Southeast Asia is almost entirely undemocratic and by large and large in the hands of those who seem to be willing to readily extinguish liberal democracy altogether. With democratic, liberal regimes under pressure all over the globe, this region is particularly susceptible to authoritarian leadership, Dan Slater from the University of Michigan argues [New Mandala].

28 October 2017

ASEAN: Next Secretary General most likely to be Brunei’s chief TPP negotiator

Lim Jock Hoi of Brunei is expected to take over the role as ASEAN chief negotiator later this year when the current, Vietnamese Secretary General’s term is coming to an end. The Secretary General is chosen for a term of five years and rotates among ASEAN countries [Vietnam Plus].

28 October 2017

Indonesia-Vietnam Defense Ties

The recent defense minister meeting culminating in the signing of a new joint vision statement for 2022 looks back to a steady development that has started from a comprehensive partnership agreement in 2003 [The Diplomat].


28 October 2017

ASEAN countries: In between major powers

Further intensifying Vietnamese-Indian relations, the deputy foreign ministers of both countries met in Hanoi for strategic consultations on political and security issues. This meeting follows a number of high level visits and exchange in the recent past [Viet Nam News]. In the meantime, Singapore is hedging between the US and China. After a recent visit to China, Singapore’s PM is currently on a visit to Washington upon invitation by President Trump. Whilst business has unsurprisingly been the focal point of the trip, Singapore is trying to position itself neutral, cooperating with both China and the US [Asia Times]. Similarly, the Philippines – after hosting US Secretary of Defense for a routine visit at the sidelines of the ADMM [NPR] – are making headway in diversifying their defense co-operations. New deals have been inked with both Russia [PhilStar 1] and China [PhilStar2].


6 October 2017

Asia’s Maritime Order

The Philippines will begin important upgrades to its primary outpost in the disputed Spratly group in the South China Sea. The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Modernization Program will finance the paving of an airstrip on the largest Philippine holding in the Spratly group, where China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have claims (The Diplomat). Regarding the exploration of oil and gas resources within disputed areas, China reemphasized its commitment to a lifting of a moratorium and a joint commercial development of the petroleum blocks (Manila Bulletin). At the same time, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte voiced rare praise for the United States, calling it an important security ally, and dismissing historic grievances and his slew of past tirades against Washington as “water under the bridge” (South China Morning Post). Australia, in the meanwhile, needs to shift the focus of military presence from the Middle East to Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, if it wants to succeed in coping with emerging security challenges in Asia-Pacific and protect its direct strategic interests (The Australian).


29 September 2017

Australia, Japan and India advance to the South China Sea

Three major countries in Asia Pacific – Australia, Japan and India – are expected to beef up their naval presence in the South China Sea amid the Philippine’s softening sovereignty stance in the disputed waters collaborating with China in oil and gas exploration and accepting the increasing presence of Chinese vessels within its exclusive economic zone. While India and Japan foster ties with Vietnam, Australia is seeking closer relations to Indonesia in the joint strategy to contain Chinese influence.

7 September 2017

Anti-corruption campaign still waits for breakthrough

While the report of the Government Inspectorate, Vietnam’s highest anti-corruption watchdog body, acknowledged progress in the buildup of anti-corruption organizations and their coopera-tion, it also conceded that a breakthrough has not been achieved with corruption remaining a seri-ous and complex problem.

7 September 2017

Sale of state-owned enterprises gathers pace

Confronted with budget deficits exceeding the country’s GDP, Vietnam has started to partially open state-owned enterprises for private investments.

7 September 2017

South China Sea: Vietnam Government slams China over military drills in South China Sea 

Hanoi has condemned a military exercise of China in the Paracels Archipelago as a violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty, reflecting the ongoing tensions between the two countries over the South China Sea.

31 August 2017

Vietnam is the cornerstone of India’s “Counter China” policy

Amid news on a weapons deal between India and Vietnam there is a significant rapprochement between both countries that both display a rapprochement with Japan. This places Vietnam at the center of an ‘Anti China Axis’ from India to Japan meanwhile India and Vietnam increasingly fostering ties with the US. The article focuses on the new Indian eastward movement with Vietnam as its linchpin.

31 August 2017

Indonesia and Vietnam mend ties after talks to settle South China Sea disputes

Despite two recent maritime stand-offs in the waters in the South China Sea Indonesia and Vietnam mended ties after President Joko Widodo and Communist Party of Vietnam Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong held talks on their interests in the South China Sea producing also a number of important deals between the countries.

18 August 2017

Standards for Party high-ranking officials issued

High ranking officials of the Vietnamese Communist Party are working from now on under the scrutiny based on written standard and assessment criteria. Introducing a novelty in Vietnam, the Party’s General Secretary signed a related official document on Monday containing specific provisions to assess the performance of party officials falling under the scrutiny of the Party Central Committee, Politburo and Secretariat.

11 August 2017

Politicized Enforcement in Vietnam: Anti-Corruption Campaign Under CPV General Secretary Trong

The fierce anti-corruption campaign pushed by the General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party has resulted in the prosecution and conviction of high ranking state officials and part members. The General Secretary’s motives for the campaign appear to be manifold, including political ones.

11 August 2017

Vietnam to launch online censorship system

Based on a recent approval of the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications, the launch of a censorship system against misleading information and cybercrime activities on the internet in Vietnam will start soon.

27 July 2017

Vietnam confirms order of Russian T-90 tanks

With Russia’s defense industry, according to news agencies in Hanoi, looking to expand its presence in Vietnam, another step into this direction has been taken with Vietnam’s recent order of 64 main battle tanks.

27 July 2017

Vietnam says 4 fishermen wounded by Indonesian navy; Indonesia navy denies wounding 4 Vietnam fishermen in clash

Vietnamese authorities have claimed that the Indonesian Navy has wounded four Vietnamese fishermen in an escalation of a fishing dispute in the contested waters of the North Natuna Sea. The Indonesian navy denies reports that four Vietnamese fishermen were wounded after a warning shot was fired at their boats in a bid to chase them from Indonesian territory. The incident occurred in the North Natuna Sea, the name given to the Southernmost part of the South China Sea in Indonesia. Indonesia has stepped up defense of its maritime territory and exclusive economic zone, regularly destroying foreign fishing vessels [Rappler, ABC News].

16 July 2017

Vietnam to pull the US back to Asia?

The US-Viet Nam joint statement released in the context of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s visit to the White House on 31 May 2017 marks a firm agenda for the deepening of the two countries’ political, diplomatic, and economic ties [East Asia Forum].

16 July 2017

VN vows to lift restrictions to facilitate foreign investors: PM Phúc

Viet Nam is ready to lift restrictions on foreign investment, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc declared at the Việt Nam – Netherlands Business Forum in The Hague on Tuesday [Viet Nam News].

7 July 2017

Vietnam Blogger Gets 10 Years for ‘Conducting Propaganda’

Vietnamese blogger “Mother Mushroom” received a harsh sentence last week on account of “conducting propaganda against the State” and now faces ten years in prison. The law is widely criticised in the international community and thought to be vaguely worded on purpose to suppress dissent [Voice of America News].

7 July 2017

Vietnam for greater Indian role in SE Asia

The Delhi Dialogue IX, marking the beginning of celebrations of 25 years of ASEAN-India dip-lomatic ties, saw a strong call by Vietnamese leaders for ASEAN and India to further strength-en ties amid new geopolitical circumstances in Indo-Pacific Asia [The Hindu].

30 June 2017

Breakthrough solutions needed: NA

The third plenary session of the 14th National Assembly of Viet Nam passed 12 laws and 12 resolutions, marking the determination of Viet Nam’s legislators to urge the government to advance policies important for the socio-economic development of the country.

22 June 2017

Việt Nam, China Discuss Defense Cooperation

Việt Nam hopes to strengthen trust with China, improving the two countries’ co-operation in sustaining peace and stability in the East Sea (South China Sea) based on respect for each other’s interests and international law, …

22 June 2017

Reform Political Apparatus, Experts Say

A revitalised Government is necessary but not enough to achieve targeted economic breakthroughs. Only a thorough reform of the whole political system can do it, experts said at a conference.