Vietnam in 2015: Challenges Persist amidst Hope for Change

[Southeast Asian Affairs 2016] The year 2015 marked the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and the fortieth anniversary of Vietnam’s reunification under its rule. After almost thirty years of economic transformation, Vietnam has achieved considerable progress in terms of socio-economic development, but challenges to the country remain substantial as the economy has not regained full steam since the 2008–9 slowdown. Politically, the CPV has also been faced with a testing period. Its performance-based legitimacy has been undermined, while popular support declined due to widespread corruption as well as various socio-economic problems that cast doubts on the efficiency and accountability of the state and party systems. In terms of foreign policy, Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea presents a major challenge for the party. While seeking to maintain a peaceful relationship with its northern neighbour, Vietnam also needs to look into new options to deal with the rising China threat.

Developments in Vietnam in 2015 show that the CPV was struggling to overcome these challenges while probing for changes to strengthen its political legitimacy, to improve the country’s economic performance and to navigate through complex foreign policy issues. Preparations for the CPV’s Twelfth National Congress obviously topped the country’s domestic agenda in 2015, but other economic and foreign policy developments were also noteworthy as they may indicate how Vietnam in general and the CPV in particular will perform in 2016 and the years to come.

Politics: Preparations for the CPV’s Twelfth National Congress

The CPV’s quinquennial national congresses are always important events for the country’s political system. Each congress not only elects the country’s top leadership, but also reviews its past performance and sets out a framework for future socio-economic, political and foreign policies. Although policy orientation is generally considered the most important task of the congresses, the election of the party’s top leadership attracts the most attention from the public, party members and Vietnam watchers around the world. The party’s Twelfth National Congress, planned for January 2016, has been no exception.

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