Deputies of Vietnam’s 14th National Assembly elected Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Central Committee, the country’s president with 99.79 percent (476/477) votes during its sixth session convened on October 23 in Hanoi. Earlier, during the Eighth Plenary Session of 12th CPV Central Committee convened after former president Tran Dai Quang died of illness, all members of the 12th CPV Central Committee agreed to nominate Nguyen Phu Trong as a presidential candidate.
With the nomination officially approved, Nguyen Phu Trong has become the first Vietnamese leader to be CPV Central Committee general secretary and the country’s president simultaneously since Vietnam’s 1986 reform and opening-up.
In the past, Ho Chi Minh once served as chairman of the Workers’ Party of Vietnam and the country’s president. But back then, the party’s chairman was largely symbolic with a first secretary in place. The country’s president of the State Council of Vietnam (equivalent to president of the state now) from 1981 to 1987 – Truong Chinh – served as general secretary of CPV Central Committee in 1986, but merely for a transitional five months.
“Double duties” in Nguyen Phu Trong’s case have centralized power in the general secretary of CPV Central Committee and president and altered the country’s long-standing “four-pronged” structure of power.
Nguyen Phu Trong’s appointment as president, which is deemed an echo of CPV consensus and popular appeal, has received nationwide support. Nguyen Phu Trong was nominated president after Tran Dai Quang passed away, which seems rather accidental and dramatic.
However, going by the domestic and international realities, it is a reasonable and inevitable decision.
A respected senior with a good image, he stands out in Vietnam’s political society with prominent qualifications, prestige and capability. Besides, CPV has made remarkable political achievements in recent years.
After the 12th CPV National Congress, Nguyen Phu Trong has led the party to concentrate on party-building, institutional improvement and anti-corruption with an iron fist, winning people’s hearts.
Vietnam’s national economy has grown rapidly with a GDP growth rate of 6.98 percent from January to September this year, a record-high in eight years. Social order is also impressively stable. These are bonus points.
In countries around the world, it is common to have leaders of ruling political parties as heads of states or governments or both. In socialist countries such as China, North Korea, Cuba and Laos, the top leader of the ruling party and the state is the same.
Therefore, Nguyen Phu Trong holding double positions is no exception, but rather natural for CPV to engage in diplomacy and convenient for the party to implement policies.
Nguyen Phu Trong’s foreign and domestic policies have been consistent, so are his approaches to Sino-Vietnamese relations. He has been friendly to China, and the CPV Central Committee led by him has been consistent and pragmatic concerning policies on China. Since Nguyen Phu Trong’s reelection in 2016, Vietnam and China have conducted steady and enhanced cooperation, and conflicts have largely been cooled down.
In 2017, top leaders of the two parties and countries paid mutual visits in the same year for the first time. During Secretary of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Zhao Leji’s visit to Vietnam in late September, Nguyen Phu Trong said that Vietnam-China relations are at the best time in history.
Once engaged in theoretical studies about CPV’s party-building, Nguyen Phu Trong is devoted to communism and interested in China’s governing experience. Both amid a critical phase of reform and development, Vietnam and China should learn from each other. With Nguyen Phu Trong assuming “double duties,” China-Vietnam relations as well as CPV’s intra-party unity are bound to develop.
The 13th CPV National Congress will be convened in 2021. We have every reason to believe that by then whether Nguyen Phu Trong chooses to hold onto power or not, he would have left indelible footprints in Vietnam’s reform and opening-up as well as development of Sino-Vietnamese relations.
The author is an assistant researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asia and Oceania Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.