It has been riveting year for Vietnam, with some tragic losses, major corruption trials, euphoric football victories and ignition of new hopes.
Parliament makes historic presidential appointment
On October 23, Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong was sworn in as the President of Vietnam, following the demise of President Tran Dai Quang, who died in office of illness a month earlier.
Trong was unanimously nominated for the position by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam earlier that month. No other candidates were proposed for the job.
With his ascension, Trong became the first Vietnamese leader to be the head of state and the Party since founding President Ho Chi Minh.
While there would not be any major shift in Vietnam’s policies, Trong holding two offices would allow him to better cut through bureaucratic red tape and bolster his stance on fighting corruption, political experts said.
Parliament ratifies CPTPP treaty
Vietnam ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on Nov. 12.
National Assembly deputies said they believed that the CPTPP would bring many opportunities in new markets, generate trading incentives and new export structures while delivering economic integration benefits.
With the trade pact covering nations accounting for 13.5 percent of global GDP, Vietnam’s GDP will be able to grow by 1.32 percent, and its exports 4.04 percent by 2035, it was estimated.
However, experts pointed out that participation in the CPTPP also poses many challenges for Vietnam, including management of labor, state-owned enterprises and intellectual property rights.
Earlier, on October 31, the CPTPP was ratified by six member states, enabling the treaty to take effect by the end of December.
The forerunner of the CPTPP was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), from which the U.S. withdrew. The remaining countries negotiated the pact to form the new CPTPP.
In essence, the CPTPP maintains the main content of the TPP, but allows member countries to postpone certain obligations.
Nation enjoys highest GDP growth in 10 years
GDP growth for 2018 is estimated at approximately 7 percent, the highest level in 10 years, PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc informed the Vietnam Business Forum (VBF) in early December.
With such impressive growth, Vietnam has good prospects as one of the fastest growing economies in the region and the world. The country is also taking steps to maintain this position by further accelerating economic growth, especially that of the private sector.
Vietnam’s export is estimated at $239 billion this year, a growth of 10.4 percent over last year, thanks to successful widening of overseas markets. The country has signed a string of free trade agreements, giving it the opportunity to increase market access for exports and find new sources of foreign investment.
The fast growth in exports also created a good momentum for Vietnam to register a trade surplus. The nation recorded the highest Jan-Nov trade surplus since 2011 at $7.41 billion, according to Vietnam Customs.
However, foreign direct investment (FDI) businesses still account for the majority, 70 percent, of Vietnam’s exports. Both officials and experts have commented on the nation’s increasing dependence on foreign firms, making it more vulnerable to global economic changes.
Bigwigs jailed in corruption crackdown
Many top officials were held accountable for corruption and punished after major trials as a crackdown spearheaded by Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong widened.
Former Politburo member Dinh La Thang got 30 years in jail for economic management violations when he was at the helm of PetroVietnam, while runaway bigwig Trinh Xuan Thanh, former board chairman and general director of PetroVietnam Construction Corporation (PVC), received two life sentences for million-dollar losses at PVC and PetroVietnam’s real estate subsidiary PVP Land.
For the illegal acquisition of private TV firm AVG by state-owned MobiFone that caused a $307 million loss to the state, Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan lost his post and a number of MobiFone executives were punished.
Phan Van Vinh, former head of the General Police Department, and Nguyen Thanh Hoa, former director of the Department for High-Tech Crime Prevention, got nine years and ten years in jail respectively for “abuse of power” in an illegal online gambling ring worth $420 million.
A number of top cops and top military officials were probed for land management and state secret violations linked to fugitive tycoon Phan Van Anh Vu.
Many bankers were arrested and sentenced to life imprisoment and other jail terms of varying duration for causing $270 million in losses for the Vietnam Construction Bank (VNCB). It was biggest ever banking fraud in the country’s history.
WEF ASEAN promotes Industry 4.0 linkages
WEF ASEAN 2018 was the most important diplomatic event for Vietnam this year. Held in Hanoi from September 11-13, it was themed: ASEAN 4.0: Entrepreneurial Spirit and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The theme of the forum was considered apt in light of the crucial need for enterprises to take advantage of Industry 4.0 and not to fall behind the rest of the world.
WEF founder Klaus Schwab considered WEF ASEAN 2018 “the most successful 27-year WEF conference in the region.”
At the forum, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc proposed a shared mobile network with uniform pricing across Southeast Asia. He also proposed that bloc members improve digital connectivity and data sharing with emphasis on e-commerce and e-payment.
Nguyen Manh Hung, Minister of Information and Communications, said ASEAN should forge strong linkages so as everyone would feel it is their home, no matter how distant they are geographically.
SEZ draft law protests turn violent
A proposed 99-year tenancy for foreign investors in a draft law for special economic zones (SEZ) triggered a public outcry, and thousands of people protested on June 10 and 11 in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and several other localities. This was a rare incident in Vietnam, where all acts to incite public protests are deemed illegal.
The controversial bill, originally scheduled to be passed the same month, was postponed to give the government more time to consult with the public, organizations, experts and scientists.
Following the demonstrations, police detained hundreds of protesters and said they uncovered evidence that the protests were anti-state actions incited by organizations based in other countries using false, distorted information about the draft law.
Trials have been held in the south central provinces of Khanh Hoa, Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan, as well as Ho Chi Minh City and its neighbor Dong Nai. A total of 93 people were imprisoned under charges of “disrupting public order,” by up to four and a half years.
Football craze grips nation
2018 was a great year for Vietnamese football. It started off in January with an impressive run at the U23 AFC Championship when they beat strong opponents like Australia, Iraq and Qatar before losing to Uzbekistan in snowy conditions in the final. The performance ignited afresh the nation’s love for football.
In August, Vietnam’s Olympic team charged the nation up again, meeting high expectations of passionate fans. For the first time ever, the team made it to the semifinals of the Asian Games.
In December came the crowning glory, with the Vietnamese national football team, led by South Korean coach Park Hang-seo, going all the way to win the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018, a title fans had coveted for 10 years. On the way, Vietnam set a world record for holding the longest active unbeaten streak by a national team in international football.
Vietnam also broke back into the top 100 in FIFA rankings.
Massive exam fraud exposed
A massive national exam fraud was uncovered in July, with investigations finding test results of at least 114 candidates being illegally altered.
The fraud was first exposed in the northern province of Ha Giang, before authorities found similar instances in Son La and Hoa Binh provinces. Several education officials have either been arrested or placed under criminal investigation.
The scandal sparked widespread outrage among citizens, with students and parents feeling cheated and blaming the education ministry and provincial authorities’ incompetence for letting the fraud happen.
The July fraud, the biggest that ever hit the country’s education system, contributed to Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha’s finishing last among 48 officials in a National Assembly vote of confidence in October.
Vietnam’s national high school graduation exam is considered a make-or-break event for students, determining if they can enter a good university or not.
Carina Plaza fire kills 13
A deadly blaze at the Carina Plaza in HCMC shocked the nation and made global headlines, with 13 people killed and more than 90 others injured.
Police launched a criminal investigation into alleged fire safety violations behind the second deadliest blaze in the city’s recent history. In October 2002, a fire at the six-storied International Trade Center killed 60 people.
The Carina Plaza investor and the apartment building manager were charged with violating fire safety regulations, a criminal offense that carries punishment of up to 12 years in jail.
In October, repair work on the Carina building in District 8, which has three blocks and is home to 700 apartments, was completed and hundreds of residents returned home after seven months of living in temporary accommodations.
Vietnam welcomes record high foreign visitors
Vietnam received 15 million foreign visitors in the year to December 20. This exceeds last year’s 14 million, setting a new record.
The tourism industry expects annual revenue of $35 billion by 2020, contributing 10 percent to the country’s GDP, compared to the current 7.5 percent, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. Last year, it earned nearly $22 billion.
2018 witnessed a policy extension which allows citizens of 46 countries to apply for e-visa to enter Vietnam for 30 days until 2021. The policy was launched on February 1, 2017.
The country currently allows visa exemption for citizens of 24 countries.
A 2018 global report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization ranked Vietnam’s tourism growth as the fourth highest in the world.
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