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PM’s Ire Sparks Debate Over Political Blogs in Vietnam

  • Marianne Brown

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung pictured earlier this year in Seoul, South Korea.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung pictured earlier this year in Seoul, South Korea.

Three political blogs have become a hot topic in Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung condemned them on national television.

On Wednesday, Vietnam’s state-run television company, VTV, broadcast a message from Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung warning people not to read three anonymous political blogs, Quanlambao, Danlambao and Bien Dong.

The announcement condemned the blogs as “villainous plots by hostile forces” and urged people not to read them. He also called for "serious punishment" for those responsible for the websites.

Blogs are particularly popular in Vietnam, a country where censorship is rife among official news publications. Bloggers are regularly jailed for crimes against the state and many sites are blocked.

Despite the official condemnation, the sites have not been blocked by the government's Internet firewall and the number of visitors has since skyrocketed, leaving many observers to ask why the sites were targeted in the first place.

All three are critical of the government, however some have a finer focus than others. Quanlambao, which translates as “senior officials write journalism” directly attacks the prime minister, whereas Danlambao, which means “citizens’ journalism” in Vietnamese has a broader focus.

Retired American diplomat David Brown describes one post which particularly caught his attention. It focuses on competing factions in Vietnam’s Communist Party headed by Prime Minister Dung and his main rivals President Truong Tan Sang and party chief Nguyen Phu Trong.

“Essentially the guy who posted it analyzes the two factions but in the end he says a pox on both of your houses. If Dung prevails it’s more of the same corruption and nepotism and so forth and if the other guys prevail the country’s going to be run by strings from Beijin,” Brown said.

The inclusion of Bien Dong, a blog which hones in on issues relating to Vietnam’s long-standing dispute with China over territory in the South China Sea, has puzzled observers. Some say few people knew about the site until Dung’s announcement.

Standing apart from the other blogs is Quanlambao, which publishes stories highly critical of the prime minister. Set up nearly four months ago, it broke the news of the arrest of banker tycoon Nguyen Duc Kien a day before the police made an official announcement. Kien, seen as a close ally of the prime minister, was arrested in August for as yet undisclosed financial crimes.

Observers speculate the blog is written either by political rivals in the Ministry of Public Security or Chinese intelligence services. Brown says he thinks Quanlambao was the real target of the announcement Wednesday.

“It’s almost as though they added the two other blogs sort of as padding because this Quanlambao thing is pretty much sui generis," he said. "We have them in the U.S., it’s called ‘right wing, angry white man talk radio.’”

While some say the high rate of hits is a sign that Dung’s announcement has backfired, others argue the move was the result of a power struggle within the communist party set against a backdrop of slowing economic growth, rising fuel prices and a steady stream of corruption scandals among state-owned giants.

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