COVID-19 Op-ed

Will the pandemic motivate the Vietnamese government to become more transparent?

Written by admin

Dinh Duc NguyenMA candidate
in Globalisation: Politics, Conflicts, and Human Rights, School of
Humanities, University of Brighton

Being dubbed as an authoritarian government (The Economist,
2019), Vietnam Is under suspicion of hiding the real data about COVID-19 real
data about COVID-19 (Dan Tri, 2020). The doubt is based on the monopoly of
the Communist Party in controlling the data, which is similar to China (BBC,
2020). Despite this conspiracy, Vietnam’s success is widely recognised for
its handling of the pandemic by the international community (IMF, 2020). The
change in the attitude of the Vietnamese Communist Party regarding
information dissemination and communication sparks a hope that transparency
will be embraced by Vietnam. (Hutt, 2020; Truong, 2020).The transparency of
Vietnam amid Covid-19
Due to shared borders with
China, the Vietnamese government perceived COVID-19 as a severe threat and
conducted serious preventive measures (La et al., 2020), such as travels
between the two countries (Tuoi Tre, 2020). Only a week after this move, the
Ministry of Health (MoH) launched the specific website on COVID19:
and the NCOVI and Vietnam Health apps “to provide updated information
about the epidemic, including testing data, advice on precautionary measures
and live chat for questions related to COVID-19” (La et al., 2020). Mr
Cuong, an official of MoH, affirms that the Ministry has worked closely with
the World Health Organisation and Public health emergency operations centres
(Zing News, 2020). Furthermore, the Vietnamese authority chose to filter
instead of restricting the flow of information.On the one hand, they
distribute verified information. MoH has actively collected and published
scientific analysis from public health specialists (Nguyen & Malesky,
2020). The National Television Channel conducted interviews with various
experts to raise public awareness about the pandemic. The governmental media
channels have been mobilised to reported not only updated cases but also the
relevant information of the infected cases to inform affected people to
follow the further instruction (La et al., 2020). They also actively verify
credible news and publicly punish fake news distributors. Along with other
preventive measures, the government published decree No. 15/2020/NĐ-CP about
the Regulations on Administrative fines in terms of Information and
Communications Technology, which is the upgraded version of the decree No.
174/2013/NĐ-CP, to expand the target of the decree to the users of social
media. Until March, police departments in different levels announced that
more than 146 social media users had been charged administrative fines, which
includes celebrities, under this decree (Tuoi Tre, 2020).  In April,
they warned that fake news distributors could face criminal convictions (MoH,
2020).Discussions about the pandemic situation are approved without severe
censorship and interference by the government. In particular, some observers
concluded that the discussions about the disease on the internet are not
restricted, and the activists have not expressed any concern about
“widespread fatalities or cover-ups” (Nguyen & Malesky,
2020; Trien & Huu, 2020).The reason behind the new
For an authoritarian system like Vietnam,
these transparent moves should be perceived as the result of  accumulated
experiences and collective decisions. There are three reasons to explain this
new approach.First, Vietnam learnt from the lessons of the SARS 2003 epidemic
and H5N1 flu in 2008. They were able to establish a professional response
mechanism to deal with the public health crisis (La et al., 2020). This is a
technical foundation to work transparently.Second, Vietnam effectively took
the advantage of a being lucky because the virus did not strike there first.
It saw the flaws in the secretive approach of China (Trien & Huu,
2020), hence, avoiding that mistake. Besides, the information about the new
virus was regularly updated by media since 9th January
(La et al., 2020). The Vietnamese and the State were equipped with the basic
knowledge in containing the virus. Consequently, Vietnam was in a better
position to make more transparent decisions.Thirdly, the Communist Party
needs to improve its legitimacy to rule the country as it continuously faces
challenges (Hutt, 2020). Handling the pandemic is the vital mission to prove
the ruling position of the Party. The transparency of information would help
improve the efficiency of governance and gain more public trusts. Hence, the
Party must prioritise the transparency to survive this test, especially in
stabilizing its fast-growing economy.Expectation from this positive
To date, the Vietnamese government has been
successful since they chose transparency. Perhaps people are expecting more
robust reforms. We should understand that the transparent approach is the
tactic to deal with the crisis rather than a systematic change. The
effectiveness of transparency in crisis management can be a good practice.
For the Communist Party, its position was not challenged because of this.
Pessimists can conclude this short-term change will prolong the Party’s
dominant position in the political system. The optimists can believe that this
good practice could promote Vietnamese elites to act more transparently in
future. Will the pandemic motivate the Vietnamese government to become more
transparent? It is still immature to jump in any conclusion.Reference:

  1. BBC News (2020). Coronavirus: Why China’s claims of success raise
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  4. IMF (2020) Vietnam’s Success in Containing COVID-19 Offers Roadmap
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    Minh-Hoang; P. Nguyen, Khanh-Linh; Vuong, Thu-Trang; Nguyen, Hong-Kong T.;
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