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New Leadership Takes Charge in Vietnam: Challenges and Prospects

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pham minh chinh

On 05 April Vietnam’s National Assembly officially elected Mr. Pham Minh Chinh, member of the Politburo as the Prime Minister of Vietnam replacing the erstwhile Prime Minister Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc. The National Assembly resolution was passed with the support of an overwhelming majority of the legislators (462 out of 466) voting for Mr. Chinh.

  In the ruling quartet of four key leadership appointments Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong was elected to a third term as General Secretary of the Vietnam Communist Party on 01 April, while previous Prime Minister Xuan Phuc was appointed as the new President and   Hanoi’s Communist Party chief Vuong Dinh Hue was elected as   the Chair of the Vietnam National Assembly i.e. Vietnam’s Parliament. The key leadership of Vietnam comprising of the aforementioned four leaders comes with a wide variety and range of experience. Mr. Trong has now considerable experience in Communist Party of Vietnam’s party work as well as in Presidential duties whereas Mr. Xuan Phuc, the new President has rich experience in governance after serving as Prime Minister for five years. Further, both Mr. Trong and Mr. Xuan Phuc would serve as a bridge between the old and new administrations thus ensuring a degree of continuity between the old and new using as also their wisdom and experience while imbibing the enthusiasm and innovative outlook of the new PM Chinh and Vuong Dinh Hue, new Chair of the National Assembly. Notwithstanding these leadership changes Vietnam is expected to continue to follow its economic policies of opening up in addition to adhering to its multi directional foreign and security policies. The installation of a new government is unlikely to result in any disruptions in Vietnam’s existing relationships with global or regional actors or for that matter with international or regional groupings/organizations.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh who was earlier the chair of the party’s Central Organisation Committee and who has also served in the Ministry of Public Security is well known for his administrative acumen and organizational work. As the Secretary of the Quang Ninh Provincial Party Committee he was instrumental in improving the overall management and administrative structures in the province in addition to enhancing its competitive index to number three among all the provinces. However, lately Quang Ninh has reached the top in the competitive index which has improvement in socio-economic development as the most important element of measure. This achievement has been widely attributed to Mr. Pham Chinh’s contribution during his tenure in Quang Ninh province. Further, he takes interest in environmental issues and has been credited with turning Quang Ninh’s ‘Brown Economy’ into ‘Green Economy’. Thus he is not only a technocrat but also an effective leader.

 PM Chinh’s tasks and priorities have already been laid down in the Resolution of the XIII Congress of the Party, which focuses on six key tasks and three strategic breakthroughs which include national digital transformation, development a digital-based economy, greater stress science and technology development and creating more conducive environment for business development as well as for manufacturing concerns. Ensuring national defense, security, sovereignty, territorial integrity and social order and safety would be the top most tasks in his mind as he faces an uncertain and unstable situation in the South China Sea.

 Vietnam during the tenure of the previous government headed by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc made great progress in strengthening the economy as well as in enhancing Vietnam’s position and stature in the international arena. This was despite the negative impact of Covid-19 not only on the Vietnamese economy but also on regional and other economies worldwide. In recent years Vietnam economy became one of the fastest growing economies in the South East Asian region with a growth of 7.08 percent in 2018; Foreign Direct Investment in 2018 was 30 billion US Dollars which was an increase of 44 percent compared to the previous year. In 2020 the year of Covid-19 pandemic, Vietnam with its efficient and effective anti-Covid-19 measures was able to mitigate the negative effects on the economy while it continued to integrate its economy with the world. According to the General Statistics Office (GSO) Vietnam’s economy expanded 2.91% in 2020 with a trade surplus of over 19 billion USD whereas many regional economies have contracted showing negative growths in their GDPs. 

Most challenging task for the new Prime Minister would be to lay down a firm foundation in the next five years based on which Vietnam can develop into a modern state with a fully developed economy in league with countries like South Korea, Japan and the western countries. Vietnam could aspire to reach such a stage in next two to three decades aided by suitable economic and social developmental policies guided by the vision of the political leadership. The current year i.e. 2021 marks the commencement of the Five Year Economic and Social Development Plan (2021-2025) and the Ten Year (2021-2030) Economic and Social Development Strategy. It would be the new political leadership’s task to successfully implement the plan and strategy with foresight and innovation.

Further, at the international level Vietnam became the Chairman of United Nations Security Council in April 2021 and this was second time that Vietnam became the rotating Chairman in its two year tenure of 2020-2021. This has enabled Vietnam to contribute its bit to promote peace, stability and security at the global level as well as in regional affairs and further integrate with the world. Vietnam in its dealings with the international community is in favour of pursuing multilateralism and diversified foreign policies. Vietnam has been also well recognised for its contribution to the ASEAN as its Chair for the year 2020 when Coronavirus pandemic the ASEAN community in a number of ways. Additionally, as part of its integration with the international community it entered into several Free Trade Agreements (FTA) such as the EU (EUFTA), the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

In so far as the bilateral relationship with India is concerned the new Vietnamese leadership is expected to continue with its traditional and strong relationship in multifarious fields with India. The previous Prime Minister Mr. Xuan Phuc and now the President has had a number of summits with India’s Prime Minister Modi. The bilateral relationship is underpinned by the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in 2016 encompassing a number of areas ranging from political engagement, economic cooperation, and expansion of trade, defence and security cooperation, energy cooperation as also people to people exchanges besides many other areas. Now the new President Xuan Phuc in concert with Prime Minister Chinh would be able to impart further impetus to the growing bilateral cooperation. There is a need to further expand the bilateral defence and security cooperation between both sides keeping in view the changing regional and global security environment.

At the international level both India and Vietnam being the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council can further cooperate and contribute to peace, security and prosperity while dealing with regional and global issues. Further, Vietnam and India have been cooperating in regional organizations like the ASEAN to realise the goals and objectives of such organizations. India and Vietnam also share similar perceptions on what is happening in the South China Sea where militarization of islands and reefs has taken place and India will continue to support, in concert with other powers, freedom of navigation and over flights in South China Sea and adherence to international norms.

Overall, the new Vietnam leadership being a blend of the old and new is expected to consolidate the progress made in political, economic, social development and security fields as it strives to realise the aims and objectives of five and ten year plans and strategies. Considering the past record and achievements of the new leadership it can be easily said that Vietnam is well poised to meet the challenges of the new era.

Vinod Anand is a Senior Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a New Delhi based think tank.

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Southeast Asia

Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines through PhilSys

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Social protection helps the poor and vulnerable in a country, especially in times of crises and shocks that may threaten the well-being of families. When COVID-19 hit and quarantines began, the Philippines needed a massive expansion of social protection coverage to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Countries that already had good and inclusive digital infrastructure (including internet connectivity, digital identification, digital payments and integrated data ecosystems) were better equipped to quickly adapt their social protection programs to meet urgent needs. They also fared better in maintaining continuity of services when in-person interactions could be moved online.

For the Philippines, it presented a challenge, and strain was felt in the delivery of social assistance under the Bayanihan acts.

Fortunately, the country is moving to address digital infrastructure gaps, including through the development of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys). PhilSys is one of the most complex – but also game-changing – projects undertaken in the country.

The Philippines is one of only 23 countries without a national ID system. As a result, Filipinos need to present multiple IDs (and often specific IDs that many do not have) when transacting, including with government, creating barriers to services for the most vulnerable among the population. Information across government databases is often inconsistent. These undermine the Philippines’ transition to a digital economy, society and government. The PhilSys will help address this by providing all Filipinos with a unique and verifiable digital ID (and not just a card), while also adopting innovative and practical data protection and privacy-by-design measures.

The new partnership agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for DSWD’s adoption of the PhilSys is a milestone for the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys. DSWD will be the first agency to utilize the secure biometric and SMS-based identity authentication offered by the PhilSys to uniquely identify and verify its beneficiaries. Pilots with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program will begin within the next few months, before PhilSys is used by all DSWD programs.

Adopting PhilSys will enable DSWD to further accelerate its digital transformation. By automating verification and business processes for its programs and services, DSWD will be able to improve the impact while reducing the costs of social protection programs. PhilSys will assist with identifying and removing ghost, duplicate and deceased beneficiaries to address leakages, fraud and corruption, and thus boost transparency and public trust. The unified beneficiary database that DSWD is developing with the help of PhilSys will contain up-to-date and consistent beneficiary information across all programs.

The World Bank is supporting these DSWD initiatives through the Beneficiary FIRST (standing for Fast, Innovative and Responsive Service Transformation) social protection project.

Importantly, these changes will translate to benefits for Filipinos.

Those who interact with the DSWD will face less paperwork, queues, hassle, costs and time. With their PhilSys ID, they will also have better access to a bank or e-money account where they can potentially receive payments directly in the future, promoting financial inclusion. Indeed, more than 5 million low-income Filipinos have already opened bank accounts during PhilSys registration. And the resources that DSWD saves can be redirected to addressing the needs of beneficiaries who live in remote areas without easy access to internet and social protection programs.

Beyond the advantages for social protection, the digital transformation PhilSys will catalyze in the public and private sectors can be fundamental to the Philippines’ pivot to reviving the economy and getting poverty eradication back on track. Success in utilizing PhilSys for social protection will have a significant demonstration effect in accelerating digital transformation by other government agencies as well as the private sector.

But digital transformation is not easy. It is not about simply digitizing things. It is about re-imagining how things can be done for the better, with technology as an enabler. Digitizing bad systems or processes just leads to bad systems or processes digitalized. Digital transformation therefore depends on and can only be as fast as process re-engineering and institutional and bureaucratic changes to overcome inertia.

Digital transformation must also be inclusive to avoid exacerbating digital divides or creating new ones.

The effort will be worth it. And the World Bank is firmly committed to scale up our support to the Philippines’ digital transformation agenda. A digital Philippines will not only be more resilient to future shocks – whether they are natural disasters or pandemics – but also be poised to take advantage of the opportunities brought by COVID-19 (shift of activities online) and those that lie ahead in the post COVID-19 world.
 first published in The Philippine Star, via World Bank

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Bringing “the people” back in: Forest Resources Conservation with Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma

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With a lifetime dedicated to forest conservation, Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma reflected back on his career and what forest management means to Thailand. In the year 1978, he received the prestigious United Nations and Ananda Mahidol Foundation Scholarship to attain higher education at the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. After graduating in the year 1985, he returned to Thailand with a commitment to teach and research at the Department of Forest Management, Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University until his retirement with full professor position. The excerpts below encapsulated a conversation between Dr. Pattaratuma and Dr. Rattana Lao on forest conservation.

Beyond the classroom: An anthropological perspective

I dedicated my life to study the anthropological aspect of forest management to His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej of Thailand. I studied cultural dimensions of forest management in many areas of Thailand. I began with Huay Hin Dam with Karen hill tribe (Pra-ka-ker -yor) Suphanburi Province. I tried to review the international literature on land use and combine it with in-depth interviews with the hill tribes to understand the cultural dimensions of their livelihoods. I observed how they built their houses and how their managed their forest. There are three characteristics of the Karen tribe. Firstly, they lived on small plots of lands and their houses are very small. Secondly, they conserve their forest land with water resources. Thirdly, they refrain from using pesticides. Culturally, there is a clear division of labor amongst men and women. While men will clear the lands, women will cultivate agricultural goods such as papaya, guava and banana. There is limited drugs use.

It’s liberating to do research beyond the classrooms. To observe real live, real changes. I learnt more than I set out to do and they are all interrelated to a bigger picture.

Intersectionality between culture, migration and forest management

Karen hill tribes migrate in a cluster. There are more than 3 families migrating together to the new fertile forest land. They will migrate together when land is exhausted. This is most evident in the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar. Back then they did not have official documentation but slowly they do. There has been an influx of hill tribes from Myanmar to Thailand due to political conflicts from Myanmar. From my observation, they are very conscious about forest conservation and resources management. They said: “no forest, no water”. They are compelled to protect the forest from pesticides in order to keep the water clean and their health well. They are very logical. Although they grow rice, it’s very subsistent and only for household consumption. They don’t grow rice for commercial purpose. This is the land use for Karen hill tribe.

I also studied in Kampeangpetch, Nan, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Lumphun. Each place is diverse and the situation is really different. Some local tribes are preserving of the forests, others are more detrimental. We need an in-depth study to understand the cultural dimension of land use for each tribe.

The heart of forest management

People. It’s the people. People must particulate in the forest management. Otherwise, it is very difficult. When we go into each location, we must approach people and bring them into the conversation. I have tried to do all my life. Civil servants must approach people, not other way around. People are looking up to our action. They look into our sincerity and commitment. If they see that we are committed to study about their livelihood, they will share the right information and they will help.

Indonesia is a good example of successful forest management. The state get people involved. In every kilometer, there are four actors involved in protecting the forest: soldiers, policemen, villager and forester. They help each other protecting the wildlife and forest resources.

Can legal change help the people?

Legal relaxation can help lessen the pressure between man and forest. Before the legal requirement was very strict. Any kind of forest intrusion would be caught including small hunters gatherers. I think that is too strict. That put people against the law. People should be able to go into the forest and pick up some mushroom and bamboo and some wild products to lessen their poverty and hunger.

As long as people are still hungry, it’s very hard to manage the forest. There must be a way to balance the two: people livelihood and forest management.

Capitalists invasion

Much of the legal attention is paid to small farmers use of the forests. However, the real issue is big corporations invade the forest. This is very significant. Deforestation happens mostly from large scale corporation rather than small scale farmers. There are many loopholes in the system that lead to systemic corruption and mismanagement of land use. Many wealthy houses are built on large scale timber to exemplify wealth and status. It saddens me.

Would the next generation get to see large tree in the forest?

Less likely.

What can we do to protect the forest?

There are many organizations that responsible for the forest protection such as Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. But the manpower are not sufficient to cover the large area of forest in Thailand. There are not enough permanent manpower to go on the ground and protect forest resources, while the intruders to National Parks are equipped with more advanced weaponry.

To protect the forest, the state must be committed and the people must participate in the process.

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Southeast Asia

Possibilities for a Multilateral Initiative between ASEAN-Bangladesh-India-Japan in the Indo-Pacific

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In the Indo-Pacific context, there are multiple partners all aiming for economic fulfillment along with maritime security and safety. Countries ranging from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea seem to be more worried about the freedom of navigation and overflight as Chinese aggressiveness is rampant and expansionist is a scary idea. The region from India to Bangladesh has a huge potential of interconnectedness and if connected to the Southeast Asian countries, it would also help in India’s Act East Policy and India’s neighbourhood first policy and further help out in strengthening relations to the far East as in Japan. All these countries combined can create an interconnected chain of mutual and common interests with balanced ideas of economic, military, social, political and people to people exchanges which would in turn help develop a multilateral.

Who can lead this Multilateral Initiative and Why?

Japan can be the prime crusader for this multilateral as it has excellent relations with all the parties and is the pioneer of the free and open Indo-Pacific. Japan has excellent diplomatic, economic and infrastructural relations with all the possible partners as it provides ODA loans, aid and assistance. Japan being the pioneer of Free and Open Indo-Pacific can be guiding force for this multilateral in the maritime domain which would help create a new regional grouping consisting of South Asia and Southeast Asia primarily based on maritime. Japan is the only developed country among all the other players and with its expertise, it can surely guide, help, support and take along all the countries. Japan most importantly is a non-aggressive nation and believes in mutual respect unlike China. Japan has no dept trap issue unlike China. Japan is known for quality in infrastructural development and with their expertise in science, technology and innovation can well lead these countries. Japan’s reputation of honesty, no corruption and extreme detailed paper work is commendable.

What are the benefits from this Multilateral Initiative?

This multilateral would help connect the Indian Ocean (India) to Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh) to the South China Sea (ASEAN) and the East China Sea (Japan)- would help in the creation of water interconnected network from South Asia to Southeast Asia. This could be the first regional maritime grouping covering South Asia to Southeast Asia. This maritime grouping can create a network of ports which could also become an economic hub and intersecting points of investment and infrastructural development (already Japan is investing in a big way in all these countries). India’s Northeast would get a greater economic, infrastructural and people-to-people exchange as it would connect India to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Mekong Ganga Economic Corridor already exists and could pave the way for Bangladesh and Kolkata greater port exchange which could be developed as nodal points in Bay of Bengal and would help in easy and cheaper freight. These countries can also aim for the strengthening of defence and security relations in the domain of maritime and can also aim for a logistics support agreement and a network from Indian Ocean to Bay of Bengal to South China Sea to East China Sea and would help tackle Chinese aggressiveness and China has been mapping the waters in all these waters and so, to protect one’s territorial sovereignty and integrity, defence relations must be build.

An ecosystem based on Digitalization, Science, technology and Innovation can be formed which would help create a united cyber security law and all this could ultimately lead to the 4th Industrial Revolution. South Asia and Southeast Asia would be lucrative markets and labour distribution and generation of employment can be done through the ports, logistics network, economic and trade exchanges and interactions. This multilateral would form a resilient supply chain in the region of South Asia and Southeast Asia in the domain of Indo-Pacific. Marine economy can be a major factor of this multilateral initiative as it would be a major success in the maritime domain. This multilateral can also work on vaccine diplomacy and work on future health hazards mechanisms.

Why Bangladesh must think of adopting the Indo-Pacific Strategy?

Bangladesh must adopt the Indo-Pacific strategy and create its own objects and call it the SAMODHRO NITI. Bangladesh has the capability of being an excellent maritime power and it is a major leader in the Bay of Bengal and to be an effective part of this multilateral. The Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) would be a key binder. Bangladesh must realise that China by building dams on the Brahmaputra River would actually create issues for Bangladesh’s fishery catchment areas as it would get inundated with salt water and to stop that Bangladesh must work to strengthen its position to tackle China. Also, China could also create water issues for Bangladesh and Bangladesh must look at ways to safe guard its water resources. Thereby, Bangladesh must work towards countries who face similar issues with China. The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor is an excellent example of cooperation but this Multilateral if formed can be a stronger initiative and Bangladesh benefits from it as being a hub of textile, leather and pharmaceuticals and this Multilateral has all the efficiency of becoming an economic hub which would benefit Bangladesh too. If Bangladesh adopts an Indo-Pacific Policy, then its market in Japan, the US and Europe would become stronger due to shared interests and can also sign a Free Trade Agreement with EU like Vietnam did.

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