The Vietnamese Communist Party congress opens Monday, January 25 in Hanoi, an opportunity for the country to renew its leaders and define its main directions for the next five years, against a backdrop of increased repression of the opposition and tensions with Washington and Beijing.
Read also: Coronavirus: how Vietnam limited the spread of the virus
Gathered until February 2 under the great portraits of Ho Chi Minh, Marx and Lenin, 1,600 delegates will choose the General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party (PCV), the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the President of the National Assembly, the four pillars of the regime.
Everything is in principle concluded ahead of this five-year high mass, but in this country where the media are entirely controlled by the PCV - in power since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 - the general public does not have access to negotiations.
Analysts are banking on continuity, unlike the last congress in 2016, which saw the old guard and the reformers clash.
Nguyen Phu Trong, 76, a pro-Beijing conservative, could serve a third term as the PCV's secretary general and continue his anti-corruption campaign that has enabled him to clean up the ranks of the party, the army and the police.
Nguyen Phu Trong would on the other hand give up the post of President of the Republic in favor of the current Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, 66, hailed for his management of the coronavirus pandemic and his economic record.
The country is opening more and more to world trade, but the doors of its prisons are closing on an ever-increasing number of peaceful citizens.
Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International
In the months leading up to the great masses of the Communist Party, the authorities used to intensify their repression.
This thirteenth congress is no exception to the rule.
In early January, three journalists were sentenced to eleven to fifteen years in prison for criticizing the regime.
In the end, the number of political prisoners has doubled since 2016, from 84 to 170, according to Amnesty International.
"The country is opening up more and more to world trade, but the doors of its prisons are closing on an ever-increasing number of peaceful citizens
laments Yamini Mishra, regional director of the Asia-Pacific program for the NGO.
According to Le Cong Dinh, a former human rights lawyer, the inaction and silence of the international community encourages the regime to increase coercion.
Read also: In Vietnam, we must save the largest cave in the world
The economic outlook will be at the heart of the Congress debates.
The country recorded growth of 2.9% in 2020, the lowest in two decades, but this performance remains very solid in the face of a global economy in full recession with the coronavirus crisis.
Mass quarantines, large-scale contact tracing and strict movement control have enabled Vietnam to control the pandemic (fewer than 1,600 cases and 35 deaths recorded) and most often keep its factories open.
The country has also profited from the trade war between the United States and China, which has reoriented world trade, and is emerging as a major technological hub.
It remains to balance its relations with Beijing and Washington, against a backdrop of tensions with the two great powers.
The United States recently accused Vietnam of deliberately devaluing its currency against the dollar to gain unfair trade advantage.
Washington has not issued any sanctions yet and the Biden administration will have to decide.
On the Chinese side, Vietnam remains heavily dependent on China, the largest source of materials and equipment for its thriving manufacturing industry.
But disagreements are numerous on the South China Sea, Beijing accentuating its claims on this strategic area by deploying warships and installing outposts there, to the chagrin of Hanoi which claims part of it.