Vietnamese government urged to 'get out of China's orbit' over territorial dispute
Anger over Vietnam's handling of a territorial dispute with China has prompted a group of senior Communist Party members to call on the government to jettison communism for democracy and "get out of China's orbit".
Sixty-one prominent party members, including a former ambassador to Beijing, urged Vietnam's leadership in an open letter to change its political system, "develop a truly democratic, law-abiding state," allow for greater freedom of political speech and "escape" from its reliance on China.
"The party needs to get rid of Marxism-Leninism and get out of China's orbit," Chu Hao, former vice minister of science and technology and one of the letter's three co-authors, said. "It is … high time for the party to make a thorough transformation."
The July 28 letter adds pressure to the government after China moved an oil rig into contested territorial waters, setting off a wave of Vietnamese nationalism and deadly anti-Chinese riots in May.
The dispute has deepened the wedge between the two communist countries at a time when Vietnam's economy has become more dependent on Chinese investment and trade.
The letter calls on Vietnam to take legal action against China, something Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the government is considering.
Vietnam's government has "so far failed to win people's trust and failed to prove that the Vietnam government has dealt with China with a smart strategy," said Hao. Instead, leaders reveal "their feebleness," he said.
Any move away from China could provide an opening for the US to serve as an economic and security hedge against Chinese influence in Vietnam, said Scott Harold, a Rand Corporation analyst in Washington.
"If Vietnam were to decide the strategic future of Vietnam requires a political opening to the West akin to what Myanmar has passed through in the past three, four years … if Vietnam were to do something like that, it would be an enormous strategic loss for China," Harold said.
Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.