As Vietnam cleans out its leadership ranks following a corruption crackdown, questions have been raised about the new team’s lack of foreign policy experience, and how it may affect the country’s ability to navigate diplomatic challenges amid the US-China rivalry . Last week, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc resigned after rumours he was about to be sacked as part of an anti-corruption drive which led to the dismissal of several ministers. Vietnamese state media said Phuc “took political responsibility as leader when several officials, including two deputy prime ministers and three ministers committed violations and shortcomings, causing very serious consequences”. Earlier this month, Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam were removed as deputy prime ministers, over two corruption cases related to the purchase of Covid-19 test kits and repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad during the pandemic . Minh was a minister of foreign affairs and Dam was in charge of the country’s handling of the pandemic. Replacing them are Tran Hong Ha and Tran Luu Quang. Neither have foreign policy experience. Ha Hoang Hop, a senior visiting fellow at the Singapore -based ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute, said current prime minister Pham Minh Chinh led the country’s diplomacy. . “Under Chinh’s foreign affairs leadership, Vietnam-US relations and Vietnam’s hedging practice to China [will remain] unchanged,” he said, referring to Hanoi and Washington’s improved relations over shared concerns about China’s growing assertiveness in the region . Preserving those current relations presents a dilemma for Vietnam, which is looking into the possibility of moving from a comprehensive to a “strategic” partnership with the US – its former enemy whom it went to war with, while also maintaining cordial ties with China, its largest trade partner. Nguyen Khac Giang, a research fellow at the Vietnam Centre for Economic and Strategic Studies, said the background of the next president would not have a significant impact on Vietnam’s foreign policy direction as the role was “largely ceremonial”. He said the country’s foreign policy was collectively determined and guided by the Party’s Congress in 2021 and unlikely to change course. Is China and Vietnam’s ‘brotherly love’ adrift in the South China Sea? So even though Tran Luu Quang had “zero experience at the central government level, let alone in foreign policy”, Giang said the appointment of the deputy prime minister would not significantly alter foreign policy. “In part because his role is limited to “supervising” the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rather than making policy decisions, which are decided by the Politburo and the Central Committee,” Giang added. However, the departure of Phuc and Minh, both of whom played “a vital role in Hanoi’s diplomatic success in recent years, is likely to diminish the country’s ability to navigate the great power competition as well as to deal with the SCS [ South China Sea ] disputes”, according to Giang. Describing the lack of foreign policy experience of Tran Luu Quang as “troubling”, Zachary Abuza, a professor of strategy security at the National War College in Washington said foreign minister Bui Thanh Son could “be the next to go”, due to his ministerial role during the repatriation scandal. If public security minister To Lam becomes president then there would be “a real dearth of foreign policy experience amongst the senior leadership”, Abuza said. That would make Le Hoai Trung, the current head of the Central Committee’s external relations committee, “the senior most foreign policy guru”, he said. What the [Vietnamese Communist] party wants most is to be left alone to entrench its power Bill Hayton, associate fellow at Chatham House “If Son is forced out, Trung will most likely become the new Minister of Foreign Affairs,” he added. Bill Hayton, an associate fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House and a long-time Vietnam watcher, said foreign affairs has been “a low priority” for Hanoi in recent years. “What the party wants most is to be left alone to entrench its power,” Hayton said, adding that the foreign ministry had been left out of the politburo and marginalised in domestic politics. “The choice of Tran Luu Quang as the new DPM, whose experience of foreign affairs is limited to running a province that borders Cambodia , suggests there will be continuity,” Hayton added. Who will be the next president? Describing To Lam as being in a strong position to be appointed president, Hayton said there were “plenty of rumours that he had already secured the position”. “However the fact that he wasn’t appointed straight away suggests that there is some resistance within the party to his ascension,” Hayton said, adding that the current prime minister and several members of the leadership come from the Ministry of Public Security. It was likely the “security wing of the party wants a return to Leninist orthodoxy and takes its cues from China”, he said. Vietnam has a new partner in its old rivalry with China – the US Vietnam’s leaders regard the Chinese Communist Party “as a friend in their struggle to maintain control of Vietnam”, Hayton said, adding the turn “towards a ‘Xi-ification’ of Vietnam” is likely to “face growing resistance in the next couple of years from other elements within the party”. In recent years, China under President Xi Jinping has not only tackled corruption, it has also ratcheted up state control and guidance of the economy as well as a crackdown on civil society. Other candidates for president, according to Iseas’ Ha Hoang Hop – include politburo member of the Vietnam Communist Party Vo Van Thuong, Ho Chi Minh party committee secretary Nguyen Van Nen, and politburo of the party’s central committee Truong Thi Mai.