The 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is scheduled to take place in the first quarter of 2021. It will decide on the new leadership for the next five years and set the course of key policies for the country.
Arguably, the most important CPV conclave since the 1986 Congress that introduced the doi moi reforms which led to Vietnam’s opening, the 2021 Congress is consequential because of the once-in-a-century pandemic that has paralyzed the globe and affected almost all aspects of life. At the same time, great power competition between the United States and China is intensifying, making the international environment less conducive to the international cooperation so needed for global recovery. Vietnam’s economic and political success in the past three decades has depended heavily on that international cooperation.
How will the new leadership maneuver in the new post-COVID world? It looks to be a world where China’s aggressive ambitions seem only more insatiable, the United States’ capabilities and interests in the region appear on the decline, and the ability of multilateral institutions, including ASEAN, to serve the collective interests of their members also seems to be weakening. The South China Sea disputes and China’s increased activities to assert control over movement and resource extraction in the area challenge Vietnam on multiple levels, from territorial integrity to resource sovereignty and economic and human security. The COVID-19 pandemic means that Vietnam, like most countries, will face mounting economic challenges as a global recession looms beyond the public health crisis. On top of those challenges is the climate crisis, to which Vietnam is very vulnerable, and which will not wait for other priorities to be dealt with first.
The outcomes of the 13th National Congress will determine leadership appointments, set the country’s socioeconomic plans for the next five years, and give an indication of how the new leadership will respond to the pressing internal challenges and navigate the increasingly volatile external environment.