Organized Panel Session
Since the mid 1990s Vietnamese citizens have been speaking out sharply on numerous political issues. In response, according to many foreign observers, Vietnamese authorities are primarily repressive, countenancing little, if any, political criticism. Research shows, however, that is not the case. Indeed, one reason public political criticism has grown is officials have been unable and to a degree unwilling to stifle it.
Public political criticism in Vietnam ranges from demanding better living conditions to opposing the political system. This paper, based primarily on Vietnamese language sources, analyzes authorities' reactions in 1995 through 2015 to factory workers striking to demand higher wages and new labor policies, villagers fighting corruption and land appropriations, citizens opposing China’s encroachments into Vietnam and criticizing Vietnam-China relations, and dissidents condemning the entire regime and pressing for democratization. To each group, Vietnamese authorities’ reactions included responding positively to citizens’ concerns, tolerating the criticisms, and repressing critics. The proportions of these three types of reactions varied from group to group and over time. But even if one focuses on the regime’s harshest critics – those advocating the demise of the one-party political system and the rise of a democratic government – the claim that Vietnamese authorities tolerated little or no dissent or opposition is erroneous.