Secret order set in motion

Leaders have issued a secret directive that will frame almost all international commerce and cooperation as a threat to national security, a rights group said, adding that it will further entrench “systematic” human rights violations.

Directive 24, as it is called, was issued in July 2023 just two months before US President Joe Biden visited Hanoi as Washington seeks a reliable alternative trading partner to China.

The directive’s stated goal is to ensure national security at a time of deepening international integration, according to a review of it by Vietnam-focused human rights organisation The 88 Project.

Communist, one-party Vietnam is pushing for foreign investment as it seeks to upgrade its thriving industrial sector to more lucrative high-tech manufacturing.

Directive 24 issues nine orders for party and state organisations, including instructions to control foreign travel by Vietnamese citizens and to closely monitor international cooperation “to prevent attempts to exert influence through economic, cultural and social activities that affect national security”.

It also orders the development and “strict implementation” of policies and laws on national security, especially in relation to foreign investment and foreign NGOs in Vietnam.

The authenticity of the secret document has not been officially confirmed, but The 88 Project said it had been referred to by name and date by at least 45 state media sources and 18 government documents, and a senior party official promulgated the directive in a conference speech in December.

“The directive frames all forms of international commerce and cooperation as threats to national security and articulates a disturbing plan to deal with these perceived threats by systematically violating the human rights of the country’s 100 million citizens,” The 88 Project says in its report.

“Directive 24 reveals that Vietnam’s leaders are profoundly ambivalent about the country’s integration with the world and offers a rare look into their paranoid minds,” the report adds.

The government tolerates no dissent and there are currently 175 activists in jail in the country, said The 88 Project. Government critics face intimidation, harassment and restricted movement.

Since 2021, five environmentalists have been jailed for tax evasion, in what activists see as a campaign to silence them. — AFP

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