Vietnam’s Communist Party kicks off congress to pick new leadership
Published: Jan 25, 2021 05:43 PM

A grab rider waits for customers next to posters for the Communist Party of Vietnam's upcoming 13th National Congress along a street in Hanoi on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Vietnam's ruling Communist Party gathered for its first national congress since 2016 on Monday with a mission to select new leaders and shape policy for the next five years and beyond.

The event, the 13th congress since the Communist Party of Vietnam was established in 1930, brought nearly 1,600 delegates from across the country to Hanoi. On a foggy morning in the capital, they paid a ceremonial visit to the mausoleum of founding revolutionary Ho Chi Minh before meetings began.

Vietnamese officials traditionally visit the mausoleum ahead of important meetings and national events.

Amid stringent coronavirus testing to preserve Vietnam's comparative success in keeping the pandemic at bay, delegates will pick a new leadership team in nine days of meetings, mostly behind closed doors, aiming to bolster both the country's ongoing economic success and the legitimacy of the Party's rule.

Delegates to the congress, foreign dignitaries, support staff and media attending the event were all tested twice for coronavirus in the days leading up to the gathering. According to the health ministry, a total of 10,000 people have been tested in conjunction with the congress.

That approach echoes the tough quarantine measures, testing and tracing that have contributed to Vietnam having far fewer virus cases than most other countries: It has reported just over 1,500 COVID-19 infections and 35 deaths in total.

In turn, that has helped Vietnam's economy outstrip much of Asia in 2020. Vietnam is already eyeing average annual gross domestic product growth of 7.0 percent over the next five years.

But a new leadership will be faced with the challenge of balancing relations with China and the US, for which Vietnam has become an important strategic partner, in a world economy that's become detached from previous certainties.

In the months running up to the meeting there has been intense competition for a limited number of top posts. Vietnam officially has four "pillars" of leadership: the Party chief; the state president; the prime minister and the National Assembly Chair.