, HANOI, VItenam Apr 9 – Vietnam’s rubber-stamp parliament approved 21 new minister positions Saturday, state media reported, finishing off a leadership reshuffle among Communist top brass ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama next month.
The National Assembly approved three new deputy prime ministers and 18 other cabinet members, according to the legislature’s official website, concluding a change in government that occurs once every five years.
In the past, the assembly often took up to six months to approve the leadership nominations made during the party congress in January, but analysts say the process was sped up this year partly due to Obama’s upcoming visit and friction with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea.
China’s increasing assertiveness in the hotly-contested waters has pushed Hanoi to seek closer ties with its former wartime adversary.
Vietnam’s new administration will be led by incumbent party leader Nguyen Phu Trong along with a newly-appointed president and prime minister, a trio analysts said marked a victory for the party’s conservative wing.
The new prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is expected to shift the government back towards consensus-driven rule after taking over from Nguyen Tan Dung, a charismatic leader who championed a reformist pro-business agenda but ruffled feathers among the party’s old guard.
Meanwhile experts say the new president Tran Dai Quang is the first police general to be appointed to the role, which is largely ceremonial but officially the head of state.
Quang, 59, rose the ranks within the country’s Ministry of Public Security, a powerful body with sweeping powers including intelligence gathering and protecting the party from perceived domestic and overseas threats.
Among Saturday’s cabinet appointments were 61-year-old army general Ngo Xuan Lich for defence minister and 58-year-old To Lam for public security chief.
Vietnamese human rights activist Nguyen Lan Thang said he predicted Lich would continue the party trend of confronting Beijing with “only words and no action” over its increasing presence in the South China Sea.
But he said the new security chief, known for driving the state’s suppression of dissent and religious freedom as a deputy in the ministry, would likely strengthen a clampdown on free speech.
“There will be more concentrated pressure against figures and groups that oppose the state’s limp policy,” Thang told AFP.
Hanoi and Beijing frequently trade diplomatic barbs over disputed island chains and waters in the South China Sea, especially after China moved a controversial oil rig into contested territory in 2014 and sparked riots in Vietnam.
Beijing has reclaimed thousands of acres of land in less than two years in an intensive island-building campaign, drawing condemnation from other claimants and Washington.