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Vietnam Weekly - December 7, 2018

Good morning! Thanks as always for reading, and greetings to the new subscribers who have signed on over the last week. If you have any thoughts, feelings or opinions on anything I may have missed, or the newsletter in general, simply hit 'reply' to this email.

Quick plug - check out the new Saigoneer Podcast episode dropping Monday morning, which features an interview with food writer Soleil Ho, host of the Racist Sandwich podcast and the San Francisco Chronicle's new restaurant critic. Find the show on Spotify, Apple, Google Podcasts, etc.

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On to the news!

Jail Terms and Arrests Galore

I've put off writing about a pile of anti-corruption arrests and jail sentences since I can barely even keep up, so here's a rapid-fire rundown of the last month or so.

Early last month Phan Van Vinh and Nguyen Thanh Hoa, two former top police officials in charge of fighting gambling, went to trial for their involvement in, get this, helping to set up a USD420 million online gambling ring. Hoa was sentenced to 10 years in jail for "abusing power while performing official duty," while Vinh got nine years for the same charge. Another 91 (!) people were punished for their connections to the gambling ring as well.

Last week the Ministry of Public Security announced that it had arrested Tran Bac Ha, the former chairman of the board at the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam (BIDV), one of the country's four state-run banks. Ha had already been expelled from the CPV, and he is now being investigated for illegal banking operations

On November 14, Reuters reported that two officials at Mobifone, a state-run telecommunications company, were arrested for "violating regulations on the management and use of state capital." 

Finally, Nguyen Huu Tin, the former deputy head of Saigon, has been arrested for land violations, though details on these violations haven't been released.

Amid this latest wave of arrests, Reuters reported Tuesday that the central government has set up a phone hotline for people to report police corruption. The number is 0692342593 (h/t James Pearson), though your report won't count if you "insult the officers on duty." I hope they have a lot of operators standing by.   

What Do You Call a Vingroup Phone?

If you guessed Vsmart, you're v. smart! Vingroup has become the most-covered company here at Vietnam Weekly HQ, but what do you expect when they're rapidly becoming the country's first true chaebol

In June the multi-industry behemoth announced the creation of Vinsmart, a smartphone company. Everyone forgot about this until a few days ago, when Vinsmart suddenly reappeared with news that they will launch four smartphone models on December 14. This is a shockingly fast turnaround, though much of the technology comes from a Spanish phone/tablet company called BQ and exact specs haven't been released. This is the same strategy Vingroup has pursued with VinFast, their car arm - announce a brand-new company, drop piles of cash on foreign expertise and then debut a product in record time. 

Vsmart also plans to launch TVs and other high-tech products connected to the Internet of Things (buzzword alert!) in the near future. Someday you'll probably be able to use your Vsmart phone to turn on lights at your Vinhomes apartment, start your VinFast car, sign up for courses at VinUni University, check your health records at Vinmec, get medicine from VinFa, shop at Vincom, book a vacation at VinPearl Land, register your future kid for classes at VinSchool and get groceries delivered from VinMart. (Did I miss anything?)

Power Problems

Over the last week there's been a small flood of electricity and power-related news.

On November 28th, VnExpress reported that Vietnam's two coal companies which supply thermal power plants are facing a major shortage of the mineral. One power plant in Quang Ninh Province, home to the bulk of the country's coal production, has had to shut down two of its four turbines as a result. Coal may have to be imported to make up for the shortage.

In a separate article, the news source says that hydropower dams are also expected to produce less power next year, while offshore gas production has been hobbled by tensions with China in the East Sea. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered relevant parties to ensure that there are no power cuts next year. This would be a major drag for Vietnam's fast-growing cities and manufacturing sector.

A new tariff on solar power, meanwhile, is intended to make investing in the power sector more attractive, but experts are concerned about the country's outdated electrical grid. 

Vietnam has done a good job of stabilizing power supply in recent years - when I moved here in 2010 power cuts were frequent during the dry season, but they're now exceedingly rare. It sounds like that may be a challenge to maintain next year.

Trade War Moves

As pointed out by Erin Cook over at Dari Mulut ke Mulut, nearly every day there's another article declaring winners in the US-China trade war, and Vietnam is almost always mentioned. This from Nikkei Asian Review is a good reminder of why this is problematic, but there is also major movement happening here.

Reuters has reported (via state media) that Foxconn, the giant Taiwanese phone assembler, is in talks with Hanoi to build an iPhone production plant near the city in order to avoid tariffs on China. Samsung already has an economic presence within Vietnam equal to that of a medium-sized country, so it's no surprise that other tech manufacturers are looking here, though Foxconn is a particularly large fish.

Meanwhile, the government is going all-in on manufacturing, with the PM telling the 2018 Vietnam Business Forum on Tuesday that Vietnam has become a "big factory," which just has a lovely ring to it. I'm certainly not an economist, but it seems that putting such a strong emphasis on manufacturing (even the high-tech, skilled type) will lead to some of the same problems China is now encountering down the road. 

Vietnam's Stellar Football Year Rolls On

Let's end this on a positive note. Last night, Vietnam's men's national team took on the Philippines in the semifinals of the AFF Cup 2018. They beat the Philippines 2-1 in their first leg on Sunday, and won by the same score in Hanoi. Vietnam will now take on Malaysia in the finals, which will also consist of two matches. 

Countless fans have swarmed the country's streets after football victories this year, and of course last night was no exception. This has been a superb year for Vietnamese football, with the men's U23 team reaching the finals of the AFC U23 Championship in February, while the full national team has a good shot at winning the AFF Cup for the first time in a decade. In fact, the national team currently holds the longest unbeaten streak, 14 games, in all of international football. I imagine next year we'll start to hear a lot about when Vietnam may qualify for its first World Cup.

Extra Links

Underprivileged children on 'Pearl Island' of Vietnam

Tracing the safeguards against illegal logging in Vietnam

From Entrepreneur to Organic Farmer: A Hmong Woman's Quest to Better Sapa

Suboi's new video, CÔNG

Thanks again for reading, and have a great weekend!
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