• Communist Party chief to hold bigger sway over economic policy
  • Likely new premier not known for bold reform initiatives
Vietnam's New Leadership Pushes for Economic Reforms

Vietnam’s leadership for the next five years is taking shape after a Communist Party congress. The biggest development was the re-election of Nguyen Phu Trong as party general secretary, putting him in a position to have a greater say over economic policy plus the country’s ties with former war foe the U.S. and neighbor China.

The picks for prime minister, president and National Assembly chairman are expected to be rubber-stamped by the parliament around mid-year and will serve through 2020.

The new leadership will probably shun bold initiatives and may slow reforms needed to meet the conditions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, such as allowing for independent labor unions, said Tuong Vu, an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon.

“They want stability for regime security,” Vu said. “That does not create an open environment for more reforms or faster reforms. The new leadership is going to tell people to keep believing in the party.”

With the shuffling of roles, who are the key faces to watch for the next five years?

Trong, 71, Stays Party Chief

Nguyen Phu Trong
Nguyen Phu Trong
Photographer: Na Son Nguyen/AFP via Getty Images

Heads a conservative wing of the party. Analysts say Trong looks committed to continue opening up the economy, but potentially at a slower pace than the administration of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who retires this year. How Trong balances ties with the U.S. and China, given its territorial frictions with the latter, its biggest trading partner, is another big question.

Speaking Thursday at the congress, Trong said the party should show greater unity and protect Vietnam’s sovereignty.

Phuc, 61, Likely Next Premier

Nguyen Xuan Phuc
Nguyen Xuan Phuc
Photographer: Na Son Nguyen/AFP via Getty Images

Vice premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc is not known for grand initiatives, having overseen a three-year campaign to streamline the bureaucracy. Some analysts have described him as a straight-shooter with solid connections. Phuc is a former vice party chief of the central province of Quang Nam, where he was born, and studied economics at the Singapore National University.

He’s heading up a committee looking at Vietnam’s rules against corruption. On foreign policy, he’s said “justice” will win in Vietnam’s disputes with China in the South China Sea.

Quang, 59, Nominated for President

Tran Dai Quang
Tran Dai Quang
Photographer: Minh Hoang/AFP via Getty Images

Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang, from the northern province of Ninh Binh, visited the U.S. last year and was quoted by state media as saying Vietnam welcomed U.S. cooperation in the region. His talks there focused on maritime security, cyber and human trafficking. He’s tipped by some analysts as a potential future party chief. He has a Vietnamese doctorate degree in law.

Ngan, 61, Likely Parliamentary Chair

Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan
Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan
Photographer: Minh Hong/AFP via Getty Images

Now the vice chairwoman of the National Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, who was born in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre, is something of a dark horse. She has a master’s degree in economics and is the former minister of labor, invalids and social affairs. Ngan also served as deputy trade minister.

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