News - December 29, 2019 | 09:39 am GMT+7

2019: Eight landmark events for Vietnam 

VnExpress presents the highs and lows of the year that's gone by with a selection of eight events of far-reaching significance for Vietnam.

The second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi

U.S. President Donald Trump meets North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, February 27, 2019. Photo by Reuters.

Vietnam emphatically emerged on the international diplomatic map as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un chose Hanoi for their second summit on February 27 and 28, following their first summit in Singapore the previous June.

In hosting the historic meeting, Hanoi provided accommodation for 1,500 members of the U.S. delegation, 220 of the North Korean delegation and about 3,000 reporters from around the world.

Despite the meeting not producing an agreement, Vietnam made a major impression on the international community and won praise from both leaders. The U.S. president called Vietnam a "wonderful place" and the North Korean leader thanked Vietnam for its amicable and meticulous reception and wonderful hospitality.

Vietnam-EU trade pact inked

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom hands the Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) to Vietnam’s Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyen Chi Dung on June 30, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement was signed in Hanoi on June 30 after nine years of negotiations, opening a new chapter in the E.U-Vietnam relationship.

By eliminating over 99 percent of tariff lines for Vietnam's exports to the EU, Vietnam will be able to increase its exports of textiles, footwear, agriculture produce, and seafood to the bloc by 4-6 percent annually in the first 10 years when the trade deal comes into effect. The remaining 1 percent will enjoy zero tariffs within the quotas set for them.

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom said the EVFTA is "the best and the most ambitious" FTA the EU has signed with a developing country".

Meanwhile, the Investment Protection Agreement (IPA), which split from the original text of the EVFTA, includes modern rules on investment protection enforceable through the new Investment Court System and ensures that the right of the governments on both sides to regulate in the interest of their citizens is preserved.

The deals await ratification from the National Assembly of Vietnam and the European Parliament.

Former information ministers jailed for bribery

Former Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son is taken to court, December 16, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

In the relentless anti-corruption drive that has snared many top officials and businesspeople, two former information ministers Nguyen Bac Son and Truong Minh Tuan got life and 14 years in jail respectively on December 28 for violations in the acquisition of private pay TV firm AVG by state-owned telecom giant MobiFone that caused nearly VND6.6 trillion ($284.4 million) in losses to the state budget. They were expelled from the Communist Party in October.

Pham Nhat Vu, chairman of AVG, was sentenced to three years in prison for the charge of bribery. Former chairman of MobiFone, Le Nam Tra, was sentenced to 23 years in jail while MobiFone's former general director Cao Duy Hai got a jail term of 14 years. 

MobiFone acquired a 95 percent stake at AVG for nearly VND8.9 trillion ($382.6 million), many times higher than AVG's real value. In order for the acquisition deal to be approved in a way that benefits him, Vu gave bribes of $3 million to Son, $200,000 to Tuan, $2.5 million to Tra and $500,000 to Hai.

It was the first time in Vietnam’s legal history that two former ministers were arrested for corruption in the same case.

African swine fever infects all localities

A pig infected with African swine fever is disposed of in Hanoi, June 29, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

After the first outbreak was detected in northern Hung Yen Province on February 1, the African swine fever spread to all 63 provinces and localities within the next seven months. The epidemic was one of the worst in Vietnam’s history, driving down the country’s agricultural sector growth to 2.7 percent instead of the 3.5-4 percent previously predicted.

Around 6 million pigs, weighing a total of 325,000 tons died or were killed, reducing pork output in the country in 2019 by 13.5 percent against 2018. Millions of dollars have been spent on dealing with the epidemic, and the final figures are yet to be confirmed,

Reduced pork output almost doubled pork prices. Vietnam was forced to import around 100,000 tons of pork in the first 10 months of the year, a year-on-year increase of 101 percent in terms of weight, and 95 percent in terms of value.

Hanoi struck by environmental disasters

The aftermath following a fire on August 28, 2019 that destroyed around 6,000 sq.m of the Rang Dong Light Source and Vacuum Flask JSC warehouse in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

On August 28, a five-hour blaze destroyed a third of the inventory at a 6,000-square-meter warehouse belonging to Rang Dong Light Source and Vacuum Flask JSC in Thanh Xuan Trung Ward, Thanh Xuan District, releasing mercury from millions of light bulbs inside the warehouse into the environment. Panic and fear gripped the surrounding communities in the ensuing days, affecting hundreds of families.

Many families evacuated themselves from the area and nearby schools closed down. Thousands flocked to medical facilities for health checks, while authorities floundered in providing accurate results of the environmental impacts of the fire.

On September 12, the detoxification of the Rang Dong warehouse and surrounding areas was completed.

Hanoi citizens line up to collect clean water from a tanker in October 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

On October 10, around 280,000 families in several Hanoi districts or about one eighth of the capital's population found themselves caught in another environmental scandal, starting with odd smells coming from their tap water.

It was later found that a 2.5 ton truck had dumped used oil into a mountain creek in Hoa Binh Province, a northwestern neighbor of Hanoi, on October 8. The creek is on an upstream section of the Da River, the biggest branch of the Red River that is a supply source for the Vinaconex Water Supply Joint Stock Company (Viwasupco), which supplies 300,000 cubic meters of tap water per day for the entire southwestern part of Hanoi.

Tests then found the stinking water to contain high levels of styrene, a substance classified as "probably carcinogenic."

Worried residents had to resort to using bottled water, which saw sales and prices soar, and the scene of people carrying cans and bottles and waiting in line for hours to get some clean water from tankers sent by the city administration became a common sight for days.

On October 22, the water was officially pronounced safe for consumption. Viwasupco made a public apology three days later.

Vietnam ranks second at SEA Games 30

Vietnamese men's football players lift up South Korean coach Park Hang-seo in celebration after the team wins against Indonesia in the SEA Games 30, December 10, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Vietnam won 98 gold, 85 silver and 105 bronze medals at the 30th edition of the SEA Games hosted by the Philippines.

Its total medals tally placed it second only to host Philippines, and rising above regional powerhouses like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

A particular highlight was the first ever gold medal at the games in the men's football tournament, marking the nation's resurgence and emergence as the top team in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, the women’s football team won its sixth SEA Games gold and second in succession. Olympic sports like swimming, weight-lifting and fencing fetched Vietnam 60 percent of all its gold medals this tournament. Vietnamese athletes also set four new SEA Games records in swimming and athletics.

Huge drug busts

300 kg of drugs are seized by Saigon police, March 20, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Quoc Thang.

1.1 tons of drugs were seized after Saigon police brought down a transnational drug trafficking ring run by Chinese national Wu Heshan in March. Several other drug busts in Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Kon Tum and Binh Dinh reaffirmed that the nation has become a drug trafficking hub in the region.

In over 20,200 cases, more than 7 tons of drugs have been seized this year, according to the Ministry of Public Security. This is 10 times the amount of drugs seized last year.

Record-high trade surplus

A man works at a garment factory in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by Reuters/Yen Duong.

Vietnam’s trade surplus soared to a new peak in 2019 at $10 billion with exports at $263.5 billion and imports at $253.5 billion, according to the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Exports rose over 8 percent year-on-year, with increases in value to Canada, Mexico and other members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Vietnam’s economy, with foreign trade reaching a record-high $517 billion this year and GDP growth of 7.02 percent, bucked the global trend of declining growth amidst crises like the U.S.-China trade war and Brexit. Protectionism emerged as a new trend with some countries willing to break World Trade Organization regulations in order to protect domestic production.

The economic expansion in 2019 had slowed from a record 7.08 percent in 2018, but was the second highest growth figure in the last decade.

Staff reporters