Japan loses a friend in Ho Chi Minh City
Dinh La Thang may have annoyed Hanoi with calls for independence
TOKYO -- The dismissal of Dinh La Thang as the head of Ho Chi Minh City may bring negative consequences to Japanese businesses.
Thang, 56, has been a cooperative, Japan-friendly conduit in Vietnamese politics. Now that he is gone, Japanese companies may see fewer infrastructure orders and less business on the whole.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam on Sunday decided to dismiss Thang as a Politburo member.
Some 90% of the 180 or so Central Committee members agreed to sack Thang, ostensibly for alleged wrongdoing that cost the state-run Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group, or PetroVietnam, 900 billion dong ($39.5 million). Thang was also the company's chairman.
Thang automatically lost his job as secretary of Ho Chi Minh City because the seat must be held by one of the Politburo's 19 members. His replacement is Nguyen Thien Nhan, chairman of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front.
Thang was considered a close aide to former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, having served as transport minister under him. After Dung stepped down at a party congress in January 2016, Thang was promoted to the Politburo and became secretary of Ho Chi Minh City a month later.
This is a typical career track for a rising Vietnamese politician.
As the head of Vietnam's bustling commercial center, Thang carried out bold reforms. He set up the country's first hotline, giving residents and foreign companies alike a way to voice their concerns about having to navigate the city's corridors of corruption. He strove to eliminate illegal construction and even destroyed a staircase in a five-star luxury hotel.
As chairman of the Vietnam-Japan Friendship Association, he built strong ties with the Japanese Embassy in Vietnam, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and various Japanese companies. A representative of a Japanese trading house said Thang acted as a go-between because he placed greater importance on the overall costs of an infrastructure development project, taking into account technology and maintenance, rather than merely focusing on initial costs.
He was leading a project in partnership with Japan's government and private sector to redevelop a filthy stream that often overflowed, as well as its banks, home to illegal dwellers.
Some say the alleged massive loss at PetroVietnam was only an excuse to fire a metropolis's chief who earned the displeasure of certain party officials in the north by saying Ho Chi Min City wants independence from the central government.