Leadership contest thrown open by minister’s illness

Defence Minister, General Phung Quang Thanh, at a recent meeting with reporters. Photo Courtesy of Truoi Tre

Defence Minister, General Phung Quang Thanh, at a recent meeting with reporters. Photo Courtesy of Truoi Tre

After days of rumours about the health of the Defence Minister, General Phung Quang Thanh, officials have confirmed that he had an emergency operation for a lung tumour in Paris.

A powerful conservative with a pro-China background, General Thanh has been seen as a strong contender for a top leadership post at next year’s Party Congress.

Analysts say his sudden illness could have profound consequences for the leadership contest and the infighting between various factions inside the Communist party.

State media reported that the 66-year-old minister arrived in France about a week before he underwent the operation on June 30.

Party officials were quoted as saying the minister had developed severe coughing fits leading to fears of cancer. They said a biopsy revealed that the tumour was benign.

General Thanh suffered chest wounds while serving in the North Vietnamese army during the war in the late 1960s. He’s later believed to have developed fibrosis of the lung.

Just last month, General Thanh signed a joint vision statement with the visiting US Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter.

The agreement is aimed at improving defence cooperation between the two countries because of rising tension with China in the South China Sea.

General Thanh is a leading member of what’s perceived as the pro-China group in the party.

If he is now forced to resign because of ill health, the initiative to replace him could fall into the hands of the ambitious prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung.

Mr Dung is seen as a key rival to the conservative groups in the party and is himself seen as the leading  contender for the leadership of the party at next year’s congress.