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Vietnam’s Internet Cables ‘Down’, Days Before Putin Visit

Cable outage reports raise eyebrows because Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit Hanoi this week – news that drew a sharp rebuke from US officials

A diver works on an underwater cable link (Vietnam Insider pic).


Vietnam’s state-controlled media claims the country’s internet connections have been disrupted, with three of its five undersea cables “down”.

However, this development, reported by Vietnam News Agency (VNA) on the weekend, has raised eyebrows because Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit Hanoi this week – news that drew a rebuke from the United States.

The communist-rulers in Hanoi have shown loyalty to Russia and Putin – sworn in for a fifth term just over a month ago – who is expected to meet Vietnam’s new president, To Lam, and other top officials on a two-day visit on Wednesday and Thursday.


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Warm ties with the West get frosty

Vietnamese officials avoided attending a Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland last weekend and sent their deputy foreign minister to a BRICS meeting last week.

These developments appear to have gone down badly with the US, which upgraded relations with Hanoi last year and is now Vietnam’s top trading partner.

“No country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalise his atrocities,” a spokesperson for the US embassy in Hanoi told Reuters when asked about the impact of the visit on ties with the United States.

“If he is able to travel freely, it could normalize Russia’s blatant violations of international law,” the spokesperson added, referring to the invasion of Ukraine that Putin launched in February 2022.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant in March 2023 for the Russian president over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Vietnam, Russia and the US are not members of the ICC.

The European Union, another key economic partner for Vietnam, did not comment ahead of the visit, but it expressed dissatisfaction last month over Hanoi’s decision to delay a meeting with the EU envoy on Russian sanctions – a delay that officials linked to preparations for Putin’s visit.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

US President Joe Biden attends a meeting with Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, at the Communist Party of Vietnam head office in Hanoi, on September 10, 2023. Photo: Reuters
US President Joe Biden attends a meeting with Vietnam’s Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, in Hanoi on September 10, 2023. Photo: Reuters.


Putin seeking trade, currency deals

From Hanoi’s perspective, the visit is meant “to demonstrate that Vietnam pursues a balanced foreign policy that does not favour any of the major powers,” said Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, after the country hosted Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in recent months.

In his first state visit to Vietnam since 2017 and his fifth in total, Putin is expected to announce agreements in sectors including trade, investment, technology and education, two officials told Reuters, although that was subject to change.

However, discussions with Vietnamese leaders are likely to focus on more sensitive issues, the officials said, declining to be identified as the matter was not public.

Those talks would include arms, of which Russia has historically been Vietnam’s top supplier; energy, with Russian companies operating in Vietnamese gas and oil fields in areas of the South China Sea claimed by China; and payments, as the two countries have struggled to carry out transactions because of US sanctions on Russian banks, one of the officials said.

It is not clear whether announcements on these topics will be made.

“The main issues relate to shoring up economic and commercial ties, including arms sales,” said Carl Thayer, a senior expert on Vietnam security at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

Putin and Vietnam’s leaders will likely agree to work out rouble-dong currency transactions via the banking system to enable payment for goods and services, he said.


Details of cable disruptions vague

Vietnam has been rocked by a massive bank fraud and a series of graft probes that led to the resignation of several high-profile officials. But given the scale of cooperation Hanoi appears to be offering Moscow, it will be interesting to see if western investment in the country continues strongly.

Meanwhile, the cables that link Vietnam with the United States, Europe and Asia are down – the second set of outages that the country has endured in just over a year.

These problems have “significantly affected Vietnam’s internet connection with the world,” according to VNA.

Vietnam is connected to the global internet mainly via five undersea cables with a combined capacity of nearly 62 Tbps, according to data from FPT, one of the country’s top internet service providers. It was not clear if the three cables referred to, which account for most of the bandwidth, were totally or partially down.

Internet service providers Viettel and VNPT, which have invested in the cables, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Vietnam News Agency said internet users were finding it particularly hard to access services that have servers located abroad. No timeframe for the repair of the cables had been given, the report said.

Undersea internet cable problems are not rare in Vietnam, which early last year saw all of its five cables disrupted for weeks.


  • Jim Pollard with Reuters



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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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