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Hunter Marston, ‘Bauxite Mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands: An Arena for Expanding Civil Society?’ Contemporary Southeast Asia, 34(2) 2012: 173-96.
This paper examines the status of contemporary civil society in Vietnam from a process-oriented perspective. It considers civil society in light of its actions and processes rather than by its political and structural affiliations. The analysis takes as a case study the bauxite mines in the Central Highlands. The Chinese-Vietnamese joint venture between two respective state-owned enterprises (SOEs) is seeking $15 billion in investment by 2025 to take advantage of Vietnam’s huge bauxite reserves in order to process aluminum. The project has fomented unprecendented criticism from individuals within the mainstream elite of the Party, as well as environmental scientists, prominent lawyers and citizen bloggers in Vietnam. After a series of contentious policy debates and high-level reviews by various government ministries concerning the project’s sustainability, environmental as well as social impact, the Vietnamese government approved and initiated mining in early 2012. By looking at the various sites of contention, National Assembly debates, and public outcry concerning the case, this paper advances a new conceptual framework for analysing civil society in Vietnam. The bauxite controversy explictly showcases the form that civil society is taking in contemporary Vietnam. I will argue that interactions among the vacillating civil society network that encompasses both grassroots activists and reformist political leaders will guide elite-level policy in Vietnam in such a way that does not pose a direct challenge to the Party’s central authority.