By James Pearson
HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnamese leader Nguyen Phu Trong, the architect of the Southeast Asian country’s anti-corruption drive, has been suffering from an unspecified illness, four diplomatic sources have told Reuters.
Trong was admitted to the 108 Military Central Hospital in Hanoi, the diplomatic sources said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue in the communist-ruled country.
In the first official comments on the 75-year-old Vietnamese leader’s health since his last public appearance 11 days ago, foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said on Thursday that Trong’s health had been affected by a “heavy workload” and “changeable weather conditions”.
Hang did not say how serious Trong’s condition was, but added that he would “resume his normal duties soon”, without elaborating.
Reuters was unable to determine how serious Trong’s condition was, or if he was still in hospital.
“We have no knowledge of his condition or how fit he is to carry out any official functions,” one of the diplomatic sources said.
The sources said Trong, who is both president of the country and general secretary of the Communist Party, fell ill on his birthday on April 14 in the southern province of Kien Giang, where – according to state media – he had been visiting local agricultural and industrial projects.
The health of Vietnam’s leadership is by law considered a state secret and, before Thursday’s foreign ministry statement, state media had not reported on Trong’s health.
In the absence of information, unconfirmed rumour and speculation about Trong’s condition has spread quickly on social media. On Monday, after Trong was taken ill, his name was trending on Google in Vietnam.
Trong has presided over a widespread crackdown on corruption in Vietnam that has seen several high-ranking ministers and politicians, including one Politburo member, handed prison terms on charges ranging from embezzlement to economic mismanagement.
The crackdown, which is viewed by critics as being politically motivated, has also led to the arrest of several high-ranking police officers and prominent businessmen.
Officially, Vietnam has no paramount ruler and is led collectively by the president, prime minister, Communist Party chief, and chair of the National Assembly.
But Trong added the role of president to his existing role of Communist Party General Secretary in September last year following the death of former President Tran Dai Quang.
If the two positions were to become vacant it could spark a shift in the balance of power in Vietnam ahead of the next meeting of the Party congress, the country’s supreme body, in early 2021.
(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by John Chalmers, Alex Richardson and Neil Fullick)