HANOI, Vietnam -- Vietnam's communist leadership is facing calls for greater political openness from a group of ruling-party members dissatisfied with how the nation handled tensions in recent months with China, its dominant trading partner.
Sixty-one members of the Southeast Asian nation's Communist Party, including a former ambassador to Beijing, urged in an open letter that the leadership "develop a truly democratic, law-abiding state," allow for greater freedom of political speech and "escape" from its reliance on China.
The document builds on past efforts to introduce pluralism in a unified Vietnam that has never had democracy, after a group last year including ex-government officials distributed an alternative draft constitution calling for "political competition."
A public perception that Vietnam had been dealt a setback in the latest in a series of confrontations with China in recent decades over maritime claims provided a backdrop for increased domestic criticism.
"It indicates to the leadership that people are increasingly getting more courage to speak up," Alexander Vuving, a security analyst at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, said in a phone interview. "They are willing to act."
The July 28 letter adds pressure on the government after China's moving of an oil rig into contested territorial waters set off a wave of Vietnamese nationalism and deadly anti-Chinese riots in May.
Vietnam's leadership didn't publicly acknowledge the letter.