HANOI: Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang, one of the country's top three leaders but with mostly ceremonial duties, died on Friday (Sep 21) after an illness, state television and radio announced.
Quang, 61, died in a military hospital in Hanoi from a "serious illness despite efforts by domestic and international doctors and professors", Vietnam Television reported. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
He had hosted a reception for China's Supreme Court chief on Wednesday, reporters said.
Quang had been ill for months, said former health minister Nguyen Quoc Trieu, who now oversees health care for high-ranking officials.
"He began showing symptoms of illness in June last year and has been treated in Japan six times since," Trieu told Reuters.
"He suffered from a kind of highly virulent virus, for which there has not been any efficient treatment."
Vietnam has no paramount ruler and is officially led by four "pillars": its president, prime minister, the chief of its Communist Party and the national assembly chair.
The president has a more ceremonial role, although he sits on the powerful decision-making politburo.
Before his April 2016 appointment as president, Quang had been minister of public security, heading an organisation with broad powers responsible for intelligence gathering and thwarting domestic and foreign threats to the party.
The former police chief is known as a tough politician with little tolerance for dissent.
Posts about the death of Quang, once tipped by some analysts as a potential general secretary, spread quickly on Facebook before state media took the rare step of announcing it within two hours of the event.
Rumours of his illness had circulated on social media for months, and there was no significant reaction in Vietnam's benchmark index.
At one of Quang's last appearances, during a visit to Hanoi by Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Sep 11, the president appeared visibly unwell and stumbled as he stepped on to a platform to inspect a guard of honour.
Quang hailed from a small farming community 115 km south of Hanoi, rising through party ranks to become a police general and Politburo member.
"We are saddened to hear the news that the president has died," said Bui Duc Phi, council chairman of the village where he was born.
Vietnam's constitution provides for the vice president to perform the president's duties should he be unable to work.
"Vice president Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh will handle his duties until the National Assembly elects a new president," said prominent lawyer Tran Vu Hai.
The national assembly is set to meet in late October, but the date could be brought forward, he added.