[Marxism] New economic directions for Vietnam

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 27 10:37:26 MDT 2006


NY Times, April 27, 2006
Communist Vietnam Lunges for Capitalism's Brass Ring
By SETH MYDANS

HANOI, Vietnam, April 26 — It was Lenin's birthday. The most important 
Communist Party meeting in five years was under way. And the star of the 
show was the world's most famous capitalist, Bill Gates.

The president, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister all excused 
themselves from the party meeting on Saturday to have their pictures taken 
with Mr. Gates, who has more star power in Vietnam than any of them.

When people heard he was in town, hundreds climbed trees and pushed through 
police lines to get a glimpse of him. He was the subject of the lead 
article in the next day's newspapers.

This is where Vietnam stands today, moving cautiously toward a new version 
of communism while the people and their leaders lunge eagerly for the brass 
ring of capitalist development.

"That was very symbolic," said Le Dang Doanh, an official in the Ministry 
of Planning, speaking of the reception for Mr. Gates. "It is a very clear 
sign of the new mood of society and the people. Everybody wants to be like 
Bill Gates."

It is 20 years since Vietnam, still struggling in the aftermath of war, 
began a sort of perestroika that has moved it from a strict planned economy 
to the more helter-skelter mechanisms of the marketplace. In the past 
decade, it has been putting its economic house in order — with a bid to 
join the World Trade Organization this year. And it is now drawing new 
interest from foreign investors.

"You'll find tremendous enthusiasm among the foreign community for Vietnam 
as the next rising star," said Jonathan Pincus, the country representative 
for the United Nations Development Program.

He said this was partly because major companies like Microsoft as well as 
Intel, Canon and Fujitsu were leading the way, and partly because Vietnam 
was seen as a stable hedge for companies that had invested heavily in China.

Since a moment of investor enthusiasm faded a decade ago, he said, Vietnam 
has improved its legal infrastructure, banking system and regulations, 
making it a safer and more reliable business environment.

It has entered into so many agreements with other countries, including the 
United States, that demand internationally accepted business practices that 
its economic changes now appear irreversible.

"In just about every sector you can think of, there's been an ongoing 
process of reform," Mr. Pincus said.

The Communist Party Congress that ended Wednesday after re-electing the 
party's general secretary, Nong Duc Manh, 56, was no longer dominated by 
the ideological debates of the past but by a drive to become, in Mr. 
Gates's words, the next Asian economic miracle.

The party's plan for the next five years aims to increase exports, combat 
corruption and continue its economic integration with the outside world 
with a goal of maintaining a growth rate of around 8 percent and creating 
eight million jobs.

It is seeking to move into a higher level of manufacturing, including 
electronics.

As Vietnam's leaders balance what they call "a market economy with 
socialist orientation," they are also reshaping the party's relationship 
with an increasingly materialistic public.

About half the population of 83 million was born after the war with the 
United States ended 31 years ago. Vietnam is very much looking toward the 
future, not the past.

Reaching out in an unprecedented way, the party published its draft 
documents for public discussion early this year and received, by Mr. Manh's 
count, tens of thousands of comments, suggestions and criticisms from the 
public.

It is not clear whether any of these affected the final report, but 
publishing the documents was at least a gesture of inclusion in the closed 
workings of the government.

Significantly, most of the comments involved ways to improve the party's 
leadership, rather than challenging its primacy or demanding a multiparty 
system, said Carlyle Thayer, a specialist on Vietnam at the Australian 
Defense Force Academy in Canberra.

When people here say they want more democracy, several analysts said, they 
are not for the most part calling for political pluralism but for a more 
open and responsive Communist Party leadership.

In another response to public opinion, Mr. Manh and other leaders also 
emphasized combating corruption, a result of news media coverage of a 
scandal that forced the resignation of the minister of transport recently.

And in a sign that the party is distancing itself from its orthodox past, 
this is the first party congress since the meetings began in 1951 not to 
invite delegations from foreign Communist Parties, Mr. Thayer said.

As recently as 2000, the party's general secretary, then Le Ka Phieu, told 
Bill Clinton that socialism was only in temporary decline and remained the 
wave of the future. Those words sound odd in today's context.

When officials talk of socialism today they are more likely to be referring 
to a downside of economic free play, a widening gap between the very poor, 
who make up 20 percent of the population, and the toweringly rich, who are 
growing richer. That social divide has for years been a major concern of 
the party.

Vietnam's leaders are known for caution, and as they seek to get communism 
right, where it failed elsewhere in the world, they hope to get capitalism 
right as well.

This mixture of the two systems can produce paradoxical results. A large 
chunk of Vietnam's foreign exchange earnings comes from $6 billion sent 
home each year by Vietnamese overseas. Most of these are refugees who fled 
the victory of the Communists in 1975.

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