Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Vietnam, doi moi and the search for business and economic strength and global relevance 1

Posted in UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on February 23, 2015

I find myself writing this posting: the first installment to what I expect will turn into a short series, in the immediate aftermath of returning from about a month in Southeast Asia, largely in Vietnam, but also in Cambodia and Hong Kong.

I will have at least a few things to say in this blog from my still recent experiences in Cambodia and Hong Kong but I wanted to start with Vietnam here. And I do so by noting a crucially important term that I cite in my title for this posting: Đổi Mới, and two points that I heard forcefully stated again and again, and when in the South, the Central Highlands and the North, which can accurately be summarized as: “Vietnam may have a single political party system but it is one that has factions that compete with each other and that hold independent sway from each other and that have significant voices in government” and “Vietnam is not a communist country; it is a capitalist country – and ever since the start of đổi mới as a major official, widely held policy and goal.”

My goal for this first installment to this series-to-be, is to at least begin to attempt to put đổi mới and Vietnam as it is today, into perspective. And beyond that, my goal is to at least begin to discuss how this is important both regionally in Asia and globally, as well as within Vietnam’s own borders and for its own people.

What is đổi mới? I will begin with that, noting that at least as of this writing that the Wikipedia discussion of this term frames it entirely in centrally planned economy, communist terms, where in reality this approach has broken the back of Vietnamese communism, and certainly as a monolithic system. Đổi mới, which translates into English as renovation is at heart an attempt to rebuild Vietnam’s economy so as to make the country more economically competitive in the global marketplace and to make the country economically stronger so as to improve its citizens’ lives. It certainly began as a centrally mandated policy and goal, but the outcome of it is that Vietnam has become a nation of entrepreneurs, and competing factions within their one party system continuously measure the results of policy enacted and followed against realized outcomes and on impact on how it supports or challenges đổi mới and national development as a goal – where that means supporting or challenging businesses and entrepreneurs and the development of the national economy at that practical level.

Am I oversimplifying here? Yes, of course I am – but so would be any equally simplistic claim that since đổi mới began as a centrally planned, one party system approved approach, it must still be entirely communist in nature. Legally Vietnam is still formally and officially a communist country; on a day to day practical level it is anything but, even if that means an ongoing balancing act and a complexly nuanced one at that. But the end result is that Vietnam is a nation of entrepreneurs who live above their shops with their businesses, larger or small and mostly small on the ground floor of the buildings that they live in and with their living quarters on the top floors – as a basic model throughout the country and certainly in urban centers and larger towns and villages.

• Here, the vast majority of businesses and of overall economic activity in Vietnam takes place in small privately held businesses, exactly as found in the West.
• What is đổi mới and what is Vietnam? Certainly since 1986, it has not been possible to address either of these questions without addressing the other as well.

But Vietnam is a communist country. Their government officially claims that and their people would admit it if specifically asked. Vietnam is a communist country – but one with no economic safety net for its citizens, such as unemployment insurance and benefits as offered to the newly unemployed in the United States. Everyone must work and create their own income and their own personal future. It is a communist country – but one of Vietnams’ most revered historical figures is a king who unified the diverse and often contending people of his country to finally drive out the Chinese rulers who had dominated what is now Vietnam for close to a millennium.

What is Vietnam and what is the đổi mới that is coming to define it for what it strives to become? There are no easy or unambiguously certain answers to that, but I will at least seek to approach some answers to this in this series and its postings to come.

I plan as of this writing to at least primarily focus on three complex sets of interrelated issues in this series:

• Vietnam’s growing role in international commerce and the business systems that make that possible,
• Their active and still expanding programs of basic infrastructure development that would make this possible, and that would facilitate their country’s active participation in the global community as an equal and a peer,
• And the closely related issues of how other countries relate to and interact with Vietnam. And in anticipation of that, I note here that I will discuss at least some of the complex partly positive, partly negative realities of the relationship between Vietnam and China, and the likely emergence of closer alliance between Vietnam and the United States as it is being shaped by China’s and Xi Jinping’s emerging policies regarding the South China Sea and their immediate neighbors there.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at the UN-GAID directory.

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