Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Vietnam, doi moi and the search for business and economic strength and global relevance 9: considering Vietnam in an interconnected global context 3

Posted in UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on April 29, 2015

This is my ninth installment to a series on Vietnam (see the UN-GAID directory, postings 34 and following for Parts 1-8.) And in a fundamental sense this is also a posting that I have been building up towards through the progression of installments that I have been adding to this series.

I began to more explicitly discuss infrastructure development in Vietnam in Part 8 after noting from the beginning of it, that I would address this area of discussion as an essential topic of concern for this series.

And to repeat my list of core infrastructure development areas that I would address here, I note that they are:

• Transportation,
• Electrical power generation, and
• Telecommunications and internet access.

I focused in Part 8 on how infrastructure has to be developed coordinately with the needs of business and industrial development if those systems are to effectively function and if they are to expanded in ways that can make a country more competitively effective in a global community. And I offered, by way of cautionary tale example, how Stalin’s attempts to collectivize Soviet farming led to disaster and to the starvation of millions.

Transportation capabilities with road and rail systems expansion and improvement, and with the improvement of harbors and waterways leading to them, facilitating international shipping in and out of the country are essential to making this work. So is electrical power production and so are communications and data sharing systems as businesses and industries run on information if they are to make any of their other processes work: supply chain and finished product production, product sales, and end-product shipping and distribution definitely included.

I wrote at the end of Part 8 that I would:

• Look into the further-reaching implications and consequences of these infrastructure improvements as they shape and inform what Vietnam’s own people do and seek to do, and expect to be able to do in their own lives.

And I added that I would finally, more systematically delve into an issue that I initially raised in this series in its Part 1:

• How other countries relate to and interact with Vietnam.

And I stated in that context that I would:

• 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. And I added that I would also discuss some of the issues of opportunity and need, for Vietnam to more closely work with and align with other nations flanking the South and East China Seas as they also face new and emerging challenges from China.

Vietnam faces a complex and multifaceted confluence of forces that would compel it to improve its business and industrial systems and the overall national infrastructure systems that it needs in order to support them, if is to become a more competitively effective participant in the global marketplace and the global community of nations, and if it as a country and its citizens as individuals and families are to be secure in meeting their needs.

I am going to continue this series’ overall discussion with that last point, and that last clause of that last sentence in mind.

Vietnam’s embrace of fundamental economic and structural reform through the 1986 adaptation of a policy of đổi mới made fundamental change and improvements in its overall economy possible, by allowing its people to more freely create new forms and levels of productive capability and strength and by offering them the compelling incentive to actually do this work by allowing them to gain from the fruits of their own labor too. At its heart, đổi mới represents a fundamental shift from adherence to a centrally controlled and managed communist-style planned economy to support of a supply and demand driven capitalist-style market economy.

I have been writing throughout this series about how this has created an active and growing entrepreneurial class and even an entire entrepreneurial generation and an entrepreneurial future for Vietnam. But this does not and cannot simply begin and end in the workplace or in the workday hours. This of necessity shapes and informs how these budding entrepreneurs and their families see and think about everything and it shapes what they expect and are coming to demand in the way of choice and decision making voice in their lives – and for their children.

Turning to that list of core infrastructure initiatives that I just repeated and that I have been discussing from a business and economic perspective, improved transportation infrastructure, and here let’s just focus on roads as a case in point, make it possible for Vietnamese businesses to transport in the goods and materials they need to function, and this facilitates and makes more economically effective their shipping and selling their own finished goods and at more competitive market prices. But these same roads allow for and even actively encourage greater individual mobility too. And in this I cite the love affair that so many Vietnamese have with their own personal motorized transportation and especially with their seemingly endless numbers of motor scooters and motorcycles (see Part 3 and for some vehicle numbers see Part 6.)

Vietnamese traditionally travel to their home communities, where their individual families come from to celebrate Tet (Tết Nguyên Đán): the Vietnamese lunar new year. The major cities and urban centers of Vietnam seem to all but empty out during the days of this celebration as a mass exodus sends large percentages of the overall population of this country traveling to their ancestral home communities. So Vietnamese travel within their country, is nothing particularly new or novel in and of itself. Improved roadways and a tremendously increased rate of individual ownership of motor vehicles simply makes travel and individual mobility a more realistic and attractive possibility, and for more to travel further within their country and much more often and much more routinely.

Improved electrical systems make a great deal possible, of course, and electrification programs have always led rural and other more isolated regions of countries to take giant steps forward in what home and personal technologies people can make use of, that they now come to expect and want to have. This includes technologies so basic that we tend to take them entirely for granted, but that have fundamentally profound, game changing consequences when they become possible, such as electric lighting and food refrigeration. I have lived and worked in third world communities where light bulbs and the power to run them were not available, except for perhaps in a few more public buildings – not in any homes and where refrigerators with their food preservation capabilities were unavailable. And the difference between have and have-not for these and other capabilities that quickly become basic and assumed for those who have, is so profound that it would be impossible to encompass it in a few brief words. Electrical power and its wider and less expensive, consistently reliable availability enable fundamental improvement for essentially everything for people and their families in their day to day lives and for the entire communities that they live in.

But the primary arena of infrastructure development that I would write of here is the third one on my list as repeated at the top of this posting: telecommunications and internet access.

Telecommunications and internet access make immediately and compelling visible what others have and can realistically hope to have, and essentially everywhere. I find myself thinking back to a case in point experience in my own life as I write this, where I was living and working in villages on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala when I was 26 years old, setting up wildlife sanctuaries to protect their beach nesting sea turtles. The village that I primarily lived in there had electrical power available for it in a few buildings for a few hours, several days a week. And that village purchased a television set and an antenna for it, and was able to pick up a few channels. Every evening when they had power for that set, the entire village came together to watch television together: US programs like Dallas as dubbed into Spanish and programming that originated in their nation’s capital: Guatemala City. And this programming and the TV ads that went along with it, showed them all of the things they did not have that others did. And that created a new and compelling source of perceived lacking and need. And this village was not unique for any of this.

This coastal village and others like it now all wanted to develop off-shore fishing capabilities and own their own commercial fishing boats so they could bring more cash income into their communities so they could buy these things they were now seeing on their televisions. Their local economies had traditionally been largely locally barter-based. This new window into a larger world, or at least into a skewed view of that world, set the stage for change in everything, including a shift to a more money-based economy and tighter alignment with their national economy.

That example is so out of date that it can only be seen as quaint, and as dating me for its technological obsolescence and certainly as representing a primary window into a larger outside world. Returning to Vietnam, but noting a point that is true everywhere now in the developing world, at least where call phones and the internet are available to anyone at all, everyone wants and sees compelling need for these newer technologies – and for access to and inclusion in the ubiquitous flow of communications and the connectivity that they bring. I have written explicitly about this in East Africa in countries such as Tanzania (see the UN-GAID directory, postings 16-21 for Parts 1-6 of the series: Developing Critical Infrastructure from a Human and a Societal Perspective.) I have also seen and discussed this and how it is taking hold in Southeast Asia and in countries like Vietnam.

• Modern computer-capable smart phones and related wireless communications and online connectivity resources, and telecommunications and internet access capabilities open windows in what people can and do see and in what they expect to have in their own lives – even as these capabilities give them wider reaching and even globally reaching voices too.
• And developing this new level of communications and connectivity reach in the context of a fundamental economic opening up like đổi mới can lead to only one overall long-term consequence: the opening up of that society as a whole and the opening up of a widespread plurality of voices in making individual and local community-impacting decisions.

Ultimately, when I write this series I am primarily writing about Vietnam as it transitions out of being a communist nation, where it took a very large and fundamentally irrevocable step in that direction in 1986 when it made a commitment to move away from a centrally administratively planned economic approach to enter the global market driven economy. And this brings me to the questions and issues of how other countries relate to and interact with Vietnam, as noted at the top of this posting. I will address that complex of issues in a next series installment. And to put this in a human dimension perspective, I will also take a final look at least for this series at tourism and both by Vietnamese and by foreigners into that country. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at the UN-GAID directory.

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