Vietnam — Up and Down Ho Chi Minh Path

How is Vietnam's mixed record of economic reforms judged by the world?

January 1, 2001

How is Vietnam's mixed record of economic reforms judged by the world?

Vietnam has opened its economy and allowed more Western investments. While this is good news, the way from a planned economy to a market one is a bumpy path. The initial euphoria disappeared with the late 1990s Asian financial crisis. Amazingly, the country is still run by a communist regime. Our Read My Lips traces the ups and downs of Vietnam's economic development.

How did people describe Vietnam's dramatic changes during the 1990s?

"It’s like the United States going from the 1930’s to the 1980’s — in 10 years."

(U.S. resident of Vietnam, May 1997)

Why did so many foreign investors first go into Vietnam?

“The 1990s were heaven for the multinationals that moved into countries like China and Vietnam, because the local competition was non-existent.”

(Art Samberg, Chairman of Gabelli Asset Management, January 2002)

How did U.S. businessmen view Vietnam's opening to Western companies?

"The new Vietnam war is a battle between Pepsi and Coke for softdrink supremacy."

(Washington Post reporter, September 1995)

Yet, why did many investors leave after 1996 again?

“In ’96, you were told where to invest — and you also had to build the road, the school, the hospital and everything else. You said, ‘Thank you very much, my new address is Malaysia’.”

(Foreign businessman, January 2003)

How did Vietnam manage to lure them back?

“Vietnam is Buddhist and Communist. I don’t think the Communists would tolerate Muslim radicals at all.”

(U.S. tourist in Vietnam, January 2003)

Have Western perceptions of Vietnam changed?

“It didn’t used to be that when words like China, Russia and Vietnam came up, you would first think about trade relations. But now you do.”

(Charlene Barshefsky, former U.S. Trade Representative, December 2000)

How do some Vietnamese feel about the privatization drive?

“Suddenly, I’ll stop working for the socialist republic. I feel sad about this.”

(Manager of a state-run restaurant in Vietnam, October 2002)

Why do Vietnamese politicians ask to be cautious about further reforms?

“I hope that you would understand that our country has recently emerged from war and a centrally planned economy. It would lead to collapse if we go too fast.”

(Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, March 2003)

Do the Vietnamese support economic reforms?

“Vietnam wants to be part of the global economy. People in Vietnam want to make money.”

(Tran Dac Sinh, July 2000)

Are Vietnam's reforms firm in place?

“For some time, there have been good signs from the political leadership. But beneath them, you have a very thick layer of middle-level decision makers who have everything to lose — and nothing to gain — from implementing change.”

(European diplomat, August 2002)

What kind of attitude will further encourage foreign investors?

“In doing business, I believe the ethics and morality of banking are very important.”

(Lam Hoang Loc, Chairman of Vietnam’s Joint-Stock Bank for Private Enterprise, July 2003)

And finally, why does the country's tourist industry feel especially confident?

“We have mountains, but the Chinese have bigger mountains. We have pagodas, but the other countries have bigger pagodas. What is our special things to show tourists? It is war.”

(Dinh Van Thang, Vietnamese tour guide, April 2000)