The Khmer Times, 17 April 2016
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Doi Moi (Renovation) in Vietnam. The communist party is reforming its national development strategy in order to stay economically competitive, socially inclusive and politically stable.
Vietnam aims to become a modern industrialized country by 2020. A World Bank report states that Vietnam is a “development success story.” Thirty years of political and economic reforms have transformed the country from one of the poorest, with per capita income of about $100, to lower middle income status in a quarter of a century with per capita income of about $2,100 by the end of 2015.
The poverty rate has dropped drastically from more than 50 percent in the early 1990s to the present 3 percent. Access to education, healthcare and infrastructure has improved significantly. Almost all households have electricity, while more than 75 percent of households get access to clean water and modern sanitation.
In terms of foreign policy, Vietnam has diplomatic relations with 186 nations, been an active member of more than 70 international organizations and has signed 14 strategic partnership agreements and three comprehensive partnership agreements. Vietnam’s foreign policy has shifted from ideologically driven to a pragmatic approach. Multi-lateralization, diversification, self-determination, self-reliance and international integration are the core strategies.
Maintaining a stable balance in its external relations with China and the US is the main challenge for Vietnam. ASEAN is regarded as a shield to ward off adverse impacts caused by major powers’ competition and rivalry.
Last weekend, the National Assembly approved three new deputy prime ministers and 18 ministers. New Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is expected to restore collective and consensus-based leadership, veering away from the approach adopted by the lame duck Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, which gave focus to assertive and concentrated leadership.
At last week’s Vietnam Forum organized by ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute with financial support from Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Singapore, international scholars acknowledged the achievements by the Vietnamese Community Party in steering the country towards stability and prosperity.
Nguyen Hai Hong, a visiting research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, argued that the reasons the communist party is able to maintain its legitimacy and authoritarian regime are the capacity to maintain public trust through reforms and economic development, effectively restrict opposition forces at home and constrain pressures from “hostile forces” abroad.
However, there are no official national opinion polls conducted on public trust and confidence. So the actual degree of public trust in the government remains unknown. The resilience of the communist party depends on how it can build public trust, work effectively with independent civil society, maintain unity within the party and manage external political pressures.
Vietnam is facing huge challenges ahead in dealing with the middle-income trap. Adam Fforde, Professorial Fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies, said: “Vietnam cannot transition through middle income status without political change, driven by political reform that makes policy matter.”
Political reform is vital to long-term socio-economic development. Political reform does not mean regime change or the introduction of multiparty political system.
Konstantin Wacker, Assistant Professor at Gutenberg-University Mainz said that to maintain its economic performance and competitiveness Vietnam needs to invest more in social and technical innovation, human capital and skills development. “As Vietnam develops and the potential of structural change depletes, productivity aspects become more important to avoid the middle income trap,” he said.
Vietnam needs to “learn from incremental reforms and revise policy going forward accordingly.”