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Updated : 3:12 PM, 01/14/2011
Aussie scholar on Vietnam
Professor Carlyle A. Thayer from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Australian Defence Force Academy spoke with VET’s [Vietnam Economic Times] Xuan Son about Vietnam’s recent past and immediate future. What are your opinions on Vietnam’s development over the past five years (2006‐2010) in terms of political, economic and social issues? Over the last five years Vietnam has maintained remarkable political stability compared with its neighbours in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand. The government formed in 2007, after Party Congress X, has been stable and effective. Vietnam’s economy has experienced some ups and downs, like inflation and the global financial crisis, but continues to grow at a credible rate. It continues to reduce poverty and is doing well in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Vietnam is proactively trying to prevent gaps in regional development. But corruption remains a challenge. What do you expect from international investors and observers? International investors still want to put their money in Vietnam. But they would like to see even greater transparency in government decision making and more attention to macro‐economic stability. It needs to address its chronic trade deficit. Vietnam moved up four positions in the index of transparency over the last year but ranks 116th out of 178 countries surveyed. The government’s imposition of price controls is one area where lack of transparency was a cause for concern. The ability of the government to effectively implement price controls was also an issue. Foreign investors would like to see greater equitization of state owned enterprises, and a level playing field between the state sector, which is favoured, and the other economic sectors, including the private sector. What do you think about Vietnam’s political role in the international arena over the last five years and at present? Vietnam has gone from success to success. It was the unanimous choice of the Asian bloc at the United Nations to fill the position of non‐permanent member of the Security Council. Vietnam’s responsible role won it praise in many quarters, especially from the US. Vietnam also acquitted itself well as chair of ASEAN. It played a constructive diplomatic role on the Myanmar issue. It also forged a degree of consensus on the East Sea issue and received the backing of several of the major powers. ASEAN is now committed to working with China in a joint working group to implement the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the East Sea to make this agreement effective. Much work needs to be done, however. Vietnam’s crowning success was to successfully host the inaugural meeting of ASEAN Defence Ministers and their eight dialogue partners. Vietnam not only succeeded in getting China and
the US at the same table, but provided the venue for the resumption of military‐to‐military contacts on the sidelines.
Some foreign analysts suggest that Vietnam should deploy a new model/strategy for economic development to replace the existing model that relies a great deal on natural resources and focuses on high GDP growth. Do you think so? Vietnam needs to keep developing its economy to create jobs for young people that enter the market place. And it needs to keep its economy growing to achieve its goals of industrialisation and modernisation and becoming a middle‐income country. But the emphasis on high growth rates is short‐sighted. Economic growth should support sustainable development over the long‐term. Vietnam should carry out structural reforms to make itself even more competitive in the global market place. At the same time, it should increase its capacity to process raw materials to add value for export. Vietnam also must address certain fundamentals to make this possible, such as greater investment in human resources and real reform in the education sector to raise it to international standards. Much more must be done to improve the physical infrastructure, including a reliable supply of electricity. You have spent a lot of time in Vietnam over the years. What should be improved to support the country’s future development? The Vietnamese people have a strong sense of identity, communal spirit and a culture that places a premium on literacy and education. Vietnam must therefore ensure that human resources development, through appropriate and relevant educational institutions, is open to all citizens so they can contribute to national development. Vietnam can leverage high literacy with appropriate technical training and develop niche capacities in information technology, the way India has.
What should authorities do to woo more international investors and contributions/support for the country’s development over the next five years, ten years and more? Vietnam must level the playing field and allow all sectors of the economy ‐ private as well as State ‐ to play their role as a force for development. The government needs to rededicate itself to equitizing state‐owned enterprises and adopt proactive policies that encourage both private sector development and greater cooperation with foreign enterprises. What are your recommendations/advice to senior leaders attending the Party Congress? I have read all of the major draft policy documents to be considered by Party Congress XI. I am not yet satisfied in their general nature and the failure to discuss openly the burning issues that are being discussed within the party. I think the public ‐ both Vietnamese and foreign ‐ should be given greater information about the key issues and policy options that have been discussed. These documents barely discuss ASEAN and the various multilateral institutions through which Vietnam seeks global integration. How Vietnam should manage its relations with the major powers is not discussed. Yes the issue is sensitive, but this does not prevent raising the challenges and opportunities posed for Vietnam. Party delegates should be given effective power to choose Party leaders and rapidly promote persons with real talent. After the Party Congress ends, the Party should provide more information about the deliberations that took place. More biographical information on members of the Central Committee should be provided, along the lines of information on deputies to the National Assembly. Over the next five and ten years Vietnam should continue to reform its political system to make it more transparent and responsive to the general public. The pilot program to directly elect the head of people’s committees should be adopted throughout Vietnam up to the provincial and municipal level. The National Assembly should have greater power to supervise government performance. Vietnam should sponsor a responsible public debate about the question of whether the office of State President and Party Secretary General should be merged. The country has given priority to developing a knowledge economy. This is not just a technical matter of increasing internet connectivity. It means that information must be freely shared and circulated so that the people and analysts can be fully informed. Vietnam should review is current mixed system of controls and develop a more uniform and transparent system. Allied to this, it should adopt a more open door approach to the activities of foreign universities in Vietnam. Appropriate policies should be adopted to encourage them to set up in Vietnam and raise standards to world class. Xuan Son (Vietnam Economic Times) (Photo by Viet Tuan)
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