Easy Part Over for Vietnam
Image Credit: Daniel Werner

Easy Part Over for Vietnam


At one side of the large concrete Hoa Binh Market in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 5 sits an “illegal market,” where vendors set up small light bulbs over their produce and meat and loop wires over the large umbrellas. On special occasions like public holidays, police may chase away or even arrest the several dozen of these vendors. Sometimes, goods are confiscated. But that’s not their only problem now.

“Since last year our family’s income is down 40 percent, it’s almost half what it was,” says Phan Thi Khanh as she adjusts the iceberg lettuces rolling around loose in a shallow bamboo basket.

Khanh works 16 hours a day and says she takes home between 100,000VND to 200,000VND (about $5 to $10). She says her husband helps her out at work, while their sons work at local factories. They still live at home, she says, because rent is too expensive for them to afford their own places.

“Most of the buyers here are factory workers or people from outside provinces. Rich people don’t shop here,” she says. “The prices have gone up, but the salary of workers hasn’t, so they buy less.”

Official figures are vague, but locals say strikes have been an increasing at factories over low wages and poor working conditions. Worries over wages have been exacerbated by spiraling inflation in recent years. Inflation peaked at 23 percent last August, before dropping to 18 percent at the beginning of 2012. But it was still stuck at more than 8 percent last month. Economic growth, meanwhile, has dipped again and is unlikely to surpass 5.2 percent this year, according to the government.

The government is responding with plans for major reforms in three key sectors: the sluggish state-owned enterprise (SOE) sector, the banking sector and public investment. SOEs have lost money hand over fist for years. Indeed, state-owned shipping company Vinalines, which was said by state-owned media to have “wasted” a billion dollars, is only the most glaring example of many. Three of the firm’s executives have been arrested in a sector estimated to make up as much as 40 percent of the economy.

Vietnam’s national shipbuilder Vinashin, meanwhile, has flirted with bankruptcy after years of mismanagement. One of the problems identified was movement into “non-core” sectors, such as hotel management.

In a recent report to the country’s main legislative body – the National Assembly – the government said SOEs cut spending by close to $660 million over five years, ending late last year, according to local news.

However, government officials are increasingly concerned at the massive losses of state money. Ho Chi Minh City NA representative Do Van Duong, for example, told Thanh Nien News: “It’s time to investigate investments that cause huge losses of state money and hold accountable those responsible.” He said that the recent Vinashin and Vinalines cases were indicative of poor management of the sector.

Companies are now supposed to be required to publish earnings, though the plan is in its initial stages. But whatever the government says, it seems doubtful that real reform will happen anytime soon as SOEs resist change, foreign investment or restructuring. In addition, many (quietly) complain that government regulations ensure a large workforce in the state sector and free services for the poor, a problem, they lament, when trying to improve efficiency.

Last year, a number of local economists called the proposed changes the biggest since doi moi, the policy begun in 1986 that reopened the isolationist communist nation’s economy, and a move that has been credited by many analysts as the real driving force behind the rapid economic growth of the past two decades.

Some observers, though, are skeptical about such talk. “Oh I’d love to see that,” says former U.S. ambassador to Hanoi, Douglas “Pete” Peterson as talk of the comparisons with doi moi are broached in an interview. Peterson, who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, was the first post-war U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, serving from 1997 to 2001. “Doi Moi was a one-off, a massive decision, but it paid off in just about every way.”

And there were, he says, some immediate gains from the policy. “It stopped people starving. It gave farmers back land, productivity surged overnight and you had food security. People were starving to death in the street [before the reform],” Peterson says.

June 19, 2012 at 01:22

HA HA HA, that’s what written in the PRC books, please consider the try of “lesson” on the 1979 border war…

A small flash-back


PS: No need to explain why Vietnam invaded Cambodia with his ‘killing fields’…

June 16, 2012 at 20:43

@John Chan,
The Vietnamese do have an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the Yuan Empire, the Ming Empire, the French Empire, Imperial Japan, the great USA,…
If China does not have a superiority complex, why do we read that China wants to "slap country X on the face", "teach country Y a lesson" all day round on OFFICIAL Chinese media?

June 15, 2012 at 23:14

@John Chan
Well, before you show satisfaction with such slogan as "Asia for Asians",  you should Google "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere". And if you can't find any link on the Internet from where you are, you can look up as well "Hachirō Arita"

June 15, 2012 at 23:05

Thanks Tom Tran  for the kind reminder. But let’s be clear. When I “fight” John Chan it is never against him personally, neither his race nor his nation. It is true that sometime I got carried away and used mockery. But what I tried to ridicule is the state propaganda behind John Chan. For me it is clear that people like John Chan (if there is A person behind the name) is a typical “product” of such state propaganda, perhaps even a “tool”. Therefore, we can not ignore “John Chan” per se. The purpose is neither to “silence” John Chan. The purpose is to convince the “silent majority” that this battle (of ideas) is also theirs.

June 15, 2012 at 11:54

@ tom tran,
Do you know that respect is earned and not given freely? JC and his chinese comrades just don't offer opinion, they spread lies and propaganda and slogans. So far, none, zero, nada, of any chinese dare to provide any links or stories that could dispute any of my statements. I had provided many well know sources to smash their ridiculous statements such as china won the border war in 1979, china did not attack anyone, US F-22 planes were made by china, and so on.

June 15, 2012 at 03:39

Thanks for your suggestions. I realize while our counter-arguments can’t shut up those badmouth Chinese nationalists like  that of John chan but at least it offers a different voice to rebalance the comment session of this blog. Otherwise, you will see a monologue as the wumaoers are flooding this blog with their garbage and I think the Diplomat knows this well.  

June 15, 2012 at 02:24

Conflict of interest at the crossroad for VN totalitarian leadership in term of how much control and personal wealth accumulation they have to give up in order to move the nation and its enormous human potential towards a more dynamic economy.  For VN, leadership efficiency in restructuring and organization is the key to growth.  It is a matter of time for more competent leadership to arise because the growing pressure from more vibrant, knowledgeable and youthful majority for rapid development, competition and active participation in VN society and political economy.  With exposures to higher education and interaction with other more developed society, the youth have tasted blood and experiencing growing hunger coming with age, like a new generation of male lions in the pride, who are at the verge of challenging the ineffectiveness of the old male. 

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