Vietnam of the 2020s: At the Peak of Success and Thinking of the Future

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Abstract

This is a review of the collection of articles, published by the RAS Institute for Far Eastern Studies, after the transactions of the conference timed to the 75th anniversary of the August Revolution in Vietnam. The authors are Russian and Vietnamese researchers, specialists in various academic disciplines, attempt to make a comprehensive analysis of Vietnam’s history since the mid-20th century to the present. Significant attention is paid to changes taking place in the economy, social sphere and relationships with the world outside.The review analyses and compares positions of historians, political scientists and economists on both sides, who have addressed these relevant subjects.

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The 75th Anniversary of the August Revolution, that launched the construction of independent statehood in Vietnam, was the reason to hold the international online conference (October 2020) with the participation of a representative group of Russian and Vietnamese historians, political scientists, economists, specialists in culture and religion, philologists and linguists. The transactions of the conference were published in the collection volume entitled “Independent Vietnam: National Interests and Values”. The authors and the wide scope of their academic interests testify to the joint attempt to comprehend in multidisciplinary approach the historical way of Vietnam from the mid-20th century to the present. If this was the plan of the edition, has it been accomplished? Yes, it has, partially. At least, the book contains a block of interesting articles devoted to the August Revolution, which clearly confirms that the researches of this crucial event in the history of Vietnam do not lose either its acuteness, or relevance, or creativity . Also, attention has been paid to such subjects as discussion on the essence of the First and Second Indochina Wars, comparative traits of social and economic processes in North and South Vietnam in the period before their merging, etc. Yet, first and foremost, this book deals with what and where the country (in its inner life and in its relationships with the world outside) comes today. Also, the book discusses its perspectives, taking into consideration new problems and challenges emerging before the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The results of the Renovation policy (Doi Moi), i.e., the policy of economic modernization and transition to a market economy, proclaimed by the SRV Party and Government leadership in the mid-1980s, evidence clearly the nation’s abilities and an unprecedented leap forward they have performed in such a short (historically) time. From 1996 to 2019, there was fixed the tenfold GDP growth and the eightfold income growth per capita in Vietnam. The new dynamism is transforming Vietnam, not so long ago included in the group of 25 poorest countries of the world by the UN experts, into one of the global economic growth leaders. “Doi Moi” efficiency is phenomenal, and there are no disagreements on this item between Russian and Vietnamese authors. These reforms are positively estimated by Ye.V. Kobelev, the oldest historian-Vietnamist in Russia, who has contributed in practice to strengthening relationships between our countries. He has finished his article with the statement that the combination of “the Socialism with a Vietnamese face” and the Communist Party course toward “the maintenance of the former political system as a whole” works efficiently. He is sure, that stabilizing the country in the regime of dynamic economic growth, supplemented with “multivectoral foreign policy aiming to accelerated integration of the country into the world community both economically and politically”, this course will be successfully continued . Also, V.M. Mazyrin, an authoritative specialist, head of the RAS IFES Center for Vietnam and ASEAN Studies, points to the fact that market reforms have pulled the SRV economy out of a long dive quickly and in time, thus, bringing the country’s situation into a healthy state. However, being the first of Russian researchers, who has compared economic systems of the DRV and RV in the 1950/1970s and has designated focal points of the transformation in the Renovation period, he has concluded: due to the situation in Vietnam and a sudden change in the world at the end of the 20th century the SRV leaders had no alternative but “to transfer the market model from South into North” . Now, not socialist (as it was before the reforms) but capitalist structure prevails in the diversified (so far) economy. And he considers it to be the chief result of this maneuver. At the same time, V.M. Mazyrin writes that “capitalism in the SRV acquires the features of a peripheral capitalism. It means that its economy is working for the most developed countries, supplying them with raw materials, ready-made production, cheap labor, while lagging in its technological development” . As a peripheral capitalism is on the decline and dependent, by definition, it puts difficult questions: how can its development with all its defects affect if not “the socialism with a Vietnamese face”, then the growth rates, the stability of domestic policy, which has not been seriously shaken yet, and in the end Vietnam as an independent state. But, perhaps, these questions are premature. And are they pertinent? One could rather say that they should have been asked much earlier. In January and February 2021, when this volume was in the process of preparing for printing, the 13th Congress of the CPV was being held in Hanoi. The participants in the Congress, as they used to do at several former Party forums of such a level, expressed their concern with such processes like social and income inequalities, the growing inequality between rich and poor, the spread of corruption. They spoke of the signs of the ideological and moral degeneration of the party and governmental elite, of their linking with oligarchs, representatives of the private business [Kolotov. 2021: 32-33, 38-39; Lokshin 2021: 27-28]. It is significant that for a long time such phenomena have been clearly seen in the neighboring countries (proudly called “The Four Asian Tigers”), which long ago left Vietnam behind in the matters of accelerated modernization, but now Vietnam is on a nearly equal footing with them. This is no coincidence. As far as in 1968 (when, by the way, the escalation of the American aggression in Indochina was approaching its culmination, and every day the US Air Force tried to “to bomb Viet Nam into Stone Age”) Harvard professor Samuel Huntington gave a detailed justification of the thesis on destabilizing influence of modernization on the society, where it is taking shape [Huntington 1968]. This influence meant quick shaking of the former morality, lagging making of new values, the waking of too ambitious expectations which never came true, protest moods, initiated with mass corruption, more than natural in conditions of the pursuit of commercial gain. Will the reader detect any clear or identical thoughts in the articles by Vietnamese authors of this volume? I cannot give a laconic and categorical answer to this question. But surely, they have their concerns about the further development of the reforms. I believe, their professional (and, if you like, ideological and political) self-determination are connected with a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, they cannot suppose (this is beyond them) that such a successful experiment, as “Doi Moi” course could be cut short due to something. On the other, one cannot disregard the fact that Vietnam and the outside world have changed beyond recognition for thirty years and more. And not always these were changes for the better. And one must acknowledge that there are no political or economic course relevant forever in its invariability. The whole set of “pro” and “contra”, inspired with these mutually exclusive messages has literally woven the article entitled The challenges faced by Vietnam’s international integration SRV. The authors are Le Lena and Hoang Khac Nam (International Studies Faculty of Vietnam National University, Hanoi) . I would like to suggest that everybody, who is interested to know the mentality of the current Vietnamese intellectuals, should read attentively and think over this text, as well as other articles of the part on foreign policy. They are mostly written by Vietnamese authors and are also sealed with deep ambiguity. Addressing reasons, which make the SRV keep to the so called “multivectoral policy” and “balancing between major powers”, they virtually state, that there was no and there is no alternative to this, but immediately, as if in an undertone, they add: the situation both in the world and in the region leaves less space for such maneuvers, as time goes on. The final conclusion is that all the choices come to the only question: to be a partner of the US or of China? Vu Thuy Trang (Institute of European Studies of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences) is trying “to balance”, stating that “in the hierarchy of the SRV relations with major countries, the links with the US are the most complicated and important from the point of view of advantages and hardships” , while Nghiem Tuan Hung (Institute of World Economy and Politics VASS) and Vu Van Anh (International Studies Faculty VNU, Hanoi) are satisfied: “Vietnam is the important link in the American net of regional partnerships, and the US wish to widen them. Also, Vietnam is the US chief security partner in Southeast Asia, following usual allies, such as Philippines, Thailand and Singapore” . To crown it all, trying to become good friends with the US in order to compensate difficulties in relations with China, Vietnam finds itself not to be free in its relations with Russia, which is under sanctions of the West and at the same time strengthens its strategic partnership with China. These facts can be found on the pages of the reviewed volume . Finishing my review, I feel sorry, that its size does not allow to pay sufficient attention to numerous articles of the collection that have not been mentioned here. But I hope that other reviewers will perform this task. The book leading us to a deeper and more objective comprehension of what had happened and is happening in Vietnam, to Vietnam and around it deserves being reviewed.
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About the authors

V. V Sumsky

Moskow State Institute of International Relations (University) MFA RF

Email: victor.sumsky@gmail.com
D.Sc. (History), Leading Expert, ASEAN Centre

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Copyright (c) 2021 Sumsky V.V.

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