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Two important events occurred in February, the visit to Vietnam by the president of the World Bank president and the visit by the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Vietnam to the troubled province of Thai Binh.
IBRD president James Wolfensohn visited Vietnam for four days, from 21 February. He held talks with Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung - the two figures responsible for overseeing economic reforms in Vietnam. The meetings ended predictably, with the Prime Minister calling for further assistance from the World Bank to reduce hunger, to alleviate poverty and to build infrastructure. The Deputy Prime Minister affirmed that the Vietnamese government will continue its economic reforms in three major areas; first to accelerate the development of the market economy, second, to integrate more quickly into the regional and world economy and third, to tackle hunger, poverty and social inequality. For his part, Mr Wolfensohn congratulated Vietnam on its success with regard to hunger and poverty reduction and confirmed that the World Bank will continue to assist Vietnam in building its national economic development strategy, a strategy to comprehensively develop information, telecommunications, as well as other development projects. Later, while addressing representatives from the government, NGOs, the private sector and academia, on 23 February, Mr Wolfensohn urged Vietnam to prepare a Comprehensive Development Framework without delay.
The World Bank president also met with the General-Secretary of the Communist Party, General Le Kha Phieu, who had returned from a visit to Thai Binh province, the site of some serious and violent peasant unrest in May 1997.
General Le Kha Phieu’s visit to Thai Binh is generally seen as an attempt to help stabilise the volatile region. The 1997 uprisings of Thai Binh’s peasantry shocked the Hanoi leadership into a review of the province’s party organisation. The review resulted in the sacking of 600 party officials including the top two. A total of 1,900 party members were disciplined.
During this visit Phieu urged peasants in the province to forgive local cadres whose abusive corruption sparked the violent unrest and called on local officials, hundreds of whom are new to the job after having replaced those who were sacked, to 'be patient to listen and understand the peoples’ concerns.' But Phieu stressed that the frustration over the last two and half years was aimed at those particular unsound and unpatriotic cadres and not the socialist system itself.
The above two events underline once again the two pressing concerns for the country this decade: economic development and political stability. News on the economic front is not good with foreign investment dropping steadily. In this climate, without private domestic investments, development aid has become crucial to the well being of the nation. On the political front, the Party is still holding on to the same position of not conceding to any substantial political reform. The message from the party chief was unequivocal - yes, there have been mistakes, local cadres were corrupt, but the supremacy of the socialist system itself must not be questioned - yet. So the country continues into the 14th year of Doi Moi without much change in direction.
WATCHPOINT: Increasing dependence on World Bank support may compel the Hanoi leadership to make more genuine reforms.
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AFG Venture Group is an Asia and Australia based corporate advisory and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in creating alliances, relationships and transactions in Australia, South East Asia and India; including a 15 year history of corporate and equities advisory in Australia, undertaking merger, acquisition, divestment, fund raising and consulting for private and public companies.
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