Vietnam: 2004 Mid Term Review


Carlyle A Thayer

In January, Vietnam's leaders reached the halfway point of their five-year tenure as members of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP). The current leadership was elected in April 2001 at the Ninth Party Congress. According to party statutes the next party congress should be held in the first quarter of 2006.

Party statutes also make provision for the convocation of a mid-term conference if circumstances warrant. Vietnam's leaders have obviously assessed that they are doing well enough to dispense with a formal review conference. Instead, they chose to conduct a mid-term review of policy implementation at the regularly scheduled ninth plenary session of the VCP Central Committee.

The ninth plenum met from 5-13 January 2004. This meeting reviewed five major reports: on implementation of resolutions of the Ninth Party Congress; on party-building and rectification (correction of shortcomings); on socio-economic development, 2001-2005; on the campaign against corruption; and a review of the Politburo and Secretariat leadership.

The plenum noted that over the past two and a half years Vietnam has faced a 'complicated changing political situation in the world', a reference to US unilateralism and intervention in Iraq. The plenum also noted that the SARS virus had impacted negatively on Vietnam's economic growth.

The plenum adopted new resolutions to achieve the socio-economic and political objectives endorsed by the Ninth Congress. The VCP Central Committee underscored the importance of six key tasks to be carried out in the remaining years of its tenure. These included: speeding up economic growth to over eight per cent per annum in 2004 and 2005; restructuring and equitising (privatising) state-owned enterprises and developing capital, real estate, labour and science and technology markets; reducing the incidence of poverty in disadvantaged areas; stepping up international economic integration by joining the World Trade Organisation; continuing efforts to reform the party and political system; and maintaining domestic socio-political and macro-economic stability during a period of high economic growth. The ninth plenum concluded by reaffirming Vietnam’s goal of becoming ‘basically an industrialized and modern nation’ by 2020.

The one discordant note struck by the party meeting was its net assessment that ‘international reactionary forces are likely to intensify their schemes of using issues related to “democracy”, “human rights”, ethnicity and religion while aiding and abetting reactionaries and extremists at home to cause socio-political instability as a pretext for intervention’ in Vietnam.

Finally, the ninth plenum took disciplinary action against four senior members including the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (fraud) and three provincial officials for permitting ethnic minority unrest in the Central Highlands, fraud and financial irregularities, respectively.

The ninth plenum reaffirmed Vietnam’s commitment to continue economic and political reforms at a measured pace. Over the next two and a half years success will be judged by the regime’s ability to develop a comprehensive market economy, an effective program to restructure and equitise state-owned enterprises (especially in the power and telecommunications sectors), and continued efforts to reduce corruption, graft and red tape in order to encourage the return of foreign direct investment.

WATCHPOINT: As Vietnam begins to plan for the Tenth National Party Congress in 2006, to what extent will parochial and conservative elements attempt to stymie the national reform effort in order to protect their vested interests?


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