Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Glint of Change for Vietnam

April 22, 2001

The ruling old dogs in Hanoi could not learn new tricks, and they never really tried very hard. They gave a new name--doi moi, or open door--to their Communist governing philosophy though they kept the old tools: political oppression and rigid economic order administered by arbitrary rules and corrupt officials. Transforming Communist Vietnam will take years, but the pressure on the power elite is mounting and some of the officials who stood in the way of progress are leaving. That offers a flicker of hope for change.

Disregarding its conservative Politburo's wishes--in itself a sign the top layer of the Communist Party is cracking--the Central Committee earlier this week ousted Le Kha Phieu, the hard-line head of the party, and replaced him with a younger, more moderate legislator, Nong Duc Manh. With Phieu go his senior advisor, Do Muoi, and two other veteran hard-liners. The party also expelled or disciplined thousands of its members for corruption, some at the very top. Endorsement of the new leader today by the party Congress is considered a formality.

Vietnam embarked on doi moi in the late 1980s, partly to emulate Communist China next door and to pull the country out of famine. The United States responded by lifting economic sanctions and establishing diplomatic relations with Hanoi. The two countries signed a trade agreement last year that calls for radical changes in the way Vietnam runs its economy. Speedy ratification of the agreement by the U.S. Congress would help Vietnam's new leadership implement those changes. President Bush should submit the agreement to Congress, which, in the past, has expressed strong bipartisan support for normalizing trade relations with Vietnam. Bush, after all, regards robust free trade as a powerful vehicle for assisting political change.

The doi moi reforms did not meet expectations of the international community but were not wholly ineffectual. They created an opening for tens of thousands of Vietnamese who had fled their homeland after the war ended in 1975 to return, bringing with them their entrepreneurship and new ideas and raising expectations. When those expectations are not met, peasants rise to protest local corruption, ethnic minorities demand greater rights and even the docile trade unions dare to strike for higher wages. Clearly, the rulers in Hanoi are beginning to feel that having cracked the door open, they let in not only the sunshine but a whirlwind of change as well.

Vietnam will not transform to a market economy overnight, but if it is to happen at all, there must be a change at the top. The departure of Phieu and his backward-looking advisors is a long step in the right direction.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|