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2011年1月25日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 24
EDITORIAL: Change in Vietnam

In Japanese eyes, what kind of country is Vietnam? For the older generation, Vietnam evokes images of winning its war of national liberation against France and the United States. For the young generation, Vietnam might be a cheap vacation spot where they can buy cute bric-a-brac. Of late, Vietnam is gaining attention as a potential buyer of nuclear power plants and Shinkansen trains.


But, the Japanese don't know much about Vietnam's political system or its society.

And now in Vietnam, the Communist Party that single-handedly rules the country has held its party congress, which takes place once every five years, and selected as its new general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong. This is the first change of party leader in 10 years.

In the 10-year plan adopted by the congress, the leaders intend to carry on the annual 7-8 percent average economic growth, and become an industrialized country by 2020 by nearly tripling the GDP per capita to $3,000 (249,000 yen).

An ambitious goal, but the economic environment changing.

Vietnam's currency is losing value, inflation is on the rise, fiscal and trade deficits are increasing. The national shipbuilding company is in a management crisis, and investors are losing trust.

It has been a quarter of a century since the country began its "doi moi" policies of creating a market economy. Despite great progress economically, the income disparity is growing larger. The people are disgruntled by corruption that permeates the government.

For the new administration, its immediate task is to purge itself of this corruption, ease the disparity and manage economic policies.

In contrast to economic growth, progress in political-social reform, in things like democratization and human rights protection, tend to be extremely slow. It seems that within the party, there was much debate about the latest shuffling. Almost nothing of what was actually said has been made public, and a review is impossible.

There is no end to the incarceration of anti-government activists and repression of religion. According to Reporters without Borders and its ratings of countries and journalistic freedoms, Vietnam ranks 165th among 178 countries and regions.

Doi moi means renovation. The new administration needs to embark upon an ambitious doi moi in its political and social reform, as well.

In that sense, the general election scheduled for May is gaining attention. The right of people to stand for office is limited, so just how many non-Communist Party nominees and nominees without support from party-related organizations manage to gain office is a thing to watch. There were less than 10 percent in the last election.

For Japan, Vietnam is a promising market and a place for investment. The Kan government seems intent on living or dying by the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, and Vietnam has already started negotiations with other countries about its entry.

Japan is also seeking cooperation in national security, with an eye on China's rapid military expansion, and intends to start a joint development project with Vietnam for rare earth minerals.

Japan and Vietnam consider each other as "strategic partners for peace and prosperity in Asia."

If so, the Japanese government should also encourage Vietnam in its democratization and political reform efforts.

Japan should occasionally point out to Vietnam things that may not necessarily sit well, like human rights issues. That kind of attitude should, in the long run, lead to a better relationship between the two countries, and help create a stable Vietnam.


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