If the Ho Chi Minh trail still existed, says Thomas Friedmann of the New York Times, it would almost certainly be a toll road (New York Times, 15 January 1995:17). In comparison to other post-socialist transitional states, Vietnam has liberalised relatively quickly and, in many respects, has embarked upon a reform programme that has moved faster and further than other comparable state socialist economies with a large agrarian base (for example China, Cuba or Laos). Vietnam remains, of course, rural and overwhelmingly impoverishedaccording to the latest World Bank report (1995:7) 51 per cent of the Vietnamese population is classified as poor-lagging behind other Asian economies, in a distant league from the Asian newly industrialising states. Vietnam is a case of striking socialist reform, and according to some very possibly an Asian ‘tiger’ in the making (Reidel 1993; EIU 1994). As if to ratify these predictions, the Vietnamese leadership has openly acknowledged the South Korean and Taiwanese economies as provisional sorts of models for its curious blend of free markets and Leninism, a political economy described by the Communist Party in its extraordinary linguistic copulations as ‘socialist-oriented multi-sectoral economy driven by the state-regulated market mechanism’, what the Far Eastern Economic Review has dubbed ‘Vietnamonomics’ (FEER, 26 October 1995:7). Whether one interprets this hybrid economy, as ranking Politburo member Dao Duy Tung does, as a confirmation that Vietnam has ‘skipped capitalism’ (FEER, 26 October 1995:52) or more cynically as a case of ‘the party plus capitalism equals socialism’ (Kolko 1995), is perhaps of less relevance than the fact that the
model has unequivocally produced tiger-like economic growth rates (Figure 20.l).1 Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet told the national assembly at the end of November 1995 that the economy had been growing at 9.5 per cent (up from 8.8 per cent) in 1994; industrial output expanded by 14 per cent and agriculture by almost 5 per cent. Exports are expected to rise by 30 per cent (up from 24 per cent in 1994 and 15 per cent in 1993).