Is Vietnam the most liberal communist country

Vietnam between stagnation and change

The 11th congress of the ruling Communist Party began on Wednesday (January 12, 2011) in Vietnam's capital Hanoi. Around 1,400 delegates will vote on the future course of the government on behalf of the approximately three million members. At the party congress, which takes place every five years and which lasts until next Wednesday (January 19, 2011), the party and government leaders are re-elected. In addition, the five-year plan for the economic and social reorganization of the country is adopted. The key issue is the country's economic development. According to the party's plans, Vietnam should have developed into a modern industrial state by 2020. It's not that easy, though. Because the problems are manifold.

Sitting still: 1,400 delegates sit close together at the opening ceremony of the 11th Communist Party congress. It takes place every five years.

It's the economy, stupid

The leadership of the communist country recognized early on that opening up the economy is very important for the development of Vietnam. Long before Bill Clinton came up with his famous saying "It's the economy, stupid", she was betting on the economy - but not always as consistently as necessary. The Southeast Asian country has been pursuing a policy of economic liberalization known as "Doi Moi" since 1986.

In his opening speech at the party congress, Nong Duc Manh, the general secretary of the Communist Party, referred to the economic reforms of the past 25 years, which had brought success to the country. However, he also admitted problems such as the lack of competitiveness in many areas of the economy. In addition, it was not possible to curb bureaucracy and corruption sufficiently.

Investor darling - but that's not enough

Factory hall of a textile company in Hanoi

Due to its liberal economic policy, Vietnam quickly became the darling of investors and in recent years has consistently recorded growth rates of an average of seven percent per year. According to forecasts, things should continue in a similarly positive manner. So far, the country with a population of 88 million has owed its growth to mineral resources and cheap labor. However, it must now increasingly adjust to global requirements.

Vietnam was able to increase exports, but imports increased even more. In contrast to most other Asian countries, Vietnam imports more than it exports. The trade deficit in 2010 was around nine billion euros. In addition, the country is struggling with rising inflation and, increasingly, problems with state-owned companies. The Vietnamese Shipbuilding Industry Group (Vinashin), for example, has gotten wrong with acquisitions and is therefore in critical straits.

Economic change

Party leader Nong Duc Manh speaks to the delegates

The Deputy Minister of Planning, Nguyen The Phuong, recently stated that efficiency and competitiveness did not correspond to Vietnam's real possibilities. The general secretary of the ruling communists, Nong Duc Manh, added on Wednesday (January 12, 2011) at the party congress that the country had to "renew its growth model and restructure the economy in order to advance industrialization and modernization with rapid and sustainable growth." To do this, the infrastructure must be modernized and the education system reformed.

So far, Vietnam has been characterized above all by cheap labor, who on average work a third less than the workers in China. Secretary General Manh called for Vietnam to make greater use of science, technology and "high quality human resources" on its way to becoming an industrialized nation. The long-term goal was set by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung at the party conference. It consists in "developing an independent, self-sufficient and highly competitive economy" in the future.

Political standstill

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung wants to modernize the economy

While changes are emerging in the economy, politics looks more like a standstill. The Communist Party continues to adhere to the one-party system. It wasn't long ago that she again turned down requests for admission of other parties. "Vietnam has no need for pluralism or a multi-party system," stated Dinh The Huynh of the Communist Central Committee at a press conference on Monday (January 10, 2011). Anyone who publicly advocates a multi-party system can easily end up in prison in Vietnam.

However, the only party in the state does not lack popular support. The reason for this is the sustained economic growth, which has led to better living conditions. In addition, observers say, founding President Ho Chi Minh and the long history of resisting foreign attacks have strengthened the party's acceptance.

Major changes in the political system in Vietnam are not to be expected from the party congress. However, there will probably be some personnel decisions. It is expected that party leader Nong Duc Manh and President Nguyen Minh Triet will not run again for reasons of age. The current President of the National Assembly, Nguyen Phu Trong, is seen as the favorite for the office of party leader. The 66-year-old is considered a conservative ideologist who has good contacts with China. Party official Truong Tan Sang could succeed as president. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is expected to remain in office.

Author: Marco Müller (dpa, afp, epd)
Editor: Sven Töniges