VIETNAM: The Tenth Party Congress and After

By Thayer, Carlyle A. | Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

VIETNAM: The Tenth Party Congress and After


Thayer, Carlyle A., Southeast Asian Affairs


In 2006 Vietnam marked the twentieth anniversary of its reform programme known as doi moi. Party leaders, state officials, academics, and foreign specialists all took part in a series of conferences that evaluated developments over the past two decades and made recommendations for the future. Simultaneously, members of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) undertook a parallel policy review in preparation for the Tenth Party Congress in April.

One of the hallmarks of doi moi has been Vietnam's transformation from a centrally planned to a market-led economy and Vietnam's integration into the global economy. In 2006 no two events better symbolized Vietnam's success in attaining these objectives than its membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the successful hosting of the 14th Summit Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum from 18 to 19 November. The Presidents of Chile, China, Russia, and the United States made separate official state visits at this time. Vietnam also achieved the third highest economic growth rate in East Asia. The year 2006, therefore, was one of "success, success, great success", to quote a party slogan.

As a result, Vietnam was showered with accolades by foreign observers. For example, the President of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation characterized Vietnam as "one of the world's great untapped emerging markets".1 The Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) described Vietnam as an "emerging China".2 After the Tenth Party Congress, the foreign media portrayed leadership changes as a victory of southern entrepreneurial spirit over northern conservatism.3

This article presents a review of major political, economic, and foreign policy developments in 2006. The analysis documents Vietnam's accomplishments but also tempers the assessment with reference to cross currents that present a more complex portrait of contemporary Vietnam.

Domestic Politics

In January 2006 the VCP Central Committee's Thirteenth Plenum considered a report from the Politburo summarizing the results of a six-month period of in-house consultation on key draft policy documents to be submitted to the Tenth Congress. The Central Committee also considered the procedures for selecting candidates for the party's highest leadership positions.4 After the Congress documents were revised, the draft Political Report was released to the general public for comment on 3 February.5

What occurred next was totally unanticipated as an outpouring of comment deluged the state-owned media.6 For the first time, public opinion was facilitated electronically by the use of the Internet. For example, Vietnam.net, a state-owned web site, sponsored an extraordinary discussion on the future of the Communist Party. Newspapers and other web sites were bombarded with comments covering sensitive political issues such as the party's monopoly on power and corruption.7 The very fact that public debate was permitted to take place without overt suppression was an indication of greater openness and internal democracy within the VCP.8

In the midst of this massive outpouring, TMOZ Tre newspaper published an unprecedented yet officially sanctioned editorial calling for the Minister of Transport to resign from office over a corruption scandal.9 Earlier in the year the head of the Ministry's Project Management Unit 18 had been arrested and charged with misappropriating US$7 million from the budget to gamble on European football results.10 At the same time, the Deputy Minister of Transport was detained. This scandal attracted international attention because the funds involved were part of development assistance provided by the World Bank and Japan.11 As public pressure mounted, the Minister took personal responsibility and resigned.

The VCP Central Committee convened two additional executive sessions prior to the Tenth Congress. At the Fourteenth Plenum (20-24 March), the Documentation Sub-Committee was asked to canvass members one last time before completing the Political Report. …

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