Rethinking Vietnam

Rethinking Vietnam

Rethinking Vietnam

Rethinking Vietnam

Synopsis

It is a uniquely comprehensive overview of this fascinating and rapidly changing country, dealing with the politics, economics and society of Vietnam from the Doi Moi reforms of market socialism in 1986 to the present day.

Excerpt

Duncan McCargo

As every Southeast Asianist knows, Vietnam is a country, not a war. Yet the legacy of ideological and military conflict that has shaped Vietnam has long impeded dispassionate discussion of Vietnamese society. Writers on Vietnam typically bring with them considerable intellectual baggage. Much work on Vietnam derives - to use a phrase coined by Herbert Phillips in another context - from a 'scholarship of admiration' (Phillips 1979:449). Yet this widespread enthusiasm is a mixed blessing for critical analysis. Commentators and academics who admire the achievements of Vietnam, notably the remarkable achievement of successively defeating both the French and the Americans, have tended to write in broadly positive terms about the country's performance in a wide range of areas. in particular, Vietnam's record in the basic education and health sectors, combined with its relatively low socio-economic inequalities, has attracted considerable plaudits. Many of those plaudits have come from writers on the left, especially the European left, who saw in those statistical indicators further evidence that the nationalist struggle with the United States of America had been a just cause. For them, Vietnam was the socialist society that worked. For some American scholars, those same achievements vindicated their own previous opposition to United States (US) involvement in the Indochina conflict. For these writers, Vietnam's success would be determined by the degree to which the country could defend the socialist ideals underlying the revolutionary struggle.

The 1986 introduction of doi moi, a programme of economic reform and renovation, introduced a new form of admiration for Vietnam, especially when the early years of reform produced striking benefits in ameliorating the shortcomings of a centralised state structure. Vietnam acquired a new set of admirers: neo-liberals who saw the country as a laboratory for the introduction of a very different set of economic principles, and international investors who saw Vietnam as a country ripe for entrepreneurial activities, a sizeable domestic market, and an important regional player in the wider Indochinese and Southeast Asian economies. the mood of this period was captured in Thai prime minister Chatichai Choonavan's call for the battlefields to be turned into marketplaces. Implicit here was a quiet triumphalism on the part of conservative analysts, for whom Vietnam's adoption of free market principles was a belated vindication of the Indochina conflict: Vietnam might have dealt the United States a temporary military setback,

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