Who Won the War? Greed, Schism and the Party Faithful in Vietnam

By Foster, Charles | Contemporary Review, November 1992 | Go to article overview

Who Won the War? Greed, Schism and the Party Faithful in Vietnam


Foster, Charles, Contemporary Review


THE Hanoi regime could soon be in serious trouble. The danger is of a nation split along the old north-south divide, with hedonistic Saigon as the capital of the south, or one split into a thousand petty feudal baronies.

Vietnam is one of the poorest nations on earth. That was true even before its principal benefactor, the Soviet Union, disintegrated. Because of Hanoi's tight fiscal grip of the whole country, that poverty is fairly evenly distributed. It is genuinely difficult to be rich in Vietnam at the expense of your neighbour. But the potential to be rich is not evenly spread. It is concentrated in the south. The south gives to the north a good proportion of its rice (used both as the staple diet and to pay off Vietnam's colossal foreign debt), the hope of income from oil and gas deposits currently being prospected for in the Mekong Delta by western multinationals and the state oil company, and a rapidly growing revenue from tourism. The north gives to the south a bit of coal, big bills and a lot of oppressive legislation. In Vietnam, he who pays the piper gets told what tune to play.

Since 1975 there has been a growing self confidence in the south, and a corresponding resentment of the constraints imposed on its potential for economic (and, later, cultural) self-fulfilment. When the Americans left and a unified state was proclaimed, the South Vietnamese were too busy and too relieved to compare with envious eyes the rice production figures of north and south. But as there was peace, of a sort, for a while, and the Vietnamese began to ask more than simply not to be napalmed, whispers began in Saigon. People wondered, increasingly aloud, whether the horrific price which South Vietnam had paid between 1964-75 had bad a sufficient return It had not been Hanoi which had been defoliated. North Vietnamese babies were not born limbless because of the Agent Orange in their mothers' diets. And the reporters and tourists who tip-toed nervously back to Vietnam told the Saigonese that Saigon was better than Hanoi, and that they would tell their friends to come south, not north. The tourists said that they preferred the coloured silks of the smiling Saigon hostesses to the dowdy dark overalls of the stone faced party functionaries in Hanoi. The Saigonese know well that their potential for generating wealth is greater than that of Hanoi. Moscow's collapse means that the north will be demanding that the south subsidises it more than ever, and the increasing feeling in Saigon is: |Why should we? We can manage by ourselves. We want our northern borders to be at Danang'.

Hanoi could do one of two things. It could declare that there will be a free market, with taxes to match. There have been moves towards economic liberalisation, but for doctrinal reasons which will not evaporate for a generation, they stopped far short of what the south will be demanding. Cultural liberalisation was rejected. …

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