Japan Targets Vietnam for Aid and Investment
Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE end of the 1992 United States presidential campaign is good news to Vietnam.
As the latest "rising economic dragon" in Asia, Vietnam is expected to receive large-scale aid and investment from Japan that could lead to a quick erosion of the US-led economic embargo against Hanoi.
During the long US campaign, Japan was wary of offering economic help to its Asian neighbor for fear of being criticized by the lobby for families of US soldiers missing-in-action (MIA) in Vietnam.
The embargo's present aim is to force Hanoi to return the remains of American MIAs. Its original purpose, which Japan and many countries supported, was to punish Vietnam for its 1978 invasion of Cambodia. Last year's settlement of that conflict has opened holes in the embargo and helped to reduce Vietnam's damaging economic isolation.
With the spotlight of the US campaign now gone, Japan is less willing to support the US embargo and will soon announce - perhaps today - that it is granting about $379 million in credit to Vietnam. About half of that low-interest credit will go to help Hanoi pay back overdue debt to Japan.
Japanese companies, a few of which were criticized by the US in 1987 for trying to invest in Vietnam, have been waiting for the start of aid to unleash a major investment offensive. In addition, many firms hope to benefit by building roads, bridges, electric plants, and other public works that Japan's new aid will finance.
Investors from Japan hope to tap Vietnam's natural resources, especially offshore oil; to take advantage of low wages and a strong work-ethic; and to get in early on a market of 67 million people, despite the present level of poverty.
"Japanese companies have been preparing for the green light," says James Paradise, an analyst at Dresdner-ADB Securities in Tokyo. …