By Ding Gang
As dusk descended and lights started to illuminate the streets, our car drove into Hanoi. Roads are smoother and wider than they were when I had my first visit to the city six years ago. Overpasses have emerged, and although motorbikes still dominate the highways, the number of cars has obviously increased. Our Vietnamese driver told us that a car with a 1.6 liter engine costs about $25,000, and some jobless young people saved money to buy cars and became Uber drivers.
Above Hanoi’s streets hang red banners celebrating Vietnam’s national day, and occasional propaganda posters featured confident and energetic Vietnamese soldiers and workers.
However, behind these banners and posters are flickering lights and the bustling nightlife of an emerging city.
Elegantly-designed neon lights twinkled on bars, cafes, malls and hotels. Floor-to-ceiling windows along the streets showed off new merchandise – cars, furniture, lamps, and even people working out on running machines. Towering cranes could be seen all around. Hanoi is fast-changing, resembling a lot of Chinese cities.
In an interview, Do Tien Sam, former director of the Institute of Chinese Studies at the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences, talked a lot about the cooperation between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) on state governance.
Vietnam can easily cause a feeling of déjà vu among the Chinese. From conference rooms where front walls often feature political leaders’ portraits and the flag of the Communist Party to the arrangement of seats in dining rooms and meeting halls, Vietnam impresses a lot of Chinese as a smaller China, or just China itself, but only a few years ago.
Sam told us that the CPV has been paying keen attention to the CPC’s experience in political and economic reform and opening up to the outside world. The problems that used to disturb China have also emerged in Vietnam.
The CPV knows that by drawing on lessons from the CPC, it can avoid difficult twists and turns. The CPV knows that following a big trail-blazer gives it an edge.
Vietnam has basically followed the path of China in the reform and opening-up. In 1988, the CPV Politburo relaxed its rigid control over agriculture and adopted a household-responsibility system. As a result, from 1990 to 2014, Vietnam reduced the country’s hungry population from 46 percent to 13 percent. It became the world’s second-largest exporter of rice in 1999, and is the second-largest producer of coffee and the first-largest exporter of cashews.
Agricultural prosperity has laid a solid foundation for Vietnam’s industrialization. A lot of young people from the countryside have swarmed into cities, and with their urban peers they have become a prominent source of labor. Industrialization has become the only way to meet the requirements of these job-seekers.
However, this doesn’t mean the CPV’s reform and opening-up has been conducted without breaking a sweat. Sam believed the Communist Party is faced with a series of crises, such as backward economic performance, lack of competitiveness in global markets, deviation from socialism, bureaucracy, corruption and peaceful evolution. A widening wealth gap and social polarization are also troubling Vietnam.
In Vietnam, there is a growing trend that combines anti-China and anti-socialist sentiments. Instigated by populism, the trend has had a powerful impact on Vietnam’s governing elite.
Some CPV members and cadres have called for the Westernization of Vietnamese society, and even demanded the country abandon socialism and stop depending on China. The new trajectory has much complicated Sino-Vietnamese ties and added political burdens to bilateral trade.
The economy is crucial to social stability and the legitimacy of the CPV to rule in Vietnam. Thus the CPV and the Vietnamese government always put the economy as a priority, and maintain a balance between social stability, economic development and major-power relations. It is not hard to anticipate China-Vietnam relations that Vietnam expects. A Vietnamese scholar said that more Chinese investment will help consolidate the CPV as a ruling party.
The author is a senior editor with People’s Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina
Chinese investment helps stabilize socialist rule in Vietnam
By Ding Gang