Vietnam celebrates Liberation Day

Issue 

There are two unforgettable images of Vietnam's Liberation Day on April 30, 1975.

The first is the image of liberation fighters entering the Independence Palace (now Reunification Palace) in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). The second is the hasty evacuation by helicopter from the roof of the US embassy.

Thirty-four years later, Vietnam will celebrate not just the end of a 16-year war of aggression by the US, Australia and other states, but also the end of the two-decade-long economic blockade that was subsequently imposed by the US on this poor and war-ravaged nation.

A decade of economic stagnation and widespread hunger was eases after a broad economic reform package called doi moi (renovation) introduced market reforms in 1986. Since then, according to the Vietnam News Agency, Vietnam became one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging around 8% annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth from 1990 to 1997 and 6.5% from 1998-2003.

Agricultural production doubled, transforming Vietnam from a net food importer to the world's second-largest exporter of rice.

Annual per capita income, US$220 in 1994, had risen to $483 by 2003, with a related reduction in the share of the population living in acute poverty. However, average income is widely disparate —$483 on average for the whole country, but $1640 in Ho Chi Minh City. It is much lower in poorer provinces of the central and northern highlands.

This was acknowledged by VNA, which said that "in the context of integration into the world economy, it is likely that the gap between the rich and the poor will grow larger and there should be new measures to bridge the gap".

The VNA said that much of Vietnam's new-found prosperity comes from commodity exports like oil and agricultural products. The International Monetary Fund says Vietnam is the world's largest pepper exporter, and the second-largest exporter of rice, coffee and cocoa. Tourist arrivals have reached three million visitors a year.

However, this also leaves the economy susceptible to international economic conditions. The Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s slowed the pace of economic growth that marked the earlier part of the decade. While returning to pre-crisis levels of growth and development has been slow, the pace has since picked up, primarily as the result of ongoing economic and trade liberalisation.

Le Vinh Thu, the head of a four-person delegation from the Communist Party of Vietnam, told the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney over April 10-12 that the current global economic crisis was already having a serious impact on the Vietnamese economy.

While Vietnam has moved towards a more market-oriented economy, the government continues to hold a tight rein over major sectors of the economy, such as the banking system and state-owned enterprises. This was evident when the country faced twin blow-outs in inflation and the trade deficit.

In February 2008, the annualised inflation rate topped 15%. In May, prices rose 3.9% in a single month, according to a December 12 Deutsche Presse-Agentur report.

"Prices were also being driven up by high worldwide prices for oil and food ... The government tried to hold down prices, freezing the prices of basic materials like petrol and steel", DPA said.

"Finally, the government did something many Western governments might find odd: it told banks to stop lending out so much money. And it told massive state-owned corporations to stop spending money on speculative ventures unrelated to their core businesses."

By September, inflation was down to a monthly rate of just 0.2%. In October and November, prices actually fell.

The obvious question is whether the Vietnamese government will be able to use its relatively greater influence over the economy to ease the impact of the worst global recession since the Great Depression.

While Vietnam's recent economic growth has been driven by opening the country to the global market, it has also secured stronger economic cooperation with Venezuela's socialist government, especially in developing Vietnam's oil and gas industry.

One affect of the war that Vietnam continues to suffer from is the posioning of its country by US military forces. US corporations provided the military with tens of million of litres of chemicals. Millions of Vietnamese people, and their offspring, have been exposed with disasterous consequences. Soldiers from the occupying forces were also affected.

US chemical firms first admitted to the damage caused by Agent Orange/dioxin in 1984, with an out-of-court settlement paying $180 million in compensation to affected US war veterans.
Nonetheless, in March the US Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Vietnamese Agent Orange victims — denying Vietnamese people justice for sufferings imposed by the occupying US-led forces.

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