Vo Van Kiet is Dead
The death of the former Vietnamese Prime Minister has been announced. He was the man who opened the economy and made many Vietnamese rich.
Former premier of Vietnam has died in Singapore, the island country he so admired for its economic and social development. Mr Kiet was Prime Minister from 1991-7 and it was his impetus which brought about the doi moi economic reform and the normalization of relationships with the USA.
The effect of doi moi was to change Vietnam from a command economy to a market-based one, welcoming foreign direct investment and changing the entire legal system to enable the necessary changes. As a result, Vietnam has become one of the world’s fastest growing economies (from a low base, of course) and the stable political environment has made it popular with many investors, notably from Japan. Relationships with both the USA and China, which had been frosty since the 1989 war, have been improved, largely as a result of the need to improve the economy. There are some problems but anyone who has been to Vietnam recently will almost certainly have been impressed with the sense of vibrancy and unleashed entrepreneurialism. Vietnamese students certainly impress with their diligence and determination and their willingness to overcome problems suffered by them and their families in the past.
Mr Kiet was born into humble circumstances in South Vietnam but rose to prominence in the Communist Party, despite a number of characteristics which were contrary to normal Communist behaviour. He took up golf, for example, despite its reputation as a “capitalist game” and was supposed to enjoy wine drinking, which also had its own reputation, as a relic of colonialism. His wife too was unusual in having earned a doctorate, in a political environment which was generally suspicious of intellectuals and academics. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that Mr Kiet was something of a reformer both politically and economically. Bringing about doi moi required him to deal with comrades who were required to give up their political territories and power bases and he worked efficiently in doing this. He also made known his views on social issues and Vietnam remains a socially conservative society, which is reflected in the approach of the media to events and personalities.
That Mr Kiet died in Singapore is perhaps appropriate, given the close relationship he established with Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore. If Vietnam can continue its course in the same way that the Lion City has, then it will greatly add to the happiness of the eighty million Vietnamese.