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Reviewed by:
  • Vietnam's Development Strategies
  • Danny Wong Tze-Ken (bio)
Vietnam's Development Strategies. By Pietro P. Masina. London and New York: Routledge, 2006. Hardcover: 182 pp.

It has been two decades since the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) launched its groundbreaking policy of Doi Moi [Renovation] that began the country's march towards modernization and unprecedented economic advance. The successes achieved within these two decades have been nothing short of a miracle. Not only was the country able to overcome some of its most pressing economic problems confronting the CPV during the 1980s, it greatly surpassed the goals it had set out to achieve in 1986. The country is doing extremely well economically, consistently attaining a high 8 per cent GDP in the last few years. It has also, to a large extent, been able to translate these economic achievements into an unprecedented higher standard of living among a large segment of its eighty million population. Economic success aside, perhaps the most crucial achievement of Doi Moi has been the rejuvenation of the CPV in the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Far from being threatened, as was the perception during the height of the economic crisis of the early 1980s, the party's popularity has greatly increased and its image as the champion and defender of the Vietnamese people has also been enhanced.

Various studies on Vietnam's economic reform during the implementation of Doi Moi have been published, especially on the initial ten years. Masina's study, however, ventures further to cover the period beyond the Asian economic crisis of 1997–98. The book indicates two elements central to any analysis of the Vietnamese development reform process that are substantially under-developed in the current debate: the experience of East Asian developing states and the question of socialism within a future market economy. It is the hope of the author that the book will open up debate to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy on how development should be carried out in Vietnam and to test possible future alternatives for the country.

The book provides a useful historical overview of Vietnam's development strategies adopted over the years by the CPV, starting with the period of Ho Chi Minh's earlier rudimentary rural collectivism and the way the regime coped with the issue of development during the Vietnam War. It then looks at the problems faced by the CPV during the early years of post-1975 reunified Vietnam and how they eventually brought about the introduction of Doi Moi.

The appearance of the book is timely as it aspires to answer two fundamental questions related to the market-oriented reforms introduced by the CPV at a crucial period when its legitimacy to [End Page 520] rule seemed to have been undermined by the pathetic state of the country's economy during the early 1980s. First, how successful were the reforms and how does that balance the opposing stand of capitalist-inspired market-oriented economy versus the central-planning economy practised by the CPV all along? Having successfully explained the nature of the reforms and how the CPV, like its counterpart in China, the CPC, had rationalized the reforms as a market-oriented economy with socialist characteristics, comes the second question: how did the CPV steer the Vietnamese economy through the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s?

Masina raises some vital questions regarding Vietnam's successes in carrying out the reforms. While acknowledging the unequal success of the reforms, even in weathering the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, Masina's analysis casts doubt on the ability of the country to forge ahead with greater strides as it was able to do during the initial stages of Doi Moi. The study also shows that the country's reform agenda is still dominated by a "developmental orthodoxy" which, according to the author, will render it ineffective in the future (pp. 6–7, 22).

Some of these questions expose the fundamental structural weaknesses of the CPV-led state as it continues to rule with old ideas (depending on the only structure understood by its leaders). Masina is extremely critical of its consensus decision-making which, according to him, worked during...


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pp. 520-524
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