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Southeast Asian Affairs 2006 VIETNAM Laying the Path for the 10th National Congress Danny Wong Tze Ken The past 12 months have been a very successful year for Vietnam's foreign relations. The single most important event in Vietnam's foreign relations calendar in 2005 was Prime Minister Phan Van Khai's six-day visit to the United States from 19 to 25 June. The visit, the first by a national leader of Vietnam to the United States in 30 years, coincided with the tenth anniversary of the normalization of relations between the two countries. The event is also important as it came exactly 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War when the two sides faced off in the conflict. On his return to Vietnam, the visit was celebrated as a huge success, and the event was described by Prime Minister Khai as an event that would hardly have been possible only ten years earlier.1 The success of Khai's visit is significant for Vietnam in at least three ways: first, it points to the further improvements in the Vietnam-US relations; second, it reveals the unconventional Vietnamese stance on several important issues affecting the nation; and third, the government hopes to capitalize on the successes in its foreign relations to strengthen its position in domestic politics, especially in the run-up to the 10th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) in 2006. In 2005, however, domestic issues continued to dominate much of Vietnam's politics. The ruling party, the CPV, faced challenges in pursuing its reform programme without compromising its position as the paramount party in the country. The threats posed by endemic corruption and the government's efforts to overcome it, questions relating to religious freedom and the government's handling of political dissidents continued to dominate much of Vietnam's domestic politics Danny Wong Tze Ken is Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Malaya. 346Danny Wong Tze Ken as well as getting the attention of its leaders. The pace of equitization of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), by turning them into joint stock companies, and Vietnam's pending entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) were two of the main economic concerns. Also of great concern was the threat posed by the avian flu, as Vietnam was the worst-hit country in the region. The Party Since Nong Due Manh took over as Party Secretary General in 2001, the CPV leadership has reiterated its commitment towards continued economic reform. The introduction of the doi moi programme during the party's 6th National Congress in 1986 has transformed Vietnam from a centrally planned to a market-oriented economy. Through the success of the reform programme, Vietnam graduated from the list of the world's 50 poorest nations to be among the most dynamic and fastest-growing economies in the world.2 Its poverty rate went down from 60 per cent in 1990 to 20 per cent in 2005.3 In the past three years, Vietnam consistently registered an annual GDP growth rate of 7.5 to 8 per cent. In 2005 its GDP reached an estimated 8 per cent, making the country one of the most vibrant economies in Southeast Asia. Per capita income has grown from a mere US$289 in 1995 to about US$542 in 2005.4 Since the 9th National Congress in 2001, the CPV has taken considerable steps to innovate the party and the government to preserve its integrity and to remain relevant and attractive to the Vietnamese people. The party also gained an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly elected in May 2002. This victory was seen by the party as an endorsement of its commitment to pursue further reform while remaining firmly on the socialist path. Another very important measure taken under Nong Due Manh's leadership was the attempt to push through tough anti-corruption legislation over the last few years, especially in 2005. While doi moi was started as an economic reform programme, the CPV leaders have never lost sight of the underlying reasons for its introduction. The reform programme was introduced top-down, which pointed to the sensitivity of the CPV...


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