Vietnam: setting out its stall for business

Vietnam: setting out its stall for business

I left Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, on May 19, the 125th anniversary of Ho Chi Minh's birth. He was the hero of independence and the country celebrates his anniversary by flying the communist red flag with its yellow star everywhere, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Hanoi has a beautiful lake in the city centre and as I walked around it I watched an outdoor performance on a square in front of a huge, well-placed wall showing Ho Chi Minh’s image.

I saw a beautiful performance of artistic dance and gymnastics before a choir appeared, singing what I thought was classical opera, but then I heard the words ‘Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh’. The male voice choir was dressed smartly in suits and ties with neatly cut hair.

But the words reminded me of my childhood when we watched student demonstrations in European capitals in 1968-1969. The demonstrators did not sing nicely. They shouted. They had long, unkempt hair and were scruffily dressed. But the message was the same ‘Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh’ and they carried a little red book, the Mao bible.

The demonstrators claimed the ethical and scientific superiority of communism and some groups received financing from the Soviet bloc.

The reality of Vietnam - in spite of its red flags - has little to do with what Europeans associate with a socialist system and nothing in common with a Soviet one. Yes, they call themselves a socialist republic, they are dominated by a party calling itself communist, and they are not a Western-style democracy.

But arriving in Vietnam is easy. No landing card is needed and passport control is fast. The internet is open and free as opposed to some other countries. A large number of people are starting their own businesses, there is a stock exchange, and FDI is important.

A market economy is developing under an, admittedly, one-party regime. I talked with a number of people who had started their own business and wanted ideas for branding to succeed and build exports. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking.

FDI amounted to US$3.7 billion in the first quarter of 2015 with US$2.8 billion in the manufacturing sector.

South Korea is the biggest foreign investor. Turkey and Japan are very important but China is probably more prominent, although it does not figure in the statistics. The British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong and Singapore are among the six strongest investors and these are likely to have companies with Chinese money.

The government wants the economy to develop and to privatise more state-owned companies. However, the development of agriculture, which has huge potential in rice and coffee, still needs attention.

Vietnam is also keen to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the US. This demands competition and a market economy. Vietnam is also a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

It has a difficult relationship with China because it feels threatened, and is looking for a political partnership with the US while collaborating with India and South Korea on defence.

It is a beautiful country with well-educated people. While it is autocratic, it leaves its people a high degree of personal development potential and business opportunities, as opposed to the Soviet system.

Vietnam, with its 90 million inhabitants, will remain one of the world's fastest-growing economies looking for further FDI. Vietnamese companies will also become increasingly active globally.

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