Vietnam Populist Party
Photographer: Justin Mott/Bloomberg
Like other would-be tiger economies, Vietnam faces a trifecta of new threats: a crisis-paralyzed Europe, a faltering America, and a newly spendthrift Japan. Yet the biggest risk to the nation’s future may be old-fashioned nostalgia.
It has been 27 years since Hanoi launched the “Doi Moi” reforms that allowed privately owned companies to participate in the economy and opened key sectors, such as agriculture. The rapid growth that followed propelled Vietnam toward the realm of middle-income nations, transforming the onetime war zone into a case study for development and poverty reduction. Now, though, Vietnam’s 1986 blueprint for a “socialist-oriented market economy” is looking dated.
The decision by the European Council on 22 April 2013 to lift all sanctions against Myanmar was widely predicted. Whatever purpose they might have served over the last 25 years had long since evaporated and it only remained for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to deliver the coup de grace which she had no hesitation in doing in a telephone conversation with Foreign Secretary William Hague shortly after the meeting of G8 Foreign Minister earlier this month.
Human rights groups have lamented the decision. “The EU’s scrapping of targeted sanctions on Burma is premature and recklessly imperils human rights gains made so far,” intoned Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch, in an April 22 statement. “EU member states are ditching measures that have motivated the current progress and gambling on the good will of Burma’s government and military to keep their word to keep reforms on track.”
The woman who was once the world's most famous political prisoner is now wearing the less glamorous mantle of a mere politician.
Aung San Suu Kyi's re-election last weekend as chair of the party she helped found 35 years ago was one of the few certainties in today's Burma.
As one of the party elders said, without her the National League for Democracy is meaningless.
[Foreign Affairs] By Yasheng Huang
Nothing to see here: protesting a chemical plant in Zhejiang Province, China, October 27, 2012. (Carlos Barria / Courtesy Reuters)
In 2011, standing in front of the Royal Society (the British academy of sciences), Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao declared, “Tomorrow’s China will be a country that fully achieves democracy, the rule of law, fairness, and justice. Without freedom, there is no real democracy. Without guarantee of economic and political rights, there is no real freedom.” Eric Li’s article in these pages, “The Life of the Party,” pays no such lip service to democracy. Instead, Li, a Shanghai-based venture capitalist, declares that the debate over Chinese democratization is dead: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will not only stay in power; its success in the coming years will “consolidate the one-party model and, in the process, challenge the West’s conventional wisdom about political development.” Li might have called the race too soon.
Li cites high public approval of China’s general direction as evidence that the Chinese prefer the political status quo. In a country without free speech, however, asking people to directly evaluate their leaders’ performance is a bit like giving a single-choice exam. More rigorous surveys that frame questions in less politically sensitive ways directly contradict his conclusion. According to 2003 surveys cited in How East Asians View Democracy, edited by the researchers Yun-han Chu, Larry Diamond, Andrew Nathan, and Doh Chull Shin, 72.3 percent of the Chinese public polled said they believed that democracy is “desirable for our country now,” and 67 percent said that democracy is “suitable for our country now.” These two numbers track with those recorded for well-established East Asian democracies, including Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Intra-party rivals may pull him down
Prime Minster Nguyen Tan Dung's grip on Vietnam's government is weakening. The Vietnamese premier is under attack by intra-party rivals who don't like his rich friends and fault his management of the economy. If Dung goes down, important changes in Vietnam's management of economic and social issues are likely to follow.
As a rule, Vietnam's Communist Party doesn't wash its dirty linen in public. Its spokesmen work hard to maintain the party's aura of competence and infallibility. Party members don't gossip with outsiders about party matters. Decisions made by the party's Politburo or its Central Committee are portrayed as unanimous.
Article 4 of Vietnam's constitution is very clear about the Communist Party's monopoly of political power: the CPV "is the force assuming leadership of the State and society." About one Vietnamese in 30 -- some 3 million altogether -- are members. There are party committees in every village and every city neighborhood.
The CPV renews its leadership at party congresses that cap months of alliance-mending and horse-trading. Typically this is not a winner-take-all event, but rather one that aims at updating the internal balance among factions and interests while retiring aging leaders bloodlessly.