Rest in prosperity

2010-04-30 00:00

THIRTY-FIVE YEARS after the end of the Vietnam War, the people of the country are optimistic about the future, bullish about the free market and rarely think about a conflict that still ignites political passions in the United States.

A new Associated Press-GfK Poll, one of the most exhaustive surveys to date of contemporary Vietnamese attitudes, underscores how rapidly life has changed in Vietnam. Under a single-party communist government, the country has embraced market-oriented reforms and lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty.

Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said the economy is stronger than it was five years ago, and 87% said they expect it to be even stronger in another five years. Eighty-one percent said the country is moving in the right direction.

Their optimism stands in stark contrast to the widespread pessimism in the United States, where recent polls show that many Americans believe that their nation is on the wrong track.

“The country has changed so much in so many ways since the end of the war that you can’t imagine,” said Luong Trung Thanh (72), a retired teacher from Hanoi.

“It changes every day, right in front of your eyes. There are tall buildings going up everywhere.”

The war ended on April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, to communist troops from the north.

Initially, hunger was widespread as the government launched a centrally planned economy and the West imposed an economic blockade. Nguyen Thi Thao (83) remembers lining up with vouchers at government shops in Hanoi, waiting for her allotment of rice and other supplies.

But two decades ago, the communist leadership began opening up the economy, sparking a boom in this Southeast Asian nation of 86 million people.

Economic growth has averaged more than seven percent annually over the past decade, and the share of the population living in poverty has fallen from 58% in 1993 to 11% last year. Per capita income has risen from $400 in 2000 to $1 000. Incomes are roughly twice that in the two largest cities, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the capital.

At a shop in central Hanoi, Vietnam’s upwardly mobile snap up digital cameras, iPods and other hi-tech devices. The shop already has iPads on its shelves. Nevertheless, bread-and- butter issues remain the top priority for most families, according to the poll.

Many of those surveyed expressed anxieties about inflation, which has been high in recent years.

“Twenty years ago, the Vietnamese people were worried about providing food and clothes for their families,” said Nguyen Tran Bat, chairperson of Investconsult Group, a business consulting firm. “Now they’re not worried about subsistence but about improving their status.”

The survey showed strong support for private enterprise, especially among the young. Fifty-six percent favour more private ownership of business, while only 25% thought there should be more government ownership.

Seventy-seven percent said large income differences are acceptable, because they give people an incentive to work harder. The same percentage said competition is good, because it encourages enterprise and innovation.

The poll, conducted in February and March, interviewed 1 600 people in urban, suburban and rural areas across the country.

Vietnam’s communist government does not tolerate competition and routinely jails its opponents. In the past several months, it has sent 16 members of the country’s dissident community to jail for promoting a multiparty democracy.

Given the political context, the poll avoided questions about the communist party’s performance.

Asked about politics generally, however, 61% said they are not interested, while 39% said they are.

On the Vietnam War — known in Viet­nam as the American War — 56% said they rarely, if ever, think about it. Only 11% said they think about it often.

“The Vietnamese have a tradition of being tolerant and forgiving and looking to the future rather than the past,” Lan said.

Fifty-five percent said the war had not affected them directly, a result that may reflect how young the population is: more than 60% of Vietnamese were born after the war.

Large majorities disapproved of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan — 58% and 55%, respectively.

U.S. President Barack Obama received the highest approval rating of world figures, at 35%, one point ahead of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. — AP.


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