Vietnam ripe for business, friendshipThe lingering impression I had after my first visit to Vietnam was the friendliness of the people. They open up easily to foreigners.
It may be a sign of confidence, probably because of their proud history of repelling repeated foreign encroachment for the past 2,000 years.
First came the Chinese in the first century when the locals rallied their tribes to resist the northern invaders. Years later, the regrouped Chinese counterattacked with a vengeance, settling in the land for the next 10 centuries. In the year 938, legendary patriot Ngo Quyen crushed the Chinese armies in the battle on the Bach Dang River, ending 1,000 years of Chinese rule.
During the 11th to 13th centuries, Vietnam defeated the formidable Mongol conquerors three times, the last episode being the most celebrated to this day. Tran Hung Dao, the grand commander-in-chief during the Tran Dynasty, ordered his men to plant sharpened bamboo poles beneath the water of the same Bach Dang River through which the invading armies would cross. at low tide, the Mongol boats were left high on the poles and were annihilated by impaling or flaming arrows. In the early 15th century, the Chinese, under Ming emperors, came back, and this time were driven back by another Vietnamese hero, Le Loi.
But if that were not enough, the Vietnamese for the last 150 years had to endure insufferable damage by Westerners: the French and later the Americans. The armies of these powerful nations sustained humiliating losses, as symbolized by the 1954 battle at Dien Bien Phu and the U.S. evacuation at the Tan Son Nhut Air Base in 1975.
In both instances, the resistance movement was led by Ho Chi Minh (affectionately called “Uncle Ho” by locals), whose long-goateed portrait can be seen everywhere.
Now, 30 years after the war’s end, Vietnam is finally standing tall on the international stage, with its entry to the World Trade Organization last month. The long process of opening up the economy started in 1986, when the nation’s leaders abandoned a decade of the socialist “subsidy” economy and opted instead for the “Doi Moi” (or renovation) policy.
Their intense effort to find a place in the global economy got a big boost from a 2000 trade accord signed with the United States, after which the economy clocked an average GDP growth of 7.4-percent, second only to the roaring Chinese economy in Asia. Today, Vietnam earns $32 billion a year from exporting everything from crude oil, textiles and footwear, to seafood and coffee, a threefold increase from six years ago. The nation is now the world’s largest pepper exporter and second largest in coffee, cashew nuts and rice exports.
To add icing to the cake, Intel made public last month its plan to invest more than $1 billion to build a chip assembly and test plant near Ho Chi Minh City. This was followed by a host of announcements by Japanese firms, including Panasonic and Canon, to make sizeable investments in Vietnam.
Not all is going smoothly for Vietnam, though. On Nov. 13, the U.S. House of Representatives voted down a bill to normalize trade relations with Vietnam, although the setback seems to be only temporary. The Vietnamese textile and apparel exporters, the second-largest foreign-currency earners after crude-oil producers, were frustrated last year at the imposition of safeguard measures by the United States. Early this year, the European Union decided to assess 17-percent anti-dumping duties on Vietnamese leather shoes.
Developed economies should help a country struggling to escape poverty any way they can. But in reality they seem to be doing the exact opposite.
Korea, as a country on the cusp of graduating to developed-nation status, has much to offer its cousin to the south.
The nations share many cultural similarities and have in common a tragic history of being ruled by foreign powers.
Indeed, Korea is already the fifth-largest trading partner for Vietnam, after China, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan. Korea’s investment in Vietnam tripled to $58 million last year, and is expected to increase rapidly over the next several years.
In addition to business deals, Korea can contribute in other ways. If Japan is too far ahead to lend a helping hand to Vietnam, Korea is in the best position to do so, just as the Korean government helped to get the Ho Chi Minh City stock exchange up and running a few years ago.
*The writer is managing editor of SERIworld, Samsung Economic Research Institute’s English-language Web site. The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not represent those of Samsung Economic Research Institute.
by Chung Sang-ho