Archive for the ‘Vietnam’ Category

Vietnam and the Chinese Model

January 20, 2010

Earlier today, four Vietnamese  political dissidents were convicted of trying to overthrow the government in Hanoi.  The men were calling for the creation of a multi-party democracy in a country governed solely by the Communist Party.  The most prominent activist on trial was Le Cong Dinh, a US-educated human rights lawyer, who received a five year prison sentence.  The harshest punishment was meted out to Tran Huynh duy Thuc, an Internet entrepreneur and blogger, who was sentenced to a 16 years behind bars.  In the past three months, 14 high profile dissidents have been tried and convicted of similar crimes.

Vietnamese leaders are essentially following the Chinese political-economic model.  Like China, Vietnam has a self-described “socialist market economy” in which free market reforms have been introduced but the government still exerts a considerable amount of control over certain sectors of the economy such as banking and heavy industry.  Efforts to increase exports and encourage foreign investment have been key aspects of the new economic strategy, and both countries joined the World Trade Organization in the past decade as means of attaining their goals.

But economic liberalization has not been combined with political liberalization in either nation.  The Communists continue to rule autocratically in a one-party system where civil liberties are highly curtained and censorship is widespread.  Examples of these practices occured earlier this month when theVietnamese government restricted access to Facebook and the Chinese government clashed with Google over the company’s refusal to continue to prevent Chinese users from viewing banned Internet sites.

It is understandable why political leaders in Vietnam have followed China’s lead.  Since 1978, when China began implementing free market reforms, the Chinese economy has grown ten-fold while averaging double-digit annual growth rates in GDP.  At the same time, the ruling elite have managed to stay in power in the post-Cold War era when democracy has become much more pervasive around the world; a feat which has been accomplished by crushing dissent and locking up those who call demand more civil liberties and greater respect for human rights.  Thus far, Vietnamese leaders have been successful in promoting economic growth (in 2006, Vietnam’s economy grew by more than 8 percent) and retaining political control since the 1990s when the free market movement started.

Chinese leaders believe that raising living standards enable them to continue their reign.  But many analysts argue that as China’s middle class expands its members will demand a greater say in their nation’s affairs and push for political liberalization, and therefore the Communist Party may have planted the seeds of its own destruction by promoting economic growth.  There is a high probability that party bosses in Vietnam will meet the same fate as their Chinese neighbors, whatever that fate may be.

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The Deification of Dead Political Leaders

January 7, 2010

In an op-ed piece published today on nytimes.com titled “Asia’s 70-Percent Gods,” Roger Cohen discusses his recent trip to Asia where he saw the preserved bodies of Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong.  He notes that the Communists leaders who control one-party states have deified their predecessors for nationalist purposes while ignoring the socioeconomic ideas that they assiduously promoted at the cost of millions of lives (Stalin is still a revered figure in Russia, although some Russian elites, including President Dmitry Medvedev, have criticized his repressive actions).  The deceased political titans remain symbols of resistance to foreign oppression and the overthrow of corrupt governments, but current Asian powerbrokers are promoting the capitalist-type economic policies that Ho and Mao decried in an effort to stay in power by improving the living standards of their countries’ citizens.

At times other Asian nations have treated their heads of state like gods, including North Korea (which is still a communist dictatorship), and Japan; although the latter no longer considers the emperor a deity.

Contemporary Chinese leaders have so far succeeded in facilitating rapid economic growth and remaining in power while using authoritarian measures like censorship and the banning of alternative politial parties.  However, China is not as stable as many outsiders believe.  There are thousands of riots each year as well as ethnic conflict, and there is a wide and growing wealth inequality between urban dwellers and rural peasants that could eventually lead to class warfare.  And when the living standards of the middle class reach a certain level those in it may focus more on their lack of civil liberties and demand change; such a development would undermine the primary pillar of the Communist Party’s political strategy and threaten its primacy.

Political instability, as well as the aging of the population due to the one-child policy, may put a halt to China’s impressive economic growth in the coming decades.  The threat of this happening is significant but largely ignored in America where many fear that China will overtake the US economically and geopolitically by mid-century.  While some might welcome attempts to liberalize Chinese society and bring down the communists, people should be aware that the consequences of a revolutionary movement could be disastrous in terms of lives lost and the destabilization of the global economy.  If democracy emerges in China or other Asian countries one hopes that it will be the result of a peaceful process much like the velvet revolutions that occured in Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War rather than a bloodbath.

On War: The Onion

December 16, 2009

Every once in a while this blog takes a lighter tone and publishes something humorous about international affairs, which is why we want to draw attention to a hilarious article about war as a method of conflict resolution that recently appeared on TheOnion.com.  The piece is titled “New ‘War’ Enables Mankind To Resolve Disagreements.”  I highly recommend it for those who like dark humor.