Dr. Clark Neher


Contemporary Vietnam

Socialist Republic of Vietnam

  1. Vietnamese won the war but lost the peace
    1. Economy
      1. In early 1990s, the Vietnamese standard of living worse than before the war. (At the same time those of the other SEA nations were flourishing economically).
        1. Vietnamese occupation of Laos and Cambodia drained resources. (Vietnam has invaded Cambodia in December 1978 with some 200,000 soldiers).
        2. Economic stagnation resulting from bureaucratic inefficiency. Entrepreneurial spirit stifled
        3. Nationalization of industries; confiscation of land; exodus of traders and business types.
        4. About 16% of population killed or wounded; 57% homeless. Reconstruction undermined growth. 10 million refugees, 1 million widows or widowers; two-thirds of SV's villages destroyed (even worse in the North).
        5. Natural disasters: floods, droughts, typhoons.
        6. U.S. boycott
Vietnam: A Homecoming Journey presents a photo gallery of contemporary Vietnam as seen through the lens of a Vietnamese-American photographer.
      1. Sixth Party Congress of CPV - December 1986. Doi Moi. A victory for reformers against aging ideologues.
        1. Initially no major growth; famine in northern provinces; inflation; corruption.
        2. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese returned from East-bloc nations, no longer needed as cheap laborers. Unemployment soared.
        3. End of Soviet support.
      1. Beginning of economic growth
        1. 1989. Growth of foreign investment. (Japan, SK, Taiwan, and ASEAN neighbors leading investors and traders)
        2. Set up a legal framework for contracts.
        3. Return of land to peasants. (long-term land use) The nation's 57 million farmers got the legal right to transfer, exchange, lease, and inherit land.
        4. Commercial banks established.
        5. Opening of private businesses
        6. End of cooperative system; subsidies no longer available for health, education and welfare services. Temporary drop in quality of health, education and welfare services.
        7. Privatization of industry
        8. Self-sufficiency in rice for the first time; now a major exporter of rice. Rice is the second largest earner of foreign exchange, after oil and gas.
        9. Rise of the "new rich" in the countryside and the revival of lively market activity and access to a wide variety of consumer goods.
        10. (However, a widening gap between rich and poor; especially between Saigonese and rural peasants; Mekhong Delta the richest area of the country).
        11. Imbalance between South and North Vietnam.
        12. Inflation coming under control.
    1. Political Changes
      1. Continuation of CPV dominance within the context of a more open constitution (1991). More power to the national assembly. However, CP members continue to dominate. Virtually, all the candidates for the national assembly were hand-picked.
      1. Disdain for western democracy as unstable, led by bourgeois leaders for their own interests, and against the interests of the masses.
      2. Democracy seen as individualistic, exploitative, and reactionary. As corruption, prostitution, and social alienation increased, conservative VCP leaders blamed these pathologies on Western decadence and democratic ways.

      3. Vietnam concerned about demise of communist world; hence, digging in heels.
      1. Confucianist traditions of hierarchy and order not conducive to western democratic style.
      1. Significant drop in numbers of CPV members.
      1. Slight improvement in human rights conditions; reeducation camp internees released.
      2. However, Vietnamese arrested arbitrarily. Cannot support political pluralism. Newspapers not free; all communications controlled.


  1. Vietnam's Future
    1. Winds of change from outside world and from indigenous forces cannot be stilled.
      1. Democratization
      2. Capitalism
      3. Rise of middle class
      4. Corruption and governmental red tape
  1. Cambodia never known democracy
    1. Khmer Empire zenith in 12th century; autocratic rulers
    2. French imperialism in 19th century
    3. Japanese intervention during WWII.
    4. Cambodia independent in 1954 under leadership of King Sihanouk, who then abdicated to organize a political party.
      1. Cambodia under Sihanouk's leadership relatively stable and peaceful. His authority charismatic, traditional, and with legal foundations.
      2. Sihanouk overthrown in March 1970 by his military.
        1. Sihanouk's rule corrupt; allowed NV and VC soldiers to use Cambodian territory as a sanctuary.
        2. Beginning of chaos. In April 1970, US intervened to protect American soldiers and to gain a "decent interval" for U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
        3. Lon Nol government corrupt and incompetent. Country was bombed mercilessly.
        4. Half the population became refugees. Phnom Penh went from 500,000 in 1970 to 2 million in 1975.
    1. April 1975 Communist forces (Khmer Rouge) took control.
      1. Draconian revolution. "Purify society". Genocide.
      2. Pol Pot leader of Angka. Total control and terror. 1 million persons executed and a further 1 million died from starvation or from land mines set by government to keep population from escaping. Killing fields.
      3. Countryside collectivized.
      4. Family unit replaced by collectives.
      5. All cities evacuated.
      6. Buddhist temples destroyed and monks killed. Anyone with education executed to end "bourgeois decadence"
      7. Slave labor camps and torture chambers.
    1. Vietnamese invasion December 1978
      1. Pol Pot fled to mountains.
      2. Vietnamese goal to stop the border raids, expel Pol Pot, and set up a friendly pliant government. However, Vietnamese-Cambodian antipathy from centuries.
      3. Hun Sen set up People's Republic of Kampuchea; later changed to State of Cambodia; and now Cambodia. Communist government;
        1. Normalization of life: cities repopulated, Buddhist relegitimized; neutral foreign policy
        2. Opening of economy
    1. Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea opposed PRK
      1. Odd ensemble of three groups which won the seat in the UN and support of the U.S.
        1. Khmer Rouge with strongest military
        2. Khmer People's National Liberation Front ; anti-communist
        3. Sihanoukists, led by Sihanouk's son, Prince Norodom Ranarridh.
      1. Continued civil war, corrupt government, unsuccessful repatriation of 350,000 refugees on Thai border, impoverishment and malnutrition in 1980s and early 1990s.
    1. Paris Agreement in October 1991
      1. Cease-fire among factions; demobilize forces
      2. Administer elections for constituent assembly
      3. Prepare for a new government
      4. Repatriate refugees.
      5. Bring in UN to administer the nation temporarily
        1. Some 20,000 peace-keeping troops from all nations; $2.8 billion. UNTAC.
        2. Difficulties: Non-cooperation from Khmer Rouge who saw UNTAC as a front for the Vietnamese-sponsored Hun Sen government. KR claimed Vietnamese troops still in Cambodia.
        3. Elections: May 1993. About 20 parties contested for seats on constituent assembly. Issues:
          1. Role of KR. (Hun Sen group opposed any KR involvement; Sihanoukists argued it is better to have the KR inside the tent rather than on the outside spitting in.)
          2. Role of Vietnamese
          3. Corruption of Hun Sen government
        1. 90% of eligible voters cast ballots, despite threats of violence by KR. Sihanoukists won 45%; Hun Sen 38%. Sihanouk became head of state (king); Prince Norodom Rannarridh and Hun Sen served as "co-premiers".
        2. Today, Cambodia in charge of its own affairs for the first time since Vietnam invaded in early 1979.
          1. Sihanouk in China for cancer treatment.
    1. National Elections, July 26, 1998. Hun Sen Party (CPP) wins 41 percent of vote; Ranariddh wins 33 percent; Sam Rainsy Party wins 15 percent. Coalition needed to run government. Much controversy about fairness of the election and ability of opposition groups to work together.
  1. Cambodia's Future
    1. No history of civil liberties, even under Sihanouk's rule. Nadir during KR period.
    2. Traditional culture of all-powerful Hindu gods and warrior-kings. Common people learned to follow
    3. Violence has been a major means of asserting authority.
      1. Revenge has long been an important characteristic of people anxious about saving face. Slights to family's honor.
      2. Trauma of KR period undermined sense of community and left citizenry with a lack of self respect, suspicion, and distrust for both rulers and ruled. Democracy's chances plummeted.
      3. Devastated economy. Roads and bridges destroyed; absence of communication systems; bare subsistence for majority of people. Absence of educated people. Absence of middle-aged men. Nonproductive elderly and children.
      4. Positive: Tenacity of character which could be mobilized in interests of open government and open economy.
      5. The winds of change in Cambodia have been of hurricane velocity, destroying almost every vestige of the nation's culture, economy, and polity. The winds have come from both abroad, in the form of invasions, and from within. The killing fields symbolize its present status.

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