Emerging from the shadows
The pace of change
For us, and for visitors returning to the country after a period of absence, Vietnam is changing at breakneck speed. The potential bottled up by the war and the restrictions that followed as the painful process of reunification and reconciliation proceeded, is now being unleashed.
In the cities, practically every street has a building site, slum dwellings are being demolished and replaced by modern high and low-rise dwellings, and new districts are being created in the suburbs to house the swelling urban population.
Country areas are being provided with a clean water supply, electricity and new services and facilities. Reservoirs are being built to ease water shortages and new coal and gas fuelled power stations are being opened.
Transport and communications are improving daily. Entertainment facilities are expanding, supermarkets are appearing, and tourism infrastructure is opening up new areas and locations to visitors.
No aspect of Vietnam’s daily life escapes attention, and no-one is unaffected by the changes that are taking place.
The social aspect
Change is never neutral – it always creates winners and losers. Our government treads a narrow path in balancing the benefits of change with the social disruption that it causes. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of our people understand the problems and support the measures introduced to deal with them.
Our nation has a long tradition of communalism. In the 21st century, communalism is manifested in ‘mass movements’ – national campaigns to overcome social problems such as poverty, drug abuse, pollution, health issues and so on. Involvement comes in many forms, attending meetings, donating money and goods and so on, but the main form is volunteering time to assist. The Ho Chi Minh Youth Union, the Women’s Union and other large national organisations can mobilise millions of people to assist in building bridges, working with handicapped people, cleaning up dirty beaches and a host of other activities.
Challenges and successes
Vietnam’s problems are shared by all developing counties. Each has its own approach, and each has its success and failures. No approach, system or model fits all – each country has a different context, so each has to find its own way. By trial and error, and with help from our neighbours and the international community, we are learning lessons and working out solutions in ways that fit our national culture and beliefs.
We are now beginning to see the fruits of our labour. Poverty is falling, the economy is sound, industry is modernising and tourism is expanding, for example. Vietnam has had several notable achievements in the health field – it led the world in containing SARS, is attracting international attention by treating tuberculosis successfully, and is well on the way to controlling malaria.
Despite our progress so far, we are only at the beginning of the road that leads to our eventual goal of “Independence, Freedom and Happiness” – a vision laid out by Ho Chi Minh in his Declaration of Independence in 1954. We have yet to come to terms with the major issues of wealth distribution, universal free health care, full employment and all the other conditions necessary for his dream to become our reality.
Every so often, the views and attitudes of Asian people in relation to their quality of life are surveyed. Overall, Vietnam is usually ranked somewhere in the middle (an achievement in itself considering the country’s starting point). However, in one category Vietnam is always at or near the top – optimism about the future. We know the going will be tough, but we’re determined to get there!