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Vietnam Generation Journal

Volume 4, Number 3-4

November 1992

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Viet Nam after the 7th Party Congress

Tadashi Mio, Faculty of International Relations, Daito Bunka University, Japan

The Features of Doi Moi

The "doi moi" (renovation) policy, which the Vietnamese Communist Party (CPVN) adopted at its 6th Congress in December 1986, essentially denounces political pluralism but accepts extensive pluralism in economic fields. This striking contrast or contradiction between political conservatism and economic pragmatism differs basically from Gorbachev's perestroika, while sharing common features with China's reform policy.

A review of the past four-and-a-half years' implementation of the doi moi policy confirms Vietnam's basic stand in favor of retaining one-party rule in order to maintain political stability which is necessary to sustain economic viability. Doi moi is primarily the practice of "democracy" in economic fields and only secondarily the gradual introduction of political democracy. The 7th Party Congress, held in June 1991, was significant in that the party reconfirmed the continuation of this policy and for the fact that it decided on a new central leadership which would ensure its more effective implementation.

Doi moi clearly made certain achievements in the face of serious economic and social problems. This paper does not intend to deal with all political, economic, diplomatic, and social developments in Vietnam since the introduction of the doi moi policy. The writer's comprehensive assessment of it has been attempted elsewhere and his conclusion alone may be repeated: No matter which aspect of Vietnamese life is examined, be it political, economic, or social, the doi moi policy as applied to it would today face a crisis of bankruptcy, had there not been economic assistance from the West.1

This writer is not a specialist in Vietnam's military affairs, but in this paper he will attempt to analyze its current military situation primarily from the standpoint of foreign and defense policies after the 7th Party Congress, because such an approach is useful and effective in articulating the problems connected with those policies. In his analysis, the writer has mainly relied upon periodicals put out by the Vietnamese Communist Party, the Vietnamese People's Army and the Foreign Ministry. His own trips to Vietnam, once or twice a year, have also provided him with a useful opportunity to gather information and make firsthand observations.

Doi Moi in Foreign Relations

Since November 1989 the Institute of International Relations under the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry has begun to produce a publication, called Quan He Quoc Te (International Relations). It is a public relations exercise aimed at improving the Ministry's image. It introduces a variety of international affairs and comments on them. At the same time it is a sophisticated magazine filled with a wide variety of international events reporting and photographs. Examples are Prince Ayanomiya's marriage to Kiko Kawashima and the inclusion of a large picture of a Japanese popular singer, Miho Nakayama, on the back cover of the same issue. In this writer's analysis, the central party leadership and the government reached consensus in the fall of 1989 on a shift to an open-door foreign policy. It is interesting to note that the launching of this new publication was timed to follow on this decision.

The January 1990 issue of the magazine contained an interview with Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach, entitled, "The World Change and Our New Thinking." In the interview, Thach said as follows:

We should not hold on to the thinking of forty years ago in coping with the current changes in the world. The role of the socialist countries is very important, but it is not just the socialist camp that determines the development of human society. We should not be prejudiced about the accomplishments of the capitalist system for the last two hundred years. The class of exploiters was not a monster in history. We should recognize that they also played a certain useful role in the history. Marxism would not have been born without a bourgeoisie. Socialism would not have come into being without capitalism, the system that exploits people. This is historical dialecticism.2

He dared to make these remarks which angered the conservatives because, in effect, he wanted to say the following:

Today production capability is highly developed and is making the world into an integrated market. We do and should possess the conditions that can make complete use of these highly developed production capabilities of the world. In accordance with Politburo Resolution No. 13, which is a resolution about external relations, we must make full use of the world market, in order to enhance, within a relatively lively short period, our own economy which has fallen twenty to twenty-five years behind the world economy.

In the interview Nguyen Co Thach explained the features of Politburo Resolution No. 13 as follows:

The main cause of the enormous changes in socialist countries does not lie in an imperialist conspiracy, but in the fact that the capitalist camp has overcome the world economic crises of 1970-1980 [the oil crisis] by applying the fruits of scientific and technological learning to production, by strengthening productivity and production capability, and by expanding international economic cooperation. Meanwhile, socialist countries have indulged themselves in the autarchical economic system of their own making, thus both failing to improve the living conditions of the people and causing them disappointment. [Summary by the writer.]

Thach argued here that "the overall serious crises being faced by socialist countries" was the fault of their own economic mismanagement and rigid political systems, and not that of imperialist interference. The conservative elements within the Party's Central Committee and the Government could not have voiced such flexible and realistic views. According to Thach, "The implementation of Resolution No. 13 involved a year-and-a-half-long struggle between the old and the new thinking of the direction of foreign policy."

During the trip to Hanoi that this writer made in November-December 1989, he learned that it was only early in early December that this foreign policy controversy had finally been resolved. The 7th Plenum of the Party's Central Committee, held in August 1989, had adopted a resolution on foreign policy which accorded with the demands of the conservative forces. This was, simply, a dogmatic reiteration of Lenin's theory of imperialism.3

Whenever this writer visits Hanoi, he always makes a point of holding discussions with high-ranking scholars at the institute of Social Sciences of Vietnam, a think-tank of the Central Committee. When I visited Hanoi in November-December 1989, I questioned members of the institute as to why the 7th Plenum of the Central Committee had adopted such an obsolete resolution, and argued that it was nonsense for the Party to make such anticapitalist pronouncements while expecting economic aid from the West. To my surprise, they expressed full agreement with my view, and told me that they had in fact conveyed to the Politburo their criticism of this anachronistic resolution. The Politburo had in turn replied that they were considering revising their line on the international situation. The Politburo's Resolution No. 13 had thus come into being.

In a speech before the National Assembly in late 1989, Vo Chi Cong, Chair of the Council of State, explained the cause of the crises being faced by all the socialist countries, using much the same logic as had been used in Resolution No. 13.4

This same argument also ran through an article entitled, "Some Observations on the State of Socialist Countries in 1989," published in the December 1989 issue of Quan He Quoc Te.

It should be noted that in the above-mentioned interview Foreign Minister Thach talked as if Resolution No. 13 had been a victory for all those who had favored the change. Apparently, however, it was the chorus of those middle-ranking party cadres and intellectuals, who had strongly criticized and condemned the views of the Central Committee and the Government that had actually led to the realistic Resolution No. 13.

The foreign policy line adopted by the 7th Party Congress reaffirmed the spirit of Resolution No. 13. Yet Foreign Minister Thach, a realist, lot his position in the Politburo and was not renominated by the National Assembly who had met after the Party Congress. One can speculate that there are two reasons for this. One is that Thach was known to be anti-China. The other is that he had antagonized the conservative elements within the military, who had supported his open-door diplomacy and had reduced the size of the army. They had anticipated a lifting of the embargo, but had been gravely disappointed. The disarmament issue will be dealt with again in the third section. Still another reason for Thach's being ousted as Foreign Minister by the National Assembly was his alleged nepotism. He is said to have given favorable treatment to his relatives by employing them in his ministry.

There is also a view that his ouster was due in part to his being anti-Japanese. This writer thinks that this idea is way off the mark. I record the following to support my view. To the best of my knowledge, the foreign minister had never attended any party organized by the Japanese Embassy in Hanoi until the fall of 1990, when Michio Watanabe called upon Party Secretary Nguyen Van Linh and Prime Minister Do Muoi. The Embassy arranged a reception for Watanabe but did not send Thach an invitation to it. They were surprised, therefore, when Thach himself expressed a wish to, and did indeed attend, the reception. As far as this writer knows, and as is widely believed, the foreign minister has an affinity with Japan, which is said to go back to the anti-French guerrilla war years when he became comrades with an ex-Japanese Army soldier who joined the Vietnamese Army and fought beside him.

Doi Moi in National Defense Strategy and Its Aftereffects

The boldest part of the doi moi policy that the Nguyen Van Linh government implemented during its four years concerned "strategic adjustments with regard to national defense," namely, disarmament. Tap Chi Cong San, the mouthpiece of the Party's Central Committee, explained the policy as follows:

Doi moi has been implemented in military fields according to the doi moi line adopted by the 6th Party Congress. The method adopted was the "adjustment" or "revision of national defense strategy." This was a measure intended to meet the new situation and new tasks and to conform with doi moi in other fields.5

This policy stemmed from Politburo Resolution No. 2 on the tasks for national defense. Only recently was it learned that the resolution was adopted in mid-1987.6 However, its full text remains unpublished. It was the communiqué of the 6th Plenum of the 6th Party Congress, adopted in March 1989, that the newspapers and magazines of the Communist Party first referred to as dealing with adjustments in national defense strategy. The communiqué highlighted the following as one of the achievements made under doi moi during the past two years:

We have shifted to the work of political security and defense that can meet the new situation, by adjusting national defense strategy, restricting missions at each battle field, reducing the size of troops, trimming the standing forces, and strengthening the lineup for a people's war.7

Subsequently, the Party and the People's Army published fragmentary information on this policy in their official newspapers and magazines, on five different occasions. If such information is put together, the primary outcome of the past four years' adjustments in national defense strategy appears to be the restraint of armed conflict along the Chinese border and in the South China Sea, the withdrawal of troops from Cambodia, the reduction of regular troops, the scaling down of the defense budget, the relocation of armed forces on a national scale, and the strengthening of the militia and self-defense troops. By the end of 1990, the number of the regular troops had been reduced by 600,000 including 100,000 officers.8

1) The Aftereffect of the Disarmament

The extent of the reduction in the defense budget has not been made public. However, Defense Minister Le Duc Anh reminisced, after he had left office, about the formidable job of reducing the number of the regular troops, partly because of budget shortage. He said:

The job was by no means a simple one. It involved very many policy problems. It required enormous expenditure as well as enormous preparation. There was no allowance for a temporary increase in our defense budget to implement the reduction of troops. We had to reduce the size of the military and the defense budget in phases. Naturally, under these circumstances, the troops confronted great difficulties.9

Among the "great difficulties" which the troops confronted were the worsening of living conditions, caused by serious shortages of food and other daily supplies. The government cut the subsidy on everyday necessities, in order to ease the burden of the budget deficit. When the economy moved to a market economy, the military had to purchase food and other daily needs at market prices. This led to a reduction in caloric intake by the troops.10

The defense budget cut not only allowed living conditions of officers and soldiers to deteriorate, but made insufficient essential expenditure on the maintenance and repair of weapons and equipment as well as on military training.11

These soldiers demobilized under the troop reduction plan also suffered from worsening living conditions. "Demobilized soldiers have now returned to a normal life and are enjoying a relaxed family life," said Defense Minister Anh, "but they are concerned about the difficulties that their families face and the safety of their fellow-soldiers serving in remote areas."12

Those who were demobilized and have already found employment are the fortunate few. Many others are unable to get jobs in conditions of fifteen to twenty percent unemployment. Opportunities for veterans to seek jobs in other socialist countries such as the Soviet Union and East European states as "exported labor" have now dried up due to the political turmoil and deteriorating economic conditions in those countries. Workers who had gone to the Middle East were obliged to return home at the outbreak of the Gulf War.

Disarmament is an inseparable part of the doi moi policy under the Nguyen Van Linh government, but its main aftereffect, as set out here, is its partial contribution to the prevalence of economic and social conditions which enable the conservatives to continue to hold sway.

These facts should not, however, imply that the Vietnamese People's Army tends to be conservative.

Quan Doi Nhan Dan, the organ of the People's Army, which publishes its Saturday edition in tabloid size and color, used every week to carry colored pictures of attractive women, Vietnamese and foreign. No criticism seems to have been made of them as being under the influence of decadent bourgeois culture. Nonetheless, since the 7th Party Congress in June 1991 the Saturday edition of the People's Army organ has stopped printing sexy pictures and photographs. This suggests that self-criticism may have been practiced within the military against excessive liberalism and democratization.

2) "Peaceful Evolution" and "Special Relationships" among the Indochinese Countries

As has been mentioned earlier, one of the main points of adjustment in Vietnam's national defense strategy was the withdrawal of troops stationed in Cambodia. This decision was made in mid-1987, and in May of the following year Politburo Resolution No. 13, resolving a shift to a more realistic foreign policy was promulgated. That month the government also planned to withdraw 50,000 troops from Cambodia, and, in January 1989, it publicized a further plan to withdraw all troops by the end of September. These moves by Vietnam were in accord with statements made by the Heng Samrin government.

In April 1998 Cambodia revised its constitution, changed the name of the country and its national flag, became a neutralist country, and adopted Buddhism as the state religion. In July 1989 the Cambodian parliament then declared the country permanently neutral, and pledged never to allow any foreign military organizations to establish military bases inside the country. The Heng Samrin government declaration of permanent neutrality has entailed the abandonment of the military alliance clauses within the Vietnamese-Cambodian Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation, which had been concluded in January 1979. Specifically, it has meant the termination of the "strategic alliance" and the "all-out cooperative relationship" between the two countries.13

The newspapers and magazines of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the People's Army have since stopped referring to Vietnamese-Cambodian relations as "special relationships" and "all-out cooperative relationships," which had meant a military alliance, although they still continue to refer to Vietnamese-Laotian relations in these terms. An interesting fact is that the People's Army publications apparently opposed the demise of these special terms in a variety of complicated ways.14

However, while the Communist Party organized grassroots discussions on the Draft of the New Political Platform, the mass media were reviving the argument in favor of strengthening vigilance against so-called "peaceful evolution." This, they claimed, was nothing other than the overthrow of socialism by lawful means, employed by imperialist forces. This argument was based on the suspicion that a conspiracy of "peaceful evolution" partly contributed to the heightening of political turmoil in the Soviet Union and East European countries. Vigilance against conspiracy of "peaceful evolution" in turn provided a basis for the argument which reinforced the importance of "special" and "all-out cooperative" relationships among the three Indochinese countries.

An example of this is an article that appeared in the February 1991 issue of Quoc Phong Toan Dan, the organ of the central organization of the People's Army. It was written by Pham Xuan Que of the Army's Central Committee on Foreign Relations. In his article entitled, "Relationships among Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the New Circumstances," the author stated that, under these new conditions, the three countries maintained "voluntary and equal relations." It argued that they should abandon any hierarchical system and regain mutual respect for independence and noninterference in each other's internal affairs, that they should share their responsibilities according to their respective capabilities, and that they should attach importance to economic and cultural cooperation between them. However, the author also made the point that "in the field of the defense of the fatherland, our strategy for defense and security is still based on mutual assistance among the peoples and the armies of the three countries."

This article made great play of the fact that the high-level delegations of the three Indochinese parties met in Vientiane on December 2, 1990, and issued a joint press statement in which they "confirmed their commitment to strengthening close and friendly solidarity as well as an all-out cooperative relationship." [emphasis added] However, according to this article, there were apparently some who did not support "an all-out cooperative relationship" among the three countries. The author was critical of those few people who hoped that the relationship among the three countries would be downgraded to ordinary levels of international relations.15

It is not clear whether those "few people" were within the military or not. But the article suggests that there is a conflict in Vietnam today between the traditional (conservative) view and the view held by "new thinkers" regarding the nature of the relationships between the Indochinese states.

The view of the "new thinkers" here means those expressed in the Politburo Resolution No. 13 with regard to a revision of "external outlook." What should be noted is that Nhan Dan, the party's central organ, expressed the opinion at "an all-out cooperative relationship" among the three countries, referred to in the above-mentioned joint press statement of the three party delegations, should only be applied to the relationship between Vietnam and Laos.16

It differed in this regard from Que's article. Since Vietnam has started to adjust its national defense strategy, Nhan Dan's line seems to be dominant within the Party's central leadership, and Que's argument therefore represents only the minority view.

3) Opposition to "New Thinking" Diplomacy

As was mentioned earlier, the argument which warned against "peaceful evolution" and "the unchanging nature of imperialism" emerged at the 7th Plenum of the Central Committee in August 1989. It then faded slightly as the "new thinking" foreign policy line, expressed in the Politburo's Resolution No. 13, began to prevail in the government and the Party after the fall of that year. However, a more conservative view seems to have revived with the deterioration of the situations in the Soviet Union and East Europe, and with the breakup of the Gulf crisis. This is because the United States in its foreign policy dealings gained a great deal of confidence in resolving the Gulf crisis, and this has added fuel to the fire of conservatism which permeates all segments of Vietnamese society. A view within the military which is worthy note is that "imperialists agitate for a plural party system as a means to promote 'peaceful evolution,' and that it is a conspiracy to turn the armed forces into the army of a bourgeoisie." Major General Nguyen Huy Hieu, for instance, contributed an article to the January 1991 issue of Quoc Phong Toan Dan. The Commander of Quyet Thank Army Corps, the general said the following in his article, "Show Allegiance to Uncle Ho's Work of Revolution and Ensure the Defense of the Socialist System:"

The nature of imperialism never changes. Imperialists only change means and styles as they see fit, in grasping new developments in the situation. They conspire to undertake "peaceful evolution" in all political, economic, cultural, and ideological fields, while at the same time maintaining military power as a means of intimidation. One of the enemy's fields for attack is the political and ideological field. They advocate a plural party system, agitating for an extreme form of democracy and depoliticization of the military. They advocate a plural party system, but their true intention is to push toward a bourgeois democracy and turn the armed forces into the army of a bourgeoisie.17

This view was shared not just by the conservatives in the military but even by Defense Minister Le Duc Anh, who was an advocate of the doi moi policy and a promoter of adjustments in national defense strategy.18 This trend represents an obstacle to the diplomacy of "new thinking," as symbolized in Resolution No. 13.

Prospects for Doi Moi

The doi moi policy has brought improvements in living conditions to some extent. But the introduction of a market economy is polarizing Vietnamese society into a small rich class and into the class of the masses who suffer from the soaring inflation. Meanwhile, graft and corruption prevail to a catastrophic extent among the higher echelons of the Party and the government. The masses have increasing repugnance for the Party's rule.

The Vietnamese leaders were subtle in their reaction to the coup d'état that occurred in the Soviet Union last August. Three months after the event took place, the media in Vietnam had not made any comment on it. However, it appears highly likely that the leadership and the media at heart welcomed the coup.

The Draft of the New Political Platform contained the wording that "Vietnam shall make a relentless effort to strengthen and develop traditional friendships and cooperative relationships with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries." However, the Political Platform adopted at the 7th Party Congress made no reference either to the Soviet Union or to China. It only stated that "Vietnam shall strengthen and develop traditional friendship and cooperative relationships with socialist countries and brotherly states in the Indochinese Peninsula."

Vietnam has normalized relations with China, but, in contrast with the enthusiasm with which the border trade is conducted, ordinary party members and intellectuals are, in general, cool about the new development, and remain vigilant against Chinese hegemony. As was demonstrated by the fact that the People's Army hastened to publish a Vietnamese-Chinese dictionary even before official normalization had taken place, it seems that the army has been more welcoming of the normalization than any one else in Vietnam. Le Duc Anh, who was Defense Minister and has been nominated as Head of State, is known to be pro-China.

The January 1991 issue of Quan He Quoc Te, the public relations magazine of the Foreign Ministry published an interesting article entitled, "The Formation of a New World Order," which turned out to have been translated from China's journal, Studies in International Issues. This suggests that the two countries now have similar outlooks on the post-Cold War international order.

As Vietnam can no longer depend upon Soviet assistance, it cannot help but lean toward China in both economic and military terms. Both China and Vietnam, who talk in the vein of "peaceful evolution," are watchful for "the unchanging nature of imperialism." (The Vietnamese expression of "Dien bien hoa binh" is copied from the Chinese "He ping yan bian" or peaceful evolution.)

In the words of a Vietnamese diplomat, "While we are dissatisfied with the selfishness of the big powers, we have to endure it to survive." Vietnam has little choice but to continue to maintain this attitude toward any big power, be it China or the United States.


1 Mio Tadashi, "Nishigawa no enjo nashi dewa Betonamu was hasan suru" (Under the prolonged embargo Vietnam's doi moi faces a bankruptcy), Sekai Shuho No. 62 (2 Jul 1991). 2 Quan He Quoc Te, Hanoi, No. 1 (Jan 1991).

3 Nhan Dan (29 Aug 1989): 1.

4 Nhan Dan (20 Dec 1989: 1, 4.

5 Editorial, Tap Chi Cong San, No. 12 (1989): 1.

6 Quoc Phon Toan Dan, No. 6 (1991): 40.

7 Nhan Dan (31 Mar 1989): 1.

8 Nhan Dan (28 Jan 1990): 1, 4.

9 Quoc Phong Toan Dan, No. 12 (1989): 16.

10 Quoc Phong Toan Dan, No. 7 (1989): 12-18.

11 Nhan Dan (12 Dec 1990).

12 Quan Doi Nhan Dan (22 Dec 1990): 2.

13 See Tadashi Mio, "Relations among the Three Indochinese Countries: A Decade of the Rise and Fall of 'Strategic Alliance'," in Tadashi Mio, ed., Indochina in Transition: Confrontation or Co-Prosperity (Tokyo: Japan institute of International Affairs) 1989: 57-79.

14 Ibid.

15 Quoc Phong Toan Dan, No. 2 (1991): 74.

16 Editorial, Nhan Dan (5 Dec 1990): 1.

17 Quoc Phong Toan Dan, No. 1 (1991): 5.

18 Quan Doi Nhan Dan (22 Dec 1990): 2.

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