Visit to Vietnam


Moving forward and putting the past in the past

During the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 with the North Vietnamese troops closing on the city, the then Life-Time magazine editor sent a telex (there were no email then), to his photographer that he wanted a photograph of the last person to die in the Vietnam War. The photographer replied that this was not possible as the last person to die in the Vietnam War has not yet been born.

The recent visit to Vietnam made one thing clear it is a country that has put aside its troubled past and the issue of the last person to die in the Vietnam War has been resolved. Indeed the country is moving ahead and great speed. In the last sixteen years it has managed to increase its share of global exports by seven times. Compare this with Pakistan whose exports have declined slightly over the same period. Their GDP growth rate has averaged over 7 % substantially higher than Pakistan’s 4-5% growth rate.

Vietnam’s has a total population of 95 million or almost half of Pakistan yet its GDP is similar to Pakistan, which means that per capita Vietnam GDP is twice that of Pakistan. The major cities are Ho Chi Men city (Saigon) with a population of 10 million, Hanoi population 8 million.

Vietnam exports goods worth approx. 175 billion dollars annually as compare this with Pakistan’s exports of around $25 billion, there are over 8,000 km2 of Export Processing Zones (EPZ) with a total investment of almost $100 billion that produce everything from footwear and apparel to electronic goods. While we were there the newspaper carried stories on how Samsung had pledged to invest $1.5 billion for a new factory to manufacture Television components, and how the Korean engineering giant Doosan had export $15 million worth of gantry cranes to Dammam port from their new $200 million engineering production facilities in Vietnam.

In terms of energy Vietnam power generating capacity is approx. 37,000 MW as compared with Pakistan’s 23,000 MW but in sharp contrast with Pakistan they do not rely on imported energy source, Hydropower supplies 57% or 18,000 MW while indigenous coal and gas provide the remaining. In the last three years Vietnam added 3000 MW to the grid, 1,800 MW of hydel power and 1,200 MW of coal based power. Compare this with Pakistan that is planning to add 6,000 MW to the grid but almost all of it based on imported LNG or coal. The main advantage is that Vietnam is relatively insulted from the shocks of drastic change in energy prices or depreciation of its currency.

Vietnam was in ruins in 1975, yet the country has recovered remarkably mainly due to the ideology and struggle that took place prior to its reunification. Ho Chi Men and General Giap the two architects of modern Vietnam had a three central pillars in their ideology that has shaped the nation i) Independence, ii) Unity and iii) Prosperity for all. The Communist Party and its five million members that still rules Vietnam acts upon this ideology.

Vietnam had been colonised by the Chinese, Japanese, French and unification was achieved by defeating an American backed regime. Independence therefore signifies economic as well as political independence, all Vietnamese government decision reflect this and no agreements are made that could risk long term economic or political independence.

Although there are tension in the country particularly as the southern part of the country is the more prosperous and educated part, yet unlike Pakistan where certain regions absorb a majority of the resources and associated development benefits, the development in Vietnam is more be balanced with all eighty provinces sharing the growth.

When he set out to win the war against the French in Dien Bein Pho, General Giap set out a plan for 4,000 days to win the war with gradual escalation and small victories and defeats. Similarly the plan for enhancing prosperity in Vietnam is not constraint by the urgency to win the next elections but by building on a well thought out plan to achieve sustainable goals.

Admittedly Vietnam has a geographical advantage being close to China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea as well as no terrorism or sectarian issues. But the fact that the country leadership thinks long term and is reasonably honest is a major plus. Contrast this with Pakistan where the last two ruling parties have been obsessed with only two things winning elections and lining their pockets. Which is could explain why the development graphs of the two countries have diverged dramatically particularly over the last ten years.