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Four volunteers from the Institute for International Relations pose for a picture after a rehearsal for the APEC gala dinner on Oct 26 (Photo: Tuoi Tre)

VietNamNet Bridge – During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Ha Noi in November, 500 young volunteers from various universities will become roving ambassadors for their country by catering to the needs of the visiting politicians and journalists. For the volunteers, it will be their first real shot at practicing serious diplomacy.


What is the food called “hana” like? What are the salient features of the Jakarta Post and Media Indonesia? Exactly what time will Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will arrive in Vietnam?

These are the sort of things that Le Viet Phuong, a student at the Institute for International Relations, is busy discovering these days.

“I was assigned to be a liaison officer for Indonesia’s press delegation, so I have to gather loads of information about their country,” Phuong said.

“It would be a great shame to accompany them yet know little about them, so I’m preparing myself thoroughly, even brushing up on my knowledge of Ha Noi and Vietnam.”

Phuong is not an exception; each and every one of the volunteers is making an all-out effort to be ready for the big day.

As a liaison officer for the head of the Australian delegation, Nguyen Minh Tram is the envy of her friends.

She too attends the Institute for International Relations and has a good command of English and a decent knowledge of Australian culture, history and customs.

During rehearsal for the gala dinner at the National Conference Center on October 26, she looked charming in her ao dai even with her diplomatic airs.

She said confidently: “At IIR, we studied various cultures in the world and took part in some big events such as the Asia-Europe Meeting, the Southeast Asian Games and the first Senior Officials Meeting. So I think I am ready for this event.”


The rehearsal concluded successfully for all 100 or so of the young volunteers. Said one of them: “I feel more mature. This event is very meaningful to me. I have searched on the Internet and learned from my teachers and some diplomats as well. It is really a great opportunity for a would-be diplomat like me”.

These young and dynamic volunteers, who represent the spirit of Vietnamese youth, want to promote Vietnam among the international community.

The leader of the volunteers assigned to the APEC CEO Summit is Tran Nguyen Ngoc Tu, who told reporters: “We have learned much about APEC and the trade partners that the delegations will be meeting on this occasion. We now know how best to serve them. It sure is a great chance to promote Vietnam”.

“The reception for the CEO Summit guests in Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam (Vietnam’s first university) should be really impressive. Our volunteers will introduce many national features such as the handicraft villages and traditional forms of art. They will also give a brief presentation on Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam and some of its famous scholars.

“The opportunity is too wonderful to pass up”, Tu exclaimed.


(Source: SGGP, TT)


Carin Zissis, Staff Writer

October 30, 2006


More than three decades after a communist offensive reunified Vietnam, the party’s hold on power and civil society remains unchallenged. But twenty years of liberal economic reforms have brought sweeping changes and foreign investment to a nation characterized by increasing industrialization and a reduction in poverty. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is poised to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in November. Despite improved relations with the United States since the two countries normalized relations during theClinton administration, a holdup in the U.S. Congress could stall Hanoi’s full accession into the WTO.

What is the current status of Vietnam’s economy?

Vietnam’s economy has thrived in recent years. Indeed, China was the only Asian country to outpace the 8.4 percent growth of Vietnamese GDP in 2005—a small spike in Hanoi’s 7.5 percent average GDP growth over the past decade. The flourishing economy has drastically improved life expectancy, and the poverty rate dropped by almost two-thirds between 1993 and 2004. Hanoi’s economic boom dates to 1995, when Vietnam normalized relations with the United States and joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Despite the Communist Party of Vietnam’s continued grip over the country’s politics, central planning has given way to a market-based economic system and a marked decrease in the number of state-owned enterprises. After eleven years of negotiations, the WTO plans to endorse Hanoi ’s accession bid in a November 7 meeting.

What does WTO accession mean for Vietnam?

With a population of 84 million, Vietnam is the second most populous country behind Russia not yet in the WTO. As a member, it will benefit from elimination of quotas limiting textile exports to the United States and Europe. In exchange for membership, Hanoi has agreed to certain concessions including removal of its subsidies and massive tariffs protecting certain industries, such as shoe manufacturers. The European Union imposed antidumping duties—assessed when a country exports a product at a lower price than what it charges domestically—on Vietnam’s shoe imports in October to protest Hanoi’s subsidies of that industry. Representatives of the U.S. textile industry have warned that Vietnamese WTO accession will threaten American jobs because of a flood of cheap clothes into the United States.

Are there obstacles to Vietnam’s WTO accession?

Yes. The main obstacle to full WTO membership is a U.S. Congressional delay in granting Vietnam Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) (PDF), also know as “Most-Favored Nation” (MFN) status. In May 2006, Washington and Hanoi signed a bilateral market access deal, the last of twenty-eight trade agreements Vietnam had to negotiate with the other WTO members to gain membership. Although these types of trade agreements do not normally necessitate approval from Congress, the president is currently barred from granting Vietnam PNTR status because it is a communist state prohibited from such status under a 1974 trade act.

Congress must enact legislation to remove this barrier, but U.S. lawmakers—in particular Senators Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC)—initially argued that granting PNTR to Vietnam could harm domestic textile manufacturers. Dole and Graham have now agreed to consent to Hanoi’s permanent status based on a promise from the U.S. Commerce department to monitor Vietnamese imports and launch antidumping measures if deemed necessary. U.S. apparel importers in turn charge that such an agreement would not only hurt American investment in Vietnam’s textile industry, but also change how antidumping cases are raised in the United States because the Commerce department does not typically initiate such actions.

Another obstacle is the detention of an American citizen,Thuong Nguyen “Cuc” Foshee, held without charge as a terrorist suspect in Vietnam. Security officials detained Foshee, a Florida resident and member of a U.S.-based activist group opposed to Hanoi’s communist government, while she was vacationing in Vietnam last year. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL), a supporter of anti-communist campaigns, said he will block approval of Vietnam gaining PNTR because of her imprisonment.

If Congress fails to grant PNTR status, Vietnam will become a WTO member. However, WTO rules would not apply to its trade with the United States.

What is fueling the Vietnamese economic boom?

  • A shift from agriculture to manufacturing. Agriculture’s role in the economic output of an increasingly industrialized Vietnam decreased from 25 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2005. But exports of coffee, tea, and pepper have soared in recent years. And Vietnamese fish exports grew by 12 percent in the past year, despite antidumping actions taken by the U.S. and Japanese fishing industries. Aside from making shoes and apparel, Vietnamese manufacturing of electronic goods is on the rise because of large investments from companies such as Intel and Canon, the latter of which built the world’s largest laser printer factory in northernVietnam. The result is a growing number of high-end goods. “Vietnam’s not producing things you’re going to find in dollar stores,” says Robert K. Brigham, a Vietnam expert at Vassar College.
  • Foreign direct investment (FDI). The government has eased limits on foreign ownership of businesses, and Vietnam’s cheap land and low wages, even in comparison to China’s, attract foreign investors. As FDI rises—it increased by 41 percent to $5.8 billion in 2005—the number of state-owned enterprises shrinks, down from 5,600 in 2001 to 3,200 in 2005. The United States accounted for about $3.9 billion in FDI in 2005, up from $2.1 the previous year.
  • Remittances. Some 3 million Vietnamese live outside the country, and they sent a record number or remittances—over $4 billion—home in 2005. As much as 70 percent of these resources flow from the United States.

What is the history of economic reform in Vietnam?

Vietnam’s economic transformation results in large part from a policy initiated twenty years ago called Doi Moi, which roughly translates as “renovation” and involved agricultural decollectivization and liberalization of the economy, even as the country remained under one-party, communist rule. Adam J. Fforde, director of Asian studies at the University of Melbourne, says “the central planning project never really worked” and economic shocks in the late 1970s drove the country toward commercialization. Nguyen Van Linh initiated reform in 1986 when he took power as party leader, marking a departure from the Soviet-style economic policies under the previous leader, Le Duan. Doi Moi had little effect initially because “until Vietnam was out of Cambodia there was no way they were going to get access to the international economic community,” says Frederick Z. Brown, a Southeast Asia expert at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Hanoi withdrew from Cambodia in 1989, ten years after it invaded and toppled the Khmer Rouge, and in 1992 adopted a new constitutionreaffirming the market-oriented goals of Doi Moi. Washington lifted its trade embargo against the communist country in 1994, more than two decades after U.S. troops pulled out of Vietnam at the end of their Cold War-era conflict there. It established normal diplomatic relations a year later, which Brown describes as “key” to opening up Vietnam’s economy.

How are U.S.-Vietnam trade relations?

Strong, despite the U.S. delay in approving Vietnam’s PNTR status. In the past five years, trade has grown between Washington and Hanoi by 400 percent, and the United States is Vietnam ’s biggest importer, accounting for over 20 percent of Hanoi’s exports. U.S. imports of Vietnamese goods increased by 25 percent between 2004 and 2005. Economic relations have grown concurrently with improved political relations. President Bill Clinton paid a historic visit to Vietnam in 2000, and the two countries signed a trade agreement in 2001 to normalize their bilateral trade status.

How are Vietnam’s relations with China?

Beijing and Hanoi had a diplomatic falling out in the 1970s, when they fought a brief warwith one other. Their relations, normalized since 1991, continue to recover, despite a continuing territorial dispute over the Spratly Islands. While the United States is Vietnam’s largest importer, China is its largest exporter, accounting for over 12 percent of its imports in 2003 and holding a $2.8 billion trade surplus with Hanoi in 2005.

The current state of Vietnam’s trade with China and the United States places it in a somewhat delicate triangular relationship. “The Vietnamese government needs to have the capacity to run around that triangle,” says Fforde, explaining that Hanoi getting too cozy to either country makes the other one uncomfortable.

What barriers exist for Vietnam’s economic growth?

“The elephant in the room is corruption,” says Brown. Vietnam was rocked by corruption scandals in early 2006, when senior officials were investigated for involvement in the alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars of state funds from the transport ministry. Nong Duc Manh, the communist party’s secretary general and most powerful Vietnamese official, retained control despite his son-in-law’s position as a boss at the agency. By June, a power shake-up brought in Nguyen Tan Dung as prime minister and Nguyen Minh Triet as president. Dung was brought in partially because of his tough stance on corruption.

The fact that senior officials were exposed in a corruption scandal is an arguably positive result of a new law passed in 2005, which holds state agency directors responsible for corruption control and which allows for monitoring of civil servants’ assets. WTO accession could also help fight corruption and loosen state control in Vietnam because state firms will have greater difficulty getting loans from local banks to support state enterprises as a result of WTO bans on subsidies and monopolies.


A Sa Pa resort developed by American Technologies Inc is managed by Dinh Duc Huu, an overseas Vietnamese man from the US. — VNS Photo Truong Vi

HA NOI — The first industrial zone for Viet kieu (overseas Vietnamese) is to be set up in a bid to help overseas Vietnamese develop business opportunities in Viet Nam from the country’s WTO entry, asserted Chairman of HCM City’s Overseas Vietnamese Business Association Phan Thanh.

Covering an area of 337ha in Cu Chi District in HCM City, the Overseas Vietnamese Industrial Zone with an investment of US$50 million, is expected to mainly attract overseas Vietnamese businesses in fields such as information technology, electronics and electricity when fully operational by the end of 2007.

The industrial zone’s operation will play an important role as an effective bridge to bring overseas Vietnamese investors back to their homeland, Thanh said.

The proposal of the construction zone has been received with much support and investment from overseas Vietnamese worldwide, he added, saying that they were eager to have a permanent opportunity for investment and business in their native land.

Now is the right time to build an industrial zone like this as it will initiate a new wave of investment from overseas Vietnamese giants with a great source of reserved capital, Thanh confirmed.

Many overseas Vietnamese enterprises have been paying a lot of attention to Viet Nam’s admission to the WTO. They were surprised at the country’s strong growth rate and look to come back to Viet Nam with the hopes of contributing to their native country and tapping money making opportunities, Thanh added.

To date, there are 15 overseas Vietnamese registered to operate in the zone, even though it is still pending construction.

Additionally, the association is preparing to establish an overseas commercial Vietnamese investment bank of which capital will be mobilised mostly by overseas Vietnamese. Together, the bank and the industrial zone will co-operate to develop and assist overseas Vietnamese businesses’ performance more efffectively.

However, overseas Vietnamese investment will likely be limited due to information obstacles. They still have little understanding of information in the economic environment as well as lacking luring investment policies, Thanh expressed.

At present, while the number of information channels of the government, bodies, sectors and associations have been expanded, they are still far behind that of other countries in the region, as well as all over the world.

Therefore, the expansion of information in developing countries calls for further investment, and is the most necessary work at the time being, he assured. — VNS

The zone is expected to be a bridge to link to not only overseas Vietnamese businesses, but also foreign investors worldwide to the flourishing country, stated Thanh. — VNS

by Huu Ngoc

Not so long ago, Vietnamese people fathered by foreigners were generally treated with disdain. This was particularly true of the countless children brought into being by members of the French and American armies during the two long wars that rocked the country for three decades of the last century.

Children of mixed parentage had to live virtually like aliens in a society still tainted by racial prejudices that were a natural result of an instinct for self-preservation, entrenched parochial views and suspicion of all things foreign borne out of centuries of political and economic domination by outside forces.

Kim Lefevre had a very unhappy childhood because she was half-French. She was born shortly before the end of World War II and abandoned by her father, a military man who returned to his native country. Kim’s mother came from a landed family in Nam Dinh Province. She ran away from home and married the Frenchman, who later deserted her.

At the age of six, Kim was placed in an orphanage in Ha Noi while her mother went south to seek a living. After the Revolution of August 1945, she was reunited with her mother, who was by this time remarried and living in Cho Lon, Sai Gon.

Kim went to school again and obtained a scholarship that enabled her to get a doctorate degree in literature in France.

In her Metisse Blanche (Bernard Barrault, Paris 1989), Kim recalls her mother’s self-sacrifice in providing for her education and the selfless assistance that a Catholic sister gave her during her college years.

But she remembers with great bitterness her triple misfortune of being female, an orphan and a “half-caste”. She once heard her uncle say to her mother: “Your bosom is nourishing a viper. Her kind knows nothing of gratitude.” One primary-school teacher treated Kim with particular harshness, as if blaming her for the on-going French aggression. There were times when Kim cursed her French half, but in moments of lucidity she realised that she was only a victim of a people who had been victimised by colonialism. Over time, having matured in age and mind, and with a heart full of love, Kim returned not long ago for a visit to Viet Nam, her Viet Nam, the country of her mother.

Another such woman who does not forget where she comes from despite everything is Ngoc Anh, who lives in Garland, Texas, USA.

In a story carried on the community paper Viet Bao in California early this year, this 40-year-old Vietnamese-American tells how she revoked her “tearful” years from 1957 to 1990, particularly the period immediately after the end of the American War. At primary school she was bullied for her stiff hair and punished again and again for fighting back.

Ngoc Anh’s misery did not end even with Washington’s decision to grant citizenship to children fathered by Americans during the war. At a third-country transit camp for refugees, she was the object of distrust by old-timers, who unjustly thought that half-breeds were “natural thieves”.

After years of a happy life with her husband and her children in the United States, Ngoc Anh still longs for the place of her birth.

She misses the croaking of frogs in the paddies, the cooing of cuckoos on moonlit nights, the soothing lullabies mothers sing to their babies swinging in a hammock.

She declares with candidness: “I hate anyone speaking ill of the Vietnamese people even though I am physically not like them at all.” — VNS