People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 49

December 09, 2007

A Useful And Inspiring Visit To Vietnam


U Vasuki


Members of CPI(M) delegation with Nong Duc Manh, general secretary of CP Vietnam


A CPI(M) delegation headed by general secretary Prakash Karat and comprising of Hari Singh Kang, Central Secretariat member and U Vasuki, Central Committee member visited Vietnam from November 18- 25,  2007 at the invitation of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).


Vietnam has a glorious history of heroic struggle against colonialism and imperialism. In 1945, the Communist Party led by Ho Chi Minh liberated the northern part from the French colonisers. There was the legendary struggle by the Vietnamese people for thirty years first against the French and later a unified struggle against the aggression of the United States of the southern part of Vietnam and their puppet regimes and finally in 1975, the great reunification of north and south Vietnam took place. When the Communist Party took over the nation in 1975, the economy was in a terrible shape, destroyed by 30 years of war, looted and plundered by the successive imperial powers. Another 30 years have passed by. What is the situation today?


The delegation began its visit in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. There were a series of meetings with the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam. In these talks, we came to know about the big strides made by Vietnam in economic development. The first meeting was held with the External Relations Commission of the Central Committee of the CPV.  Tran Van Hang, chairman of the External Relations Commission alongwith his colleagues in the Commission held discussions with the CPI(M) delegation. Prakash Karat explained the CPI(M)’s understanding of the current international situation. He also briefed the Vietnamese side about the role being played by the CPI(M) and the Left parties in India. He welcomed the outcome of the visit of prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung to India in July this year where it was announced that India and Vietnam will upgrade their relationship to a strategic partnership.


The Vietnamese side gave an overview of the decisions of the 10th Party Congress of the CPV which was held earlier this year. In the ongoing renewal process (Doi moi), the country has recorded major achievements and comprehensive changes towards a more civilised and democratic society.


·      The GDP growth in 2006 was 8.2 percent and in 2007, it grew to  8.5 percent

·      FDI was 10.2 billion USD in 2006 and in 2007 till July it was 9.6 billion USD. The expectation is about 13 billion USD for the whole year.

·      Living standards of the people have increasingly improved. Poverty as measured by UN standards and the percentage of poor households was 58 percent in 1990s and in 2006 it was reduced to 19 percent and in 2007, it was further down to 14 percent.

·      Political system is consolidated and financial security maintained.

·      By 2020, Vietnam will come out of the under developed status.


The 10th Congress of the CPV exhorted the party to strengthen its leadership capacity and improve the revolutionary ethics, integrity and honesty as a political task. Rapid and sustainable expansion of the economy with the growth rate at 8.5% for 2007 along with the development of social, educational, cultural and environmental spheres is the economic task. As an organizational task, a renewal process has to be undertaken from top to bottom, strengthening the mechanism to be in touch with the masses, promoting fight against corruption and practicing thrift.


The experience of the renewal process and a socialist oriented market economy holds important lessons for strengthening socialism in Vietnam. While the rapid growth opens the way for inequalities, the remarkable success Vietnam has had in its poverty reduction programme is noteworthy. Based on the poverty standard of US $ 1 per capita day, poverty rate fell by four-fifths in the 1990-2004 period.


This was followed by a meeting with the Secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee Pham Quang Nghi, who is also a member of the Polit Bureau, and other leaders of the Committee. In these talks, the delegation became acquainted with the urban development of Hanoi, the development of industries, the problems of traffic, housing and dealing with environmental pollution.


During our stay in Hanoi I also had the opportunity to meet the Vice President of the Vietnamese Women’s Union Hoang Thi Ai Nhien in their office and had a long discussion on the status of the women. Their 10th national conference identified 6 main tasks: Develop and improve overall knowledge of women; women’s union to play a role in implementation of law on gender equality; assist women to develop economic empowerment; assist women to establish happy families; develop healthy women’s organization; and strengthen the global women’s movement.


The journal “Women of Vietnam Review” in their Feb 2007 issue stated that the women’s union  encounter issues of trafficking (at the border areas), HIV, family violence (for which a legislation is being debated), violence against Vietnamese brides by South Korean husbands etc. The polit bureau of the CPV has passed a resolution to promote gender equality. It aims to make the country a leader in South East Asian region in terms of gender equality by 2020. Vietnam has been praised by the UN for its efforts to assure equality and advancement for women.


The highlight of our stay in Hanoi was the meeting with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nong Duc Manh. In the meeting both Nong Duc Manh and Prakash Karat reaffirmed the warm and fraternal ties between the two parties. The CPV General Secretary pointed out that Vietnamese path to socialism had a very low starting point and exuded confidence that they will overcome the difficulties. Vietnam would become a modern industrial country by 2020. The CPV as the ruling party would make all efforts to realise its full potential. He expressed happiness at the important role being played by the CPI(M) in Indian politics. Prakash Karat explained briefly the role the Party is playing in India in promoting the interests of the working people, defence of national sovereignty and for an independent foreign policy. He pointed out that there was across the board political consensus in India for developing close ties and cooperation with Vietnam.


We were moved by the visit to the residence of Ho Chi Minh who lived in a small house on stilts behind the Presidential palace. Before this house was built, Ho Chi Minh lived in the staff quarters behind the palace. The guide explained the simple and spartan ways of living of the great leader. He used to sleep on a mat laid on a wooden cot. There was a small round table in his  room which was gifted by Fidel Castro. On his dining table, small vessels the size of which would suffice one person were on display. He used to pack his own lunch while visiting provinces to avoid  lavish feasts organized in his honour.


We visited the first ancient university of Vietnam, called ‘Temple of Literature’. Now it is not functioning there. Influenced by Confucius thoughts, a king set up this university. The names of those who passed a 9 year course are inscribed on a plank, standing on the statue of tortoise. Inside the building, apart from the statue of Ho Chi Minh, the statue of Confucius and some of the teachers were also kept. Generally teaching is viewed with reverence in Vietnam, something similar to India’s  ‘Guru Bakthi’.


Quang Ninh province


After spending 2 days in Hanoi, we were taken to Quang Ninh province in the north-east which has the famed Halong Bay. This province supplies 95% of the country’s coal requirement. The quality is very high and such superior variety of coal is found only in very few places in the world. Apart from domestic consumption, coal is being exported. Fishing is another important occupation. Tourism is the other important sector. Every year 2 million tourists visit the Bay. We were taken on a boat ride in the scenic spectacle of Ha Long Bay which is about to be voted upon as being one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. It is known for its legendary beauty and caves.


Ho Chi Minh city


On the 21st, we departed for Ho Chi Minh (HCM) city  - previously Saigon - and arrived at the Tan Son Nhat airport in the evening. HCM city party committee welcomed us and the city Deputy  secretary Hguyen Van Hua hosted a dinner for us. The discussion with him was very fruitful. The problem encountered by the city is lack of housing due to the huge in - migration. There are about 2 million migrants. This is due to rural people coming for industrial jobs and growing needs of accommodation for war victims. He explained the measures taken by the government towards poverty alleviation, education and better housing. They have set up a social bank to give financial assistance for poor. Free cows are given to the poor households and after using them for sometime and breeding them, the cow has to be passed on to another poor household. The money for the bank is raised not only from government funding, but also from other sources like overseas Vietnamese, FDI institutions, private enterprises etc. Special shows and performances are organized to collect donations. There is the national organisation called “Vietnam Fatherland Front” having members from all walks of life  that organizes fund raising for the needy. Women are organized under micro finance groups and funding is made available.


Dong Noi province – rapid growth


Next day we were taken to Dong Noi province 30 kms from Ho Chi Minh city. It is one of the most industrialised provinces in the country. Provincial secretary Tran Dinh Thanh and other members shared their experience of  growth of their province with pride. Their GDP in 2006 was 14.5% and for this year, it is predicted at 15.1%. Per capita earning is 955 USD while the national average is 600 USD. For 2007, it is expected to increase to 1100 USD. Industry and construction accounts for 57.7% of the total economy, Service sector 10.2% and Agro/sea food/fisheries account for the rest. Industrial investment is increased by 220.2% over the last year and FDI increased by 91.1%. In 2007, 85000 jobs have been created. Though they have 900000 people in the working age group, it remains inadequate and people from nearby provinces are migrating to this place for employment. Nearly 70% of the workers are from other provinces.  The state administration has drawn a developmental plan till 2010. The rate of poverty stands at 6.8 % now and it will be reduced to 4% by 2010 and will be completely eradicated in 2015. More than 90% of the population gets fresh water.  According to their statistics, many other socio cultural indices are very encouraging.


We were impressed at the attention paid by the Govts at all levels and also by the people to environmental protection. Though they are inviting FDI at a large scale, license will be given to only those companies which abide by the labour law in the country and also ensure strict mechanism to dispose of or recycle industrial wastes. The province is housing a huge forest which is maintained with utmost care. There is a ban on wood cutting for the past 10 years. Though they desparately need wood for construction activities, the ban is enforced strictly and the required wood is being imported. Such is their zeal for environmental protection.


When asked about the conditions of working women, they said that 70% of workers in their province are women and equal wages are given. Minimum wages are specified by the law, which is about USD 50, but many workers get more than that. They are able to save something after meeting the basic requirements. Women get 4 months maternity leave with pay and bonus of one more month’s salary; they are allowed to take leave without pay for a further two months. Out of 8 hours of work, the mothers, till the child reaches the age of 1, are permitted to work just for 6 hours.


The province has 24 industrial parks (IP), both single and multi sectoral,  with a total area of 6496 hectares. Approximately 70% of the area has already been leased out and both Vietnamese and multinational companies from 31 countries are functioning. The rate of leasing stands at 1.5 USD per sq.m. per year which is very meagre. Total invested capital for building infrastructure facilities in all the IPs is about 254 million USD. 300000 labourers are employed. We visited one such industrial park named AMATA. It is situated at a place where a US military base was operating before re-unification. Most of the enterprises are from Japan, some from US, Korea, South Africa and Taiwan and there are 2 Indian companies. These companies manufacture chemicals, beverages, engine oil, electronic items, zippers, furniture etc.


In Nhon Trach district of this province, the district secretary Tran Minh Phuc and other members took us to a war memorial. They call it a temple and its roof is made up of green ceramic which is a speciality of that area.  The names of 14000 compatriots from 20 districts are inscribed on the walls. The party flag and the implements used during the war against the US are displayed. The fighters used to hide in the water, breathing through shoots. While remaining immersed in the water, they had to struggle with snakes and sometimes with crocodiles. Photos of heroic mothers who lost their husbands as well as children in the war are also displayed. There were underground tunnels built during the war for the safety of the compatriots. They are very narrow with the very low ceiling. For the benefit of the visitors, they have been broadened a bit and we went through one of them.


From there, we were taken to a beautiful golf course spread over more than 300 hectares, called Long Thanh Golf club. There are plans to expand it to 2000 hectares. It has got the award for the best golf course in Vietnam. Since the water in that area is salty, it cannot be used and the land too is unfit for cultivation. It has been built and maintained by a party comrade as a family concern. In Vietnam, people who have a post either in the party or in the Govt. cannot run a business. This comrade has taken this up after retirement.


Historic Cu chi tunnels



Prakash Karat at the War Memorial in Ho Chi Minh city


On 24th, after getting back to Ho Chi Minh city, we visited the ‘Independence Palace” which was housing the puppet presidents supported by America. In 1975, it was captured by the revolutionary forces symbolising the liberation of Saigon. There is an interesting photo exhibition in the basement of the palace.


Then, we were taken to a historic place called Cu Chi. It is located near the city. It has a large stretch of underground tunnels with the length of 250 KM. The ordinary people of Cu Chi built them with their hands during the war from 1948 to 1954, and from 1960 to 1972 with the guidance of revolutionary guerillas. 50000 US troops were countered by 16000 guerillas including 4000 women. The entry to the tunnels were known only to the revolutionaries and the local people. This was used for sudden attacks on US soldiers and their tanks. One American General exclaimed, “Communists are invisible, but they are everywhere”. Another said, “It is a very complicated system and no architect can design it “. The tunnel system is at 3 levels, at 3 metres, 6 metres and 10 netres below the ground. There are rooms for cooking, eating, sleeping, stitching, planning, meeting etc. There is a 15 metre depth well inside ! Oil lamps were used. One can only crawl in the tunnels. It was impossible for US soldiers even with their modern weapons to discover the entrance to the tunnels and even if they did, they could not enter because of the size. The people set up a lot of booby traps and land mines to capture the US soldiers. They used to throw chilli powder and pepper powder to scare away the sniffing dogs and sometimes, they used to put the soaps used by the American troops to confuse the dogs. At some places in the tunnel, they needed ventilation and on the ground it was built looking like exactly a natural ant hill. In the war, 12000 guerillas were killed here most of them young men and women.  America could never bring this place under their control. We went through a few tunnels and it was an awesome and inspiring experience.


Adjoining the tunnel complex there is a memorial for 44,000 combatants who sacrificed their lives in the liberation war. Every single combatant’s name and his date of birth and date of death  is enshrined in this beautifully constructed temple. Our delegation offered incense sticks and paid our respectful homage to these heroic fighters for liberation.


We later visited the War Crimes Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. America used special bombs with chemicals called ‘Agent Orange” and ‘Napalm” on the Vietnamese and photos of such victims are displayed in the museum. The photos of the deformed children and adults due to the effects of chemical warfare, the torture perpetrated against the revolutionary men and women were heart breaking. Guillotine used by US officials to chop of the heads of the fighters is on display. There are models of special cells called ‘Tiger Cages”  where the liberation fighters were cruelly tortured. In the section on ‘Solidarity’, solidarity actions in other countries have been recorded. We were happy to see that it includes a poster and a photo of a demonstration organized in Kolkata.


The visit to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and to the two other provinces of Vietnam gave us a glimpse of the steady and remarkable progress being made after having suffered like no other country in the 20th century from the worst ravages of war, Vietnam is being reconstructed. Its economy is making all round progress. Vietnam has made impressive strides in the reduction of poverty. As member of Asean it has become an important country in the region. It seems to be the most “happening country” in the south east Asian region.