Economist Bui Kien Thanh: US-Vietnam relationship today is not a miracle but perseverance.

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Vietnam and the US are marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of postwar relations between the two “former enemies,” and there are some comments that the achievements of this relationship can be considered a miracle.

But a former independent adviser who had consulted at a strategic level for the government and Vietnamese authorities from the past three decades said that “nothing should be considered miraculous.”

Talking to BBC News Vietnamese on the occasion of this US-Vietnam diplomatic event from Hoi An, economist Bui Kien Thanh explained his views and comments on and thereby shared some details about what he knows, participate or consult advisors from the beginning, as well as talk about things that besides marking this “achievement” need to be noted, updating in terms of awareness of the new situation right now, as well as looking to the future, both internally and externally.

I don’t think there is any miracle but a result of a long story in the Vietnam-US relationship since the two countries have established and developed over the past 25 years.”

I think that first of all we must always be patient, always step forward, move forward, no matter what difficulties we have to overcome, because actually in building, maintaining and developing the Vietnam-US relations, the two countries have been facing many difficulties, previously there were difficulties that seemed impossible to overcome.”

But I think it is perseverance, not miracles, that, together with our efforts to get to know each other, that we are still able to do it.”

But it’s really not something that is ‘miraculous’ but we knew how to do it. That is, there must be keys to open closed and stuck doors, know how to get exact disease diagnosis and how to treat these diseases.”

For example, I must first understand the issues of economic activity, political activities of the US and how the situation, the level of Vietnam, to find solutions that the two sides can be able to understand each other.”

Well, that’s the problem and the specificity to do, but to say that ‘magic’ is not the right word.”

Remembering Vo Van Kiet and Pham Hung

Economist Bui Kien Thanh, through his own exchange experience as a Vietnamese intellectual living in the US, was approached by the Vietnamese government and authorities three decades ago “seeking” and “listening” to private opinions, mentoring, advising, on this occasion, tell BBC News Vietnamese is that Vietnamese today should not forget that besides foreign affairs, there are domestic affairs, opening the “door” from within themselves, opening its economy to tap its potentions. Vietnam needs to combine harmoniously between its internal potentials with foreign affairs and from there, foreign relations and domestic governance can interact and harmonize with each other.

This year is also the 12th anniversary of the death of late Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, on this occasion I also remember Mr. Kiet and another key person, before that, who helped to open the first door, Mr. Pham Hung. Hung was the first person to question me, a Vietnamese who lived for many years in the US and worked in the field of economics, finance in the heart of the US, on economic innovation and relations with the US. Kiet followed Hung.

The leadership of Vietnam is open to the outside, listening to the opinions of Vietnamese people in the US and overseas like me is also meaningful for that innovation, opening that door outside. And when I started working with Vietnamese leaders, from the US, Kiet was the Secretary of Ho Chi Minh City’s party committee, his special role in HCM City was piloting the things that I present to the leaders in Hanoi.

After HCM City got impressive results from piloting market economy, the party’s Politburo conducted a meeting in January 1983 in Da Lat to review the pilot projects in the city.

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But actually the meeting on January 27, 1983 was a retreat meeting of the Politburo of the CPV approving the work of Mr. Kiet in HCM City, from which the new rennovation project (Đổi mới) was developed and submitted to the party’s 6th National Congress.”

Then Prime Minister Pham Hung instructed Mr. Kiet to pilot market economy in HCM City, abolish regional economic blockade and allow HCM City-based businesses to operate without having to wait for state-supplied material supplies.”

So Mr. Kiet’s role is a leading role in creating new jobs, methods of market economy into reality and slowly being accepted and led by the leaders.”

The resolution of the 6th National Congress to ratify the policy of “rich people- strong country,” democratic and civilized society, but before that, the important thing is to open up Vietnam’s economy. The component, of course, is to eliminate the centralized state-owned economy, which is a huge revolution, enabling people to participate in the economy, restoring freedom. The business of all a nation in five words is that Vietnam’s economy is a ‘multi-component economy.’”

Therefore, the roles of Kiet and Pham Hung in those times are very important, so that the regime’s transition to a revolution with people saying is great so that it can be said to restore the freedom of doing business for the whole nation, in the spirit of opening up to the world to save ourselves, to progress, develop and integrate.”

What advice did you give to the Vietnamese leadership?

Recalling what has been exchanged, consulted and advised Vietnamese leaders through many different figures in diplomacy, senior government officials in the years since the early 1980s, economist Thanh said:

Originally, when they, like Pham Hung, Vo Van Kiet … through their indirect, direct and subordinate channels asked me how to develop the Vietnamese economy, I said that according to the Communist Party’s state management led to a poor proletarian Vietnamese who could not develop, so you must think about how to make the Vietnamese people rich then the country will become  strong.

At that time, Vietnamese representatives responded immediately to me, saying that if it was said that the rich people were the enemies of the proletariat, then it would be difficult for them to tell the leaders, I told them ‘You will not have to present, I will write down and you will give it to your leaders, you do not have to speak.’”

Let your leaders see, if your leaders see that what I say is right, that is why from the beginning of ancient times, from Qin Shihuang to Rome, until in Vietnamese history ancient times, no country had prospered and built from a poor population, so the people must be rich, the country will be strong. If you agree on that, then I would comment further. If no, I dont have to tell you.”

So that was the beginning, so the place to reach a consensus from what is called ‘the rich people, the strong country’ is the key to come, especially for me, the two sides, the Vietnamese government and the Vietnamese intellectuals in the US, in foreign countries, we come to exchange, and we agreed that Vietnam has to cooperate with other countries, including the US to learn from them for its development. Later, Vietnam built the new policy of rennovation approved by the 6th National Congress of the ruling communist party.”

The letter was sent to Mr. Tran Duc Luong

Also on this occasion, economist Bui Kien Thanh shared with the BBC one more detail about how he advised and consulted on how to help the Vietnamese government to have the support of the different groups in the US and improve its relations with ASEAN countries to settle some issues related to the protection of sovereignty over islands in the East Sea (South China Sea), national security and regional and international integration through the US and Southeast Asian countries.”

At that time, Vietnam was in a difficult position in coping with China in the South Chint Sea and Vietnam wanted to hold an international conference to bring out the East Sea issue and the Vietnamese leadership wanted me to learn from the US to know would the US participate in such a event organized by Vietnam.”

At that time I was with Mr. Tran Duc Luong, then Deputy Prime Minister, quietly, but when I went to the US Department of State to raise the issue, the Americans were very positive and frank telling me that they would not take part in such event since the two countries have no diplomatic relations.”

What are you doing that for,” the US said, “since we are now creating an ASEAN Regional Security Forum called the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), you haven’t been in because you haven’t been introduced. If anyone introduces it, nobody can approve it. If we have additional opinions, we will approve it. Then the US Department of State told me that Vietnam should ask Indonesia for joining ASEAN.”

In Indonesia, when President Suharto introduces Vietnam to this regional security forum, so if Indonesia is a big country in the region, we (USA) will notify all members of the region that we have no objections to this so you will have a forum for you to take your security issue to the regional security forum so that it can be discussed.”

It is a very positive action of the US Government while the two countries had no diplomatic relations, but I have a connection, which helps the Vietnamese government to join the membership of the Asean Regional Forum and it was the beginning and through which Vietnam appreciated and highly appreciated the spirit of American cooperation in such difficult and dynamic periods.”

In the above development, I was the only person assigned by Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet to go to the US to explore the US State Department about that point and in the morning I went to the US State Department meeting in the afternoon. When I returned, I wrote a report to Deputy Prime Minister Tran Duc Luong who moved to Hanoi saying that the US government offered to help Vietnam like that, so the Vietnamese government was very surprised how I went. After one day at the State Department, when we talked to the State Department to solve such a big issue, the government was very happy and highly appreciated the outcome.”

I have been doing such things for a long time, but I did not say anything to anyone, later I wrote them in a book to let everyone know, accompanied by handwritten documents that I sent to Mr. Tran. Duc Luong.”

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The new situation requires new heights

At the end of this exchange, economist Bui Kien Thanh told BBC News Vietnamese that besides looking back at the “miraculous achievements” in Vietnam-US relations over the past 25 years, Vietnam needs to be aware of just updated on the world situation in the current context and has a new vision of upgrading Vietnam-US relations, in his view.

Today, the international and regional situation has changed so much, requiring the vision and level of relations between Vietnam and the US to be updated, renewed and upgraded.”

Let me say, for example, the Chinese factor, which is creating challenges today with Vietnam, the region and the world and the Vietnam – US relations of relations, not only in economics and trade, the market is also concerned with diplomacy, politics, security, in that context, I think the part that Vietnam has done, tried to do in the past decades and in recent years to build and better relations with the US need to be strengthened.

What is the good relationship with the US? In my opinion, it is to build Vietnam a strong future, not to be immersed in the role of a weak country, but to have such a good relationship with the civilized and developed nations, especially for the US, because the US is both the world’s largest market and the world’s largest source of science, technology and technology.”

No country after the Second World War could develop without cultivating and developing relations with the US, including France, including Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea, etc.”

We have to learn from that experience, how to build the best relationship with the US in all aspects, not only in the economic aspect, but also in other fields, which are the things that I also tried to do since the 1980s.”

And today and here, I think the two countries Vietnam and the US have in fact achieved a level of partnership at a strategic level, not just a comprehensive one.”

At this point, in my opinion, it is necessary to promote and improve the level of this relationship with more legitimacy and scope, serving the common interests that the two countries have long cooperated with, yet to share, as well as contributing to the achievement. extreme and more effective in peace, stability, common prosperity of the region and the world.”

Author Bui Kien Thanh, an economist born in 1932, is a Vietnamese American financier and economist. He was honored by the Vietnamese government in the Vietnam Honor Program in 2004. (Translated)

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