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I was writing this article while in transit to Hong Kong to give a speech to a group of professionals and fellow alumni of the University of Hawaii about whether Vietnam is a short-term positive story or the next Asian Tiger.
Coincidentally, President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un completed their Hanoi, Vietnam Summit held over the past 36 hours to discuss a path forward towards peace, security, stability, and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. There was hope that this summit might achieve a formal end to the Korean War which has been in a state of armistice for the past 65 years.
The organisers of the Hong Kong event indicate that participants are very interested in learning more about Vietnam as a trade and investment destination, however, I am confident there will be an increase in interest due to the significant publicity Vietnam has received in the lead-up to the Hanoi Summit.
Vietnam has received its share of positive global publicity over the past few years, especially with its successful hosting of the APEC, however, the publicity surrounding the DPRK-US Summit has been different and more beneficial because the world was anxious to know which country would host such a significant event. When Vietnam was announced, it was like winning a beauty contest or an award show. Next, people wanted to know why Vietnam? Certainly, its geographical location and current friendliness with both countries played into the decision. However, people learned that Vietnam provides a fantastic example of tremendous economic growth and success over the past 25 years, providing lessons and paths forward for the DPRK.
Over the past month in the lead-up to the summit, the world read in many newspapers and business journals how Vietnam transitioned from major levels of poverty to essentially eradicating it within the last 30 years. They learned that Vietnam has very quickly evolved from a poor country to a middle income country. They marvel at how Vietnam has sustained GDP growth of nearly 7 per cent for many years. They watch on the nightly newscasts reports of the summit with the Vietnamese urban skylines in the background resembling the most iconic cityscapes in the world. They see that Vietnam is both a leader and facilitator of peace. Most importantly, they were able to see the warmth, positivity, beauty, and generosity of the Vietnamese people.
As I watched the closing news reports of the summit, initial reports indicated a constructive and useful dialogue between President Trump and Chairman Kim. However, they were unable to reach any formal agreements. With this in mind, it seems to me that the biggest winner of this summit was clearly Vietnam.
As an American businessperson who has lived and worked in Vietnam for more than eight years, I am very proud of this country. I believe there are many lessons Vietnam has to offer to the DPRK situation beyond its economic successes. Lessons such as how to navigate co-operation and discussions with the US over sensitive war legacy issues. I also believe Vietnam provides an additional example through its progress towards protecting human rights and religious freedoms viewed from a long-term lens.
That said, it is my sincere hope that Vietnam will fully take advantage of this unique opportunity to showcase its many successes to the world by continuing to take further steps and achieve greater results.
The conclusion of my Hong Kong speech to professionals interested in trade and investment with Vietnam will be that Vietnam is not merely a short-term positive story. Vietnam has already demonstrated a strong track record and will continue to reach further heights. Maybe, it can even be considered another Asian Tiger in the future like Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan or Singapore? To reach that level of success, it is very important that Vietnam continue to learn from these “Tiger” countries’ journeys (both success and failure) much like it would benefit the DPRK to learn from Vietnam’s journey.
Economists and historians note that some of the themes of these Asian Tigers’ successes include: good governance; a supportive business environment; a smart and strong regulatory environment; anti-corruption measures; carefully managed public debt alongside large reserves/savings; and an emphasis on developing modern and next generation industries.
I would like to congratulate Vietnam for very effectively hosting the summit and showcasing its success story to the world. I am confident that Vietnam will see increased foreign visitors, investment interest, and global prestige in the days, months, and years ahead. The bright story of Vietnam’s achievements will certainly continue.