Why Hanoi?
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - April 3, 2018 - 12:00am

I have been to Vietnam countless times as I headed a team of Filipino technocrats that set up the first private commercial bank in Ho Chi Minh way back in the 1980’s, right after the end of the Vietnam War. When the engagement ended and the bank was running, we left three Filipinos as expats and that was 29 years ago. I remember that there were only four cars in Ho Chi Minh at that time and one was assigned to us from Monday to Friday. I use to go to Mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral on Sundays and walked around the city shopping for antiques. In two occasions, I got invited to have coffee with Minister An who happened to be the mayor at that time. I have very pleasant memories of that city and Vietnam, loved the place and longed to visit again. Hanoi was a plane ride away and was already the political capital of Vietnam. As there was no political aspect in our job, and the war just ended we did not have a reason to go to Hanoi. On hindsight, we should have visited Hanoi then, so I was really interested and intrigued when I was invited to visit Hanoi last month.

The last war in Vietnam ended in 1976 but Vietnam was isolated up to 1986, so their economy was in shambles until they made political and economic reforms in 1987. In those 10 years, they were really poor that on the first year we were there there were no fat people in Vietnam except the Russians. There were no commercial flights then that we had our own private jet to fly us from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh. From a purely socialist economy, they became a socialist-oriented market economy. Private ownership of businesses was encouraged and state/government enterprises were to operate under market conditions. They became capitalist communists. In 1977, Vietnam was admitted into the United Nations and in 2000 they had diplomatic relations with all nations. In 2017, their nominal GDP was $215 billion and per capita GDP of $2,305, which was 18 percent slightly below the Philippines’ GDP of $298 billion and per capita GDP of $2,900. By the end of 2018, with Vietnam growing higher than us, Vietnam and the Philippines would be at par with each other economically, in GDP amounts, nominally and in purchasing power parity. In 2017, Vietnam’s unemployment rate was 4.46 as against our 5.2 percent and they even had a lower poverty incidence than the Philippines, India, and China. Vietnam has achieved economically in 30 years what took the Philippines 60 years.

All these economic growth indicators confronted me when I arrived in Hanoi last month to a modern airport and a growing city with construction and industrial activity very visible. From my ninth floor picture window of Room 540 of the W.S. Marriott Hotel, I could see seven building cranes constructing high-rise offices and residential buildings. Hanoi, as the second largest city in Vietnam, has six lane freeways, overpasses through the city, and they are building an LRT-subway combination that will be finished by 2020. They have seven industrial parks in the outskirts of the city and attract five million tourists a year. With 10 million of Vietnam’s 100-million population, Hanoi’s economy is growing at 8 percent and the per capita GDP at $4,031, faster than the rest of the country.

This tremendous economic advancement of Vietnam has toned down their politics. It is still a one-party socialist republic with a president, prime minister, and a chairwoman as head of the National Assembly. Their biggest foreign investors are the Koreans, the Japanese, and the Americans. China is not visible as they have a conflict in some of the islands surrounding Vietnam that are claimed by China. Vietnam has fought with China, France, Japan, and America, and are not at all afraid of China.

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