Comments: Vietnam’s Potential By Nguyen Thanh-Nghia
As dark clouds opened their puffy arms, thick sheets of rain fell from the October sky. Looking out the window, slender streams of water wiggled down the glass like intoxicated worms. I gathered myself on a hammock and started to sway to and fro. Somber as the outside conditions were, I felt genuinely happy inside; a case of lingering afterglow. An observer could accuse me of being in love. Close but not quite. Only a few days ago, the 2004 Vietnamese Professionals Society (VPS) North American Conference was in full swing – hustling and bustling with activities. Hundreds of attendees from all over the U.S. (and a handful from Australia, Canada and Europe) converged to Little Saigon, California to engage in a dialogue concerning topics ranging from the serious (e.g., human trafficking in Vietnam) to the entertaining (e.g., Vietnamese produced arts and films in the U.S.).
Attendees came to share ideas, learn about pressing issues and reflect on how each person can contribute toward a better future for Vietnam. There were multiple reasons for attending the conference. Some came to network. Others came to meet old friends, and recruit volunteers. Most came to learn. Yet, despite these varying objectives a common thread could have been sewn across everyone because every single attendee, either in thought or in action, wanted to create conditions by which the Vietnamese people (in the Motherland and abroad) can maximize their human potential.
This is a compelling idea, especially in the Motherland, as current indicators show that Vietnam is still a third-world country – even after 29 years of “independence.” A rigid, corrupt, outdated and regressive government has failed to serve the Vietnamese people politically, economically, and socially. One party DOES NOT represent the views of all citizens. The per capita GDP is estimated to be $2,5001 – indicating no real growth from the per capita in 1975 (given an average inflation rate of 7.5%). And although the educational system cranks out graduates at the college and the professional level, there exists severely limited work opportunities. This creates a perverse social structure as professionals (e.g., doctors, engineers) have to supplement their income by selling hand-crafted items for cash and young graduates lounge all day and night in cafes because they have no work opportunities. Clearly the human capital in Vietnam is NOT maximized.
Contrast this with the productivity and contributions of the Vietnamese “boat people” in their adopted countries. An estimated one million of these people reside in the United States. These people make up an important political voice as they vote in local, state and federal elections. Some even have successfully run for public office. On the economic front, expatriates in the U.S. send back to Vietnam an estimated $2 billion a year. This equates to about $2,000 per U.S. expatriate and accounts for an astounding 80% of per capita GDP generated by a person in Vietnam. Finally, the social fabric of society where the expatriates reside is enhanced as Vietnamese families patronize local businesses, attend school, churches or temples, work and volunteer in the community. If one million Vietnamese can have this impact, imagine the impact 82 million Vietnamese could have…not only in Vietnam but also in the world!
In order for this potential to be realized, the political, economic and social conditions in Vietnam must change. The Communist government must dissolve and a democratic government takes its place. A free market system (with adequate oversight) must replace the central planned market. Lastly, the societal infrastructure of roads, bridges, ports, schools, hospitals, and public health system must be upgraded to 21st century standards.
Deep inside the heart and soul of every person lies a sense of humanity – this is a feeling of genuine care for one another. This sense is heightened when inequality and injustice run rampant. Inequality and injustice glaringly exists for the 82 million people in Vietnam. As human beings, Vietnamese people, and Vietnamese professionals, we will fight through the storm of rigid, corrupt, outdated and regressive government in Vietnam in order to serve, educate and care for the Vietnamese people. We will create brighter days for the Vietnamese people. We will create conditions by which Vietnam fulfills her potential - not as a third-world country, but as a developed country!
1 CIA World FactBook