Trading up With Vietnam

The US and Vietnam long ago sheathed their swords. Now it's time for the former foes to start making plowshares.

The two nations struck a deal this week that would normalize trade. It sets Vietnam on a course, like China, to join the World Trade Organization that will force it eventually to close more state-run plants and let foreigners run more of its economy.

That's not easy for Hanoi's Communist chiefs, who saw the "American war" as more than just unifying a split nation and who dole out new layers of capitalism only to keep the masses from challenging their control. The last big shift toward a market economy was in the early 1990s after starving peasants invaded the capital.

Still, Vietnam has studied how China's sole party has kept control, while also proclaiming "it's glorious to get rich." With a need to create 1.3 million jobs a year, it can't afford a faltering economy and a flight of foreign investors as has happened recently.

The trade deal's impact on the United States will be small in numbers but big in healing power. It's the best way for Americans to befriend a country whose people are demanding freedom - and not just in markets.

Congress must still approve the deal, but that's an easy call: The deal reinforces reformers in Hanoi, many of whom quietly want political liberalization.

And the reformers' next step? Opening Vietnam's first stock market.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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