A New Vietnam?

In contrast to his coolness toward China, President Bush can warm up ties with another Communist-run state in Asia.

Vietnam put on a fresh face this week in appointing a new party leader, Nong Duc Manh, who is university-educated and reform-minded - and has turned the National Assembly into something other than a rubber-stamp for the Communist Party. He's also the first Vietnamese leader with an ethnic- minority background, which may help him quell unrest among minorities.

The party made a point of ousting his conservative predecessor, Le Kha Phieu, a military man with a grammar-school education who made many mistakes. Mr. Phieu embarrassed President Clinton last year on a visit to Hanoi by lecturing him.

Vietnam models itself largely on China in imposing strong state control over a limited market economy. But the party hasn't provided much progress for the people or dampened official corruption. Mr. Manh has the skills to broaden the party consensus for further opening of the economy, a risky move in a one-party state that stifles dissent.

To help boost its exports, Vietnam wants Congress to pass a pending trade pact completed by Mr. Clinton. But Mr. Bush wants to package the deal with other trade matters before Congress, which would delay it.

Ironically, Hanoi plans to lobby in Washington for this capitalist measure. The president should listen.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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