Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Vietnam scored a major diplomatic victory last week when it won a major increase in development aid despite criticism of its human rights record and corruption at the heart of the communist regime.
After hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum last month and securing entry into the World Trade Organisation, Hanoi earned another show of support with a pledge by donors of US$ 4.44 billion for 2007.
“This amount of aid reflects your strong support to the government of Vietnam,” said Planning and Investment Minister Vo Hong Phuc.
Last year, international donors promised US$ 3.7 billion and the more than US$ 700-million increase is due in large part to the doubling of aid from the Asian Development Bank, which has pledged US$ 1.14 billion.
“Vietnam needs to be more and more competitive quickly, much faster than other countries," said Ayumi Konishi, the bank's director in Hanoi.
Exchange rate fluctuations have also worked in Vietnam's favour, accounting for about US$ 200 million in state coffers.
The announcement is impressive for a country that was rocked this year by a corruption scandal at a department of the transport ministry largely funded by foreign aid.
The affair, which saw officials embezzle tens of millions of dollars to finance their lavish lifestyles and bet on European football matches, shone the spotlight on the corruption endemic at all levels of Vietnamese society.
The World Bank launched an inquiry, but said last week the results were still being scrutinised in Washington.
Japan, whose aid is used in part to fund the department concerned, maintained its funding at US$ 890 million.
For Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, the levels of funding reflect Vietnam's rising power in the international arena.
“Vietnam has made the right noises,” he said. “Everybody has these fantastic expectations about Vietnam and they want to be a part of the market.”
“Strategically, part of the donors' question is that Vietnam . . . will carry much more weight,” Professor Thayer said. “Vietnam is manoeuvring itself to be very attractive.”
The impressive results of the fight against poverty in Vietnam also enable donors to justify their aid—governments have to show their voters some symbolic successes, analysts say.
Even the questionable human rights situation has failed to dent donors' confidence. Hanoi freed a few dissidents in the months leading up to the APEC summit, but it cracked down on them during the meeting, to keep them from having any contact with the foreign media. Some were in fact placed under house arrest, whilst others were threatened.
The government and donors discussed Vietnam's human rights record at length, but none of them suggested linking aid levels to human rights.
“The Vietnamese are clever about how they present things. What they do afterwards is another matter,” a diplomat said.