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A Statesman For Vietnam

Vietnam, once politically isolated and a case study on the folly of central government planning, over the last twenty years has become one of the most dynamic economies in the world. A man largely responsible for reforms that made such progress possible died this week. Although long out of government, he should be remembered for helping improve the lives of tens of millions of his countrymen.

Vo Van Kiet was a former Viet Cong guerrilla who fought both French and American forces in his country’s wars, but nevertheless retained a pragmatic belief in Western free markets. As party secretary in conquered Ho Chi Minh City, he defied hard-line official policy to resist state control of private enterprise and encouraged business experiments that convinced the government to eventually adopt market reforms. The program, known as doi moi, laid the groundwork for Vietnam’s rapid growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction and housing, exports, and foreign investment.

As prime minister from 1991 to 1997, Mr. Vo opened up his nation’s foreign policy and normalized relations with the rest of the world, including old adversaries such as Cambodia, Singapore and the United States. Leaving office, he remained ever the reformer arguing for a free press, the rule of law and dialogue with, rather than repression of political dissidents.

In a statement, the U.S. State Department said the nation extends condolences to the government and the people of Vietnam on Mr. Vo’s death. His leadership as prime minister resulted in reforms that improved the lives of tens of millions of Vietnamese. His efforts helped pave the way for the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam in 1995.

Today, the U.S.-Vietnam relationship continues to grow along a positive path that Mr. Vo helped set.