I was in Vietnam about this time last year. President Obama also happened to be in Hanoi at the same time, working to enhance America’s internationally presence and improve trade relations with twelve Pacific Rim partners. Vietnam and the other countries rejoiced at his arrival after a torturous past of wars and corruption that was crippling the economies of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Obama helped broker the twelve-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Many trade experts saw TPP as the single most valuable tool America had for shaping the geo-economic future of the region our way and for pressuring China to open its markets.
TPP also included restrictions on foreign state-owned enterprises that dumped subsidized products into our markets, intellectual property protections for rising U.S. technologies – like free access for all cloud computing services. Like any trade deal, TPP would have challenged some U.S. workers but it would have created opportunities for many others, because big economies like Japan and Vietnam were opening their markets. For decades we had allowed Japan to stay way too closed because, because it was an ally in the Cold War, and Vietnam, because it was an enemy. Some 80 percent of the goods from our 11 TPP partners were coming into the U.S. duty free already, while our goods and services were still being hit with 18,000 tariffs in their countries – which TPP eliminated.
We could have even helped the economic reformers in China. They were hoping that the emergence of TPP “would force China to reform its trade practices more along American lines and to open its markets . . . We failed the reformers in China.”
P.S. Happy Fourth of July weekend. Enjoy. Back on Wednesday, July 5th.
The 2016 Vietnam International Retail and Franchise Show opened earlier this week in Ho Chi Minh City (Obama missed this one). It is the eighth edition of this event which features 317 booths with all kinds of retail and training information. Yes, the latest technologies to meet the demands of the modern retail industry are included in the Show. Young entrepreneurs may find unexpected opportunities here that were nonexistent in Vietnam’s recent past.
I will be leaving here tomorrow, and am very grateful for having had the opportunity to visit here. Go East, young man may not be for everyone, but it is more than a geography lesson to travel here. Of course, there are still many challenges that at one time may have seen insurmountable, but it is a young country that is not living in the past. They are ready to grow, and raise their children in a more modern Asia, that hopefully will be more peaceful and prosperous than in the past. And I think they are more likely to see America as a partner in that journey.
It may have been a hard and tragic lesson for both sides to learn. Older Americans (like me) and Vietnamese may remember it all too well, but perhaps the new world of mutual economic benefit aided by smarter business technologies will save us all?
Vietnam (en route to U.S. the next few days, back to blogging next Wednesday)
The headline reads: “E-payments booming in Vietnam.” Welcome to the new Vietnam! I never knew that electronic payments could have that much of an economic impact. So how would I know? I still carry around a little cash in my pockets, unless I am going through airport security lines (what a pain!). I’ll have to get one of those TSA pre-screened status life-time membership cards, but even those lines seem to be getting longer. Sorry for the digression, but I do feel a little better. Now back to Vietnam and the E-payment boom.
Increased use of electronic payment products added US$880 million to Vietnam’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 2011 to 2015 (now that’s a lot of dong, look it up!). The use of electronic payment systems including credit, debit and prepaid cards helped create an average increase of 75,000 jobs annually during this five year period. Vietnam experienced the second highest rate of GDP growth due to increased use of electronic payments. Singapore was third and Thailand first. Whoever thought that using credit cards could help a country’s economy? Most people just get deeper in debt.
Here’s another side of the story. “Electronic payments help minimize what is commonly referred to as the grey economy – economic activity that is often cash-based and goes unreported.” So I guess if you really want to help your country’s economy keep using all your electronic payment options. You too, can become too big to fail?
Maybe if you are old enough to remember “The Ugly American” (novel and a movie with Marlon Brando, set somewhere in Southeast Asia) you will also recall that the “face” of America at that time was feared and met with disgust in that faraway corner of the world. Brando played the American ambassador who had little concern for strengthening diplomatic ties as much as protecting U.S. commercial and military interests there (my interpretation). Now, at least in Vietnam, there seems to be a new perception of mutual benefit in stronger bilateral ties. One American who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City for a few years, now says “You know, they still look at us here the way we want to be looks at. America equals opportunity, entrepreneurship and success. That’s not true in so many places anymore.”
As I mentioned in a post last week, about one-third of the Vietnamese are on Facebook. Arguably they are mostly the “younger” Vietnamese who are now able to connect with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, their peers in China can not, and although there is some connectivity in India, the Internet is not as easily accessible as in Vietnam. China and India are not signatories to President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership. Facebook, of course, may not be the most educational or “broadening” experience for the rest of the world to learn more about America, but to the extent that younger Americans might see the “international” value, we should all be enriched. It may all be about “social networking” with peers at first, but at least the opportunity will be there for a larger world view.
And maybe the political systems we live under will be more open to contrasting governmental and economic differences. One size doesn’t really fit all.
How does someone get to know a culture? I am only here in the Hanoi area for about a month. Hardly enough time to say that I understand how life goes on in this changing corner of Southeast Asia. My time and impressions here may be better described as looking through a window literally and figuratively. I was just reading an article about some foreigners’ impressions of Vietnam based on the nature of their visits here. Two are of the more traditional variety, tourism and language studies, and the other more technologically-based in wanting to combine a checklist of interests with social media expression (possibly a broader way to share a cultural experience?)
Technology has certainly expanded our options for the sharing of experience with whomever, from wherever we are. What a wonderful opportunity we all now have to do the same, but we should also not diminish the insights that we gain from taking the time to learn a language or physically touring and observing another culture with only the use of our sensory abilities. Just take some time to learn more about what we may see and hear before we began to fill out our checklists or share impressions on social media.
I will leave Vietnam with a very minimal understanding or appreciation of the history here. It will be a beginning, and one that I am happy to share and reflect on as I write this blog. I am still just looking through a window, and hopefully will be able to open it wider and learn more.
So everybody knows that Obama was here last week, and it seems like the Cubans are now very interested in forging some deeper science-technology ties with their comrades here in Vietnam. Maybe technology can really help the world become smaller, reaching across oceans and continents that share some common economic goals. Obama actually helped us reconnect with Cuba, and now both these Communist countries see technology as a tool that will help them establish new commercial partnerships. Or as the Vietnamese Prime Minister said: “enhance comprehensive ties with the Caribbean country.” “Comprehensive” will do.
Similarly, the Cuban Minister of Science, Technology and Enviroment said “her visit aimed to consolidate the co-operation in science-technology and natural resources between the two countries.” I don’t think that Obama actually intended to bring these two countries closer economically as part of opening the diplomatic and commercial doors with the U.S., but it could have played a role? Call it an unintended consequence if you will, but increasing and consolidating trade cooperation can be a mutual benefit to all trading partners on a bi-lateral or multi-lateral basis.
It doesn’t always have to be about political ideology, but that could be a beginning to expand economies on a more global basis. And technology may be the unintended tool that creates such an environment.
Well the slogan comes from New Hamshire, U.S.A., but we could just as well be talking about Vietnam, and their pursuit of Internet connectivity that would exceed their Asian neighbors. Let’s just say they are trying to set the record straight after there were some “unkind” reports around Obama’s recent visit by several foreign news outlets that Vietnam “restricted” access to the widely-popular Facebook social network during the visit. To make matters worse, the Vietnam News reports that “Some reactionaries and dissidents . . . posted this ill-intentioned information on their personal blogs.” Not a good idea!
Now here is what the News reports: “Compared to 2000, the number of Internet users in Vietnam has soared 200-fold.” They now have 45.5 million Internet-users or 48 per cent of the population, ranking sixth in Asia, behind China (674 million), India (354 million), Japan (114.9 million), Indonesia (73 million) and the Philippines (47.1 million). They proudly add that they are “also among the top countries in terms of Facebook user growth, not to mention other information channels.” Furthermore, Vietnam’s growth in this area “prove the Vietnamese Party and State’s consistent viewpoint of ensuring press and Internet freedom.”
So there you have it. Vietnam is open for business and social networking on the Internet, and they’re proud of it. Just don’t believe all of those “unkind” reports by some foreign news outlets.
For technology to have an impact in Vietnamese classrooms, the path of least resistance appears to be in the vocational education classrooms around the country. Vocational training courses are on the rise, and vocational schools had an eighteen percent increase in attendance from 2011-15. The Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training is perhaps the biggest booster of change of educational focus. Ministry leaders are convinced that schools should take the initiative and work with enterprises in developing new training models and renewing curricula. Let’s just say that in this part of the world these words are more than simply “suggestions.”
So when the Ministry says that new teaching methods are needed I think they are also taking aim at the teacher training colleges that already appeared to have graduated an overwhelming surplus of teachers who can not find jobs (70,000 estimated). To teach in Vietnam, you may just simply have to learn a new set of skills. That is not just the case in Vietnam as we all know well. Here is what the Deputy Minister of Education and Training had to say about all this.
“Global integration and the movement of Vietnamese labourers to other countries and foreigners to Vietnam because of the Association of Southest Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community and international trade agreements, requires schools to renew curricula and methodology for a new age.” Now that sounds better!
Somehow I never thought of Vietnam as embracing that old American entrepreneurial spirit, but I have been wrong before. President Obama says that it is now a happening place for venture capitalists. Now I really don’t know many of those people in the venture capital world, but I’ll take his word for it. I think what I like most about how he sees technology being a growth area is his conviction that people are still the most important part of this enterprise.
And there are a lot of people here that traditional approaches in education and training have failed. If they are lucky enough to connect with a start-up like Dreamplex in Ho Chi Minh City they might find newer opportunities of their own making, or in collaboration with others. Mr. Obama told young entrepreneurs at Dreamplex yesterday that next month he would welcome eight Vietnamese entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley so that they can learn from the best entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in the world.
So it’s a new kind of foreign aid, I guess you could call it. With the hope that these American-trained entrepreneurs will return home and work to expand opportunities for others in the place of their birth.
I think this is big news in this part of the world, but I could be wrong, so I’ll give you the Party “line.” “Da Nang’s authorities have taken a viral approach to tackling environmental problems and other issues in the city: a Facebook page. It has proven to be a popular avenue for citizens to report their concerns.” “We can hear opinions from local people on any public construction project or plan . . . ” Now I haven’t been to Da Nang’s, so I will just have to take their word for it.
Maybe the difference is that Da Nang’s is a tourist destination located on Vietnam’s central coast and is very eager to benefit from the social networking and advertising that Facebook creates in a viral way. All you need is the connectivity that comes with your mobile device. And that seems to be the “coin of the realm” these days. It’s all in the palm of your hand.
I am not sure that this is all about citizen empowerment as much as commercial benefit for businesses in Da Nang. But either way, it sounds a little like social and political (?) change.
Yesterday was a very interesting day here in Hanoi. I had the opportunity to practice my French and recall some history lessons that take me back to infancy when my father was drafted to serve in Germany, and later, when an uncle also served in the German occupation. When I was born my father was a foot soldier in the Army, part of the American forces that landed at Normandy during the D-Day invasion in World War II. The presentation I attended here in Vietnam was by a representative of the Ecole de Management de Normandie. Basically it was a presentation on the use of SMART school management software to Vietnamese staff working at the national Ministry of Education and Training.
I was able to join the discussion and engage in conversation with the presenter, using my limited French conversational abilities. Most of the staff here were quite surprised. The presentation was translated into Vietnamese for the general audience. As a college history major, and someone who is just that old, it was a vivid reminder that the U.S. presence in this part of the world is still primarily remembered as a military one. Even before Vietnam, we lead the allies in wars with Japan, the Philippines and Korea.
The French army left Indochina (Vietnam) in 1954. So now Flench tech entrepreneurs sell software to the citizens of one of their former colonies/enemies. C’est bon, n’est pas?
Just wanted to keep you posted on the daily celebrations here in Vietnam. This is all new to me as well, but I would like to share with you a little bit about what I am learning. Let’s start off with the national holidays which you probably didn’t know about before. Today is Ho Chi Minh’s 126th birthday. Well, he is not really around to celebrate with us, as you know, but there are special exhibits and performances throughout Vietnam especially in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). If you are so inclined, you can refer to him as “Uncle Ho.”
Yesterday was Buddha’s birthday. Like Ho Chi Minh, he is not around to celebrate with us either, having died 2,560 years ago. Buddhists are still very much a minority in Vietnam, but they are being encouraged by their Supreme Patriarch here to make more contributions to national construction and defense, environmental protection and climate change efforts. I am not really sure how you can improve your contributions in these areas. I am just reporting on what I read in the papers here FYI.
Now for some technology news. May 18th is also Vietnam’s Science and Technology Day. I don’t think there are any planned national celebrations related to the implementation of educational technology in the schools, but if I hear of anything else, I will pass that information along as well. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.