Tuesday, November 27, 2001

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam A new generation of Vietnamese, too young to remember the Vietnam War, is seeking to capitalize on the economic benefits brought by globalization.
Typical of these is Jason Cheung, a man of about 24 who works at an outlet of the Professional Foot Massage Corp. in the upscale Me Linh Point Tower, a new business and shopping mall in this sprawling city still known to many of its inhabitants as Saigon.
Exhibiting a gift for salesmanship, he asks passers-by in perfect English: “Would you like a foot massage?”
The affluence that the globalization process brought to this city is concentrated within District 1, the central area in which the Me Linh Point Tower is located. Not far away is the New World Hotel, the Vietnamese equivalent to New York City’s Trump Tower, which caters to globe-trotting international executives.
Since taking over in April, Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh has continued reform policies that began in 1986, when the party started to sell off portions of state-owned enterprises and opened the door to foreign investment.
The reforms are largely responsible for the creation of a small but prosperous upper and middle class.
Those people are an important part of the audience catered to by Nguyen Tien Le, deputy editor in chief of the English-language Vietnam News.
About 30 years old and an advocate of the reform movement, Mr. Le said he would like to see Vietnam participate in the international marketplace and begin a dialogue with Western ideas and culture leading to an equal exchange of ideas.
“The days of economic and cultural isolation are over,” Mr. Le said. “Vietnam must participate in the communication revolution on all levels. No more iron curtains, no more Berlin walls, and this reform program has the support of the vast majority of the population.”
Mr. Le’s newspaper regularly publishes articles showing how the image of Vietnam is changing in the world, particularly in the United States. By documenting improved U.S. attitudes toward Vietnam, he hopes to encourage an atmosphere that will be more welcoming to U.S. investment.
“We call our economic-reform program a ‘socialist-oriented market economy,’” he said. “This means that we are disbanding our former [state-owned enterprises], but with the purpose of retaining our socialist goals.”
Nguyen Van Lich, head of the Department of Vietnamese Studies at Ho Chi Minh City University, is about 50 years old and served as a Viet Cong intelligence officer during the war.
While still espousing socialism, he is today not only friendly but helpful toward his former enemies in the United States.
“Our cities are exploding because they are absorbing the excess population of the countryside. The slums of the city are teeming with the surplus rural masses,” he said.
“We are creating an urban proletariat out of our unemployed agricultural workers. We must move forward, and we call our reform program ‘equitization.’”
The main road leading south to the fertile Mekong River Delta is Route 1, which is lined for miles by the slums of Ho Chi Minh City.
“Vietnam coexists in two time zones,” Mr. Lich said.
“Our industrial revolution creates shantytowns as the uneducated peasants stream into the cities.”
Meanwhile, he said, “That part of our society which can benefit from the process of globalization, like District 1, is the beneficiary of modernization in this cyberspace age.”

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