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Vietnam, once politically isolated and a casebook 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, and although long out of government he should be remembered for
helping improve the lives of tens of millions of his countrymen.
Vo Van Kiet [[VO VAHN K-YEHT]] 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
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As prime minister from 1991 to 1997, he 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.
His efforts paved the way for normalized relations between the U.S.
and Vietnam, a relationship that continues to grow along a positive
path that Mr. Vo helped set.