International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed (right) receiving a painting from Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh on the sideline of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Danang, Vietnam, recently.

THIS year, our neighbour, Vietnam, hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit.

There is a lot other countries, including Malaysia, that can learn from it.

Malaysians, I think, know relatively little about Vietnam. Indeed, most people’s perceptions are often still coloured by the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975.

Vietnam, as history will tell us, struggled for centuries against Chinese, French and American domination. This experience has left it with a fierce determination to maintain its independence by excelling in all it does.

During the 1978-1991 period, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” left the country. Many of them temporarily settled in Pulau Bidong in the East Coast of Malaysia. By 1995, almost all of them were resettled in a number of developed countries, including the United States, France and Australia.

In 1986, under the leadership of Nguyen Van Linh (then general- secretary of the Communist Party of  Vietnam), the country — which was officially a socialist, planned economy — initiated a series of reforms known as Doi Moi. A believer in the market economy, Nguyen came to be known as the “Gorbachev of Vietnam”.

As part of its efforts to open up, Vietnam became an Asean member in 1995, a member of Apec in 1998 and the World Trade Organisation in 2007. 

Vietnam has been an active member of Asean and a member in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. In fact, it was a part of the TPP from the get-go while Malaysia only entered during the third round of negotiations. Vietnam has also concluded a free-trade agreement with the European Union. Its ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business has also improved from 91 in last year’s report to 68 in the latest report.

The benefits of these reforms and opening up are obvious. Vietnam is one of the fastest-growing economies in Asean. Its economic growth is projected at 6.7 per cent this year. It has also been attracting one of the largest amount of foreign direct investments (FDIs) in Asean. These FDIs have created hundreds of thousands of jobs and additional export earnings.

Malaysian companies were among the first to recognise the opportunities in Vietnam and ventured into the country in early 1990s, after the implementation of Doi Moi.

Our companies such as Petronas, Gamuda Land, SP Setia, Berjaya Corporation and Tan Chong Group are big in various sectors from manufacturing to real estate and retail trade.

Additionally, five Malaysian banks namely Maybank, Hong Leong Bank, Public Bank, RHB Bank and CIMB are operating in Vietnam.

Today, Malaysia is the seventh largest FDI contributor in Vietnam, with a cumulative investment value of US$12.2 billion (RM51.2 billion) until September.

There are impressive and ambitious plans to privatise its state-owned enterprises (SOEs), through a process called “equitisation”. About 4,500 SOEs have been “equitised” since 1992. This openness has brought about economic and political dividends.

From a least-developed country, Vietnam has graduated to become a lower middle-income country with a per capita income of US$2,200.

One of the fruits of Vietnam’s remarkable transformation is Danang — the 1.3 million-strong central Vietnamese city that hosted Apec. It is widely regarded as the most liveable city in Vietnam. The My Khe beach in Danang is ranked as one of the six most attractive beaches in the world by Forbes.  Thirty kilometres away is Hoi An, a Unesco heritage site.

The Ariyana Danang Exhibition and Convention Centre (ADEC) was launched last month, just in time for Apec. It can seat 2,500 people.

During Apec, world leaders, including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping spoke at the Apec CEO Summit, which was held at ADEC.

Tourism is doing well and infrastructure spending is being stepped up. The nearby Ha Noi and Danang airports have been upgraded to cater to the increased flow of tourists and business travellers. The Sheraton Hotel where we stayed was also partially completed last week.

The Vietnamese diaspora has contributed to both their new countries and homeland, whether in business, government and entrepreneurship.

When Najib met with about 45 American corporate leaders at the sideline of the Apec meeting, Anbinh Phan, an American citizen of Vietnamese descent and a senior member of the Walmart management team, proudly informed our prime minister that she was born in Malaysia — in a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees camp on Pulau Tengah in Johor.

Another famous member of the Vietnamese diaspora was Hieu Van Le, the governor of South Australia. He was one of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who have done well through education, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit in their adopted countries.

Vietnam now occupies an important place in the region and the world through the determination of its people, a sound education system and constructive international engagement, as well as its opening up to foreign trade and investment.

These changes have in turn brought massive benefits to the Vietnamese.

Malaysia, I repeat, can and should take notice of this example.

Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed is the International Trade and Industry Minister

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