Vietnam is one of the largest communist countries in the world. It is also currently one of the few countries where Britain is the largest foreign investor.
In the mid 1980s Vietnam embarked upon radical economic reform, and by 1990 had introduced more thoroughgoing market reforms than either China or the USSR. By the end of 1990, however, it appeared to have been left far behind politically by the sweeping transformation of Eastern Europe. Indeed in that respect it appeared to occupy a Stalinist bunker with China, North Korea and Cuba. For the beleaguered Vietnamese leadership the experiences, different though they were, of China and Eastern Europe in 1989, reinforced a fear that the process of reform could easily spin out of control and threaten the very basis of the communist regime. By the end of that year the reform process in Vietnam itself was paralysed by the inability of the leadership to confront the dilemma of how to achieve change within the framework of socialism without eroding the bases of socialism itself.
Yet the country is nevertheless at a turning point. The advancing age of the top political leadership which is in urgent need of rejuvenation, the renewed rivalries between the northern and southern halves of the country, coupled with social and political consequences of the radical economic reforms which have been introduced as well as the effects of the Soviet aid, all mean that the Seventh Party Congress for May 1992 faces serious political issues. In addition, the Vietnamese position on Cambodia is now inextricably intertwined with the prospects for further economic reform at home and its hopes for foreign aid. How Hanoi modifies its policies towards theconflict in Cambodia will have a decisive impact upon its relations with China, and with South East Asia as a whole, as well as upon ASEAN in particular.