Vietnam will be a "power in Asia," Julius E. Coles, director of the Andrew Young Center for International Studies at Morehouse College, predicted confidently at the end of a lecture he recently gave at North Atlanta High School.
He said that he supports a bill establishing bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam that is pending before Congress. Such an agreement would normalize trade relations by granting most favored nation trading status.
He also encouraged U.S. businessmen and women to keep an eye on Vietnam "as a country to watch." Yet he forecasted that it would not be the U.S. but Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and other Asian countries that would boost its growth levels through trade and investment back to the 8% growth rate its gross national product experienced from 1993-97 once their countries' economies strengthen.
The Vietnam that Mr. Coles saw this summer was remarkably different from the country he remembered from his tour of duty there with the United States Agency for International Development from 1967-69.
He was invited to participate study tour sponsored by a Fullbright-Hays Fellowship and the University of Hawaii this summer and he admitted having felt a certain amount of "trepidation" at the prospect of returning to a country that he recalled had been "bombed into oblivion."
But he said he was genuinely surprised to find the country in as good condition as it was. "What I saw was different from what I imagined," he added.
His tour took him primarily to Hanoi and the northern part of the country where he found stores packed with goods including luxury items. He also said that he detected no evidence of the bombing and was impressed by Hanoi's new Hilton Hotel.
While he said that Vietnam had "a communist political system but a capitalist economic system," the absence of competing political parties did not interfere with the government's liberalization programs.
The Vietnamese people were living well, he added, although per capita annual income was $330. He attributed the extended family system as providing economic support for most individuals.
He also said that he was surprised to learn that Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is to have one of the largest U.S. consular staffs in the world competing with that of Mexico City.
He said a large consular staff was needed to process the numbers of Vietnamese who have settled in the U.S. but return to visit relatives. Also a number of Vietnamese are resettling in Vietnam once they retire from employment in the U.S.
Mr. Coles may be reached by calling (404) 614-6040.