Vietnamese Economic Reform

After the war, Vietnam went through significant economic, political, and social changes. In 1986, the Vietnam government initiated an economic reform known as ‘đổi mới’ (or doi moi) and adjusted its foreign policy to welcome investment from foreigners. In 1989, Vietnam withdrew its military forces from Cambodia and began to build diplomatic and economic relationships with foreign governments. The new foreign policy created opportunities for investors to come to Vietnam. Slowly but steadily, Vietnam achieved milestone triumphs in its economic reform during the two decades between 1986 and 2006. The country has also established diplomatic relations with more than 170 countries in the world, strategic partnerships with 12 major nations such as China, Japan, Russia, India, England, France, North Korea, Italy, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.[1] However, before all of these accomplishments, Vietnam was one of the most impoverished countries in the world between the 1980s and 1990s. The country was completely exhausted in natural resources as well as financial capital because of the war against French colonial rule, the victorious war against the United States, the occupation of Cambodia (1978) and the border war with China (1979).[2]

After three decades of warfare, the country, and the people were emotionally devastated. Economic reform has been a top priority for policy-makers since 1975. From 1975 to 1985, the five-year plans on collectivization of agricultural and industrial production was a disappointment. It resulted in a severe economic crisis, causing scarcity of staples and consumer goods, impoverished living conditions, industrial stagnation, and mounting foreign debts.[3] Due to the United States’ trade embargo, Vietnam could hardly trade with the Western countries, so the situation deteriorated further.[4] The government announced the economic reform plan, doi moi, in 1986, but there were many experimental policies before the official development took off in 1989. The reform began with the agricultural system because it was the most significant sector of the economy, which accounted for most of the employment. Because farmers made up most of the population, the government concentrated on reducing inequality in the distribution of wealth. Policy-makers began to promote the concept of a multi-sector economy with open door policy of foreign trade and investment, and more importantly the recognition of private ownership.[5]

In the early years of the reform, the country’s limited resources did not allow the film industry to produce many films. For the few films that were approved for production, the narrative had to be endorsed by the state which funded all films productions. The Abandoned Field (1979) and When the Tenth Month Comes (1984) are two examples that signaled the early shift in official policy regarding how the war should be presented to the public. The financial setback also explains why there were not many films produced in the 1990s. The state cautiously distributed capital into various public projects, such as infrastructure, tourism, and education and did not prioritize film production. However, the state was determined to project a different national image of Vietnam to the world. Subsequently, the conventional narrative of the war and the way in which Westerners had been depicted in the past would have to be reconstructed for both domestic and international audiences.

[1] Quan H Vuong, “Vietnam’s Political Economy in Transition (1986-2016), Stratfor, May 27, 2014, accessed March 23, 2018,

[2] Keith Griffin, “Restructuring and Economic Reforms,” in Economic Reform in Vietnam, ed. Keith Griffin (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 1.

[3] Vuong, “Vietnam’s Political Economy.”

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid. The government approved the Law on Foreign Investment in 1987 to allow the first wave of foreign direct investments. In 1990, the Corporate Law and Private Enterprise encouraged entrepreneurs to open their own businesses. The 1992 Constitution expanded human rights and recognized the multi-sectoral economy. The Land Law of 1987 revised in 1993 to grant ownership to farmers.


(Operation Linebacker II)