Vo Van Kiet: Reformist Vietnamese premier

In his younger days Vo Van Kiet fought against both the French imperial troops who occupied Vietnam up until the 1950s and the forces of the United States and the South Vietnamese government. In both cases he was on the winning side. But it was for another triumphant struggle – a battle he fought against his own country's political isolation and rigid economic dogma – that he will best be remembered.

Kiet served as Vietnam's prime minister between 1991 and 1997 – a period of remarkable transformation for the South-east Asian country, for which he was largely responsible. As premier, he was behind a number of policies designed to attract billions of dollars in foreign investment, expand foreign trade and push the economy to grow at an annual rate of more than 8 per cent.

Like many others who saw the potential for growth that could be achieved by loosening government controls, he grew impatient with the Communist Party machinery around him and with individuals who were trying to protect their own interests within the hierarchy. A key proponent of the "doi moi" or renewal economic reforms, he argued that the party could only remain relevant and in control if it loosened its hold over businesses, allowing them to become more efficient. Last year he told a BBC interviewer: "The motherland of Vietnam doesn't belong to one person, one party or one group only."

Coming to prominence in the late 1980s, when he was one of several reformers concerned about the near-collapse of his country's economy, Kiet pushed for the transition of the highly centralised, Soviet-style system to one that would allow private businesses and encourage entrepreneurs. On becoming premier in 1991 he sought to streamline the government, make investment easier and draw up modern laws. Pointedly, he also worked to normalise relations with the United States, even though his first wife and two children had allegedly been killed by US troops. This was finally done in 1995.

Kiet was not without his critics. Some said he did not act quickly or decisively enough to get rid of the bureaucracy and claimed some potential investors were put off once they investigated the real situation on the ground. On the other hand, many within his party criticised him after he issued a memo in 1995 that called for even bolder reforms. In 1997 he stood down, saying that his country needed to be led by someone from the younger generation. As it was, he was replaced by his former deputy, Phan Van Khai. After leaving office, Kiet continued to be active as both an adviser to the party and as an outspoken commentator, calling for further reforms.

The man who rose to lead his nation was born Phan Van Hoa in humble circumstances in southern Mekong Delta. He changed his name and as a teenager he joined revolutionary Communist forces opposed to French rule and became a member of the regional party in 1939. After the French forces were beaten in 1954, the party focused on seeking to reunite the country that had been divided under the peace agreement. Kiet was given the underground role of party secretary in the area around Saigon. He also became a senior political leader of the Viet Cong and had a key role in planning the insurgency.

His reward came after 1975 when Communist forces captured the city and Kiet was appointed to a number of senior positions. The task he was set by his party was to establish socialist reform in a city that had been a bastion of capitalism. However, his natural instinct was to introduce changes gradually and free enterprise continued to flourish. Indeed, such was the criticism that faced him at the time, a party hardliner was brought into the south to speed up socialist changes. Kiet in turn was transferred to Hanoi, where he began re-establishing himself, working his way up through the hierarchy.

In his private life, Kiet was a keen sports fan who played tennis and – like many of his countrymen – was a passionate follower of football. His second wife, Phan Luong Cam, a scientist, once described the former prime minister as a forgetful romantic whose favourite food was a pungent type of dried fish.

Andrew Buncombe



Phan Van Hoa (Vo Van Kiet), politician: born Trung Hiêp, Vietnam 23 November 1922; Prime Minister of Vietnam 1991-97; twice married (two children deceased); died Singapore 11 June 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Traffic Planner

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the successful candidate you...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor