Vietnam's ruling Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong on Tuesday hailed the country's economic development and its containment of the Covid-19 pandemic as twin major achievements. South-east Asia's rising star does have bragging rights: It appears to have licked its Covid-19 epidemic early and effectively, with just over 1,500 cases and 35 deaths, a feat that has allowed it to focus on economic recovery. While the economy did not perform as well as the 7 per cent growth achieved in 2019, last year's 2.9 per cent was much better than that of many neighbours. The ruling Communist Party is now hunkered down for nine days at its national congress, held once every five years, to pick new leaders and chart its next course with a strong tailwind from its recent successes. But it is also mindful of the domestic challenges and external uncertainties that could thwart its ambition to become an upper-middle-income country by 2025 and an industrialised economy by 2030.
Mr Trong admitted there are shortcomings, including an economy that is not yet highly resilient. While Vietnam has privatised many state-owned firms, they make up nearly a third of economic output, are low in efficiency and account for many bad loans. They could yet prove problematic. While technology overtook textiles in 2015 as the leading export and accounted for most of Vietnam's trade surplus last year, the economy remains dominated by low-end assembly work rather than high-end manufacturing. The outdated higher education system also cannot turn out enough highly skilled workers.