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Vietnam: Water policy dynamics under a post-Cold War communism

Adam Fforde
Chairman, Adam Fforde and Assoc p/l; Asia Institute, University of Melbourne; Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University; adam@aduki.com.au

ABSTRACT: Vietnam is widely seen as a development success, with rather rapid economic growth and a reported reduced role of the state, yet presents many paradoxes to conventional analytical frameworks. Two of relevance are accounts that stress a combination of a strongly hegemonic regime with weak internal sovereignty in terms of both the internal coherence of the apparat and its interactions with the rest of Vietnamese society, and also associated accounts that deny much role to intentionality in explaining apparent development success. This article will contextualise accounts of political intention and policy development towards water issues in Vietnam through an examination of two main empirics: the evolution of formal policy, understood as documents of the state, as well as of political intention, understood as documents of the ruling Party; and the by now extensive series of 'active' case studies that have examined donor as well as other projects in the sector. It will examine the notion, in the contexts suggested by the Vietnamese experience, that attempts to explain Vietnamese water policy, which have shown a tendency to shift away from assumptions that an analytical framework's categories may easily and without too much risk be extended across different contexts. Rather, comparisons of Vietnamese experience across contexts will tend, if they are to be persuasive, to shift to the use of languages that reflect ontological fluidity, in that what things mean is expected to change over time, without reference to an imagined transcendental and universal 'real'. In this sense, Vietnamese water policy may be usefully understood as an example of how 'success gives voice to the local'.