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Singapore Statesman Visits Vietnam


Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, is visiting Vietnam. Many people in Vietnam admire Mr. Lee for building Singapore into a modern, developed nation, and they see the city as a model, particularly in the struggle against corruption. Matt Steinglass reports from Hanoi.

Meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on his arrival in Hanoi this week, Lee Kuan Yew was characteristically frank. The former Singapore prime minister recalled his first visits to Vietnam.

"I made many visits between '92 and '97," he said. "Then, because there wasn't much transformation, because at that time Vietnam was still not ready to take the steps to go into the market economy, so I did not think there were any changes, so I did not come."

Mr. Lee was among the first leaders to prod Vietnam to open up its economy. He used his trip here in 1995 to create a Singapore-Vietnam Industrial Zone near Ho Chi Minh City.

That industrial zone became one of the first successes in Vietnam's turn toward capitalism.

Today, many Vietnamese would welcome Mr. Lee's advice on how to fight the country's current plague: corruption. Singapore is number five on Transparency International's list of the world's least corrupt countries - the only Asian country in the top 10.

Vietnam, on the other hand, has been wracked by corruption scandals in the past year.

In November, Vietnam's Government Inspectorate sent 10 staff to Singapore to study how to monitor property owned by civil servants, to prevent bribes and embezzlement. The government expects to issue a decree on transparency regarding income and property soon.

Trinh Duy Luan, director of Vietnam's Institute of Sociology, says the Singapore model is a good one for Vietnam.

Luan says the model is both Asian and modern. Moreover, he says, Singapore's government leaders are well educated and honest, and serve as examples in the fight against corruption.

While Mr. Lee is famous for helping build Singapore into a wealthy modern city from a poor trading post, he has been criticized at home and abroad for not tolerating dissent or political opposition.

Mr. Lee has high hopes for Vietnam's new generation of leaders, including the 57-year-old Prime Minister Dung.

"With a new leadership, younger people, moving up into positions of authority, as mayors, as governors, as ministers, and now as prime minister and president, I think Vietnam now is moving at a good speed forward. Making up for lost time," he said.

In the past few years, Vietnam's economy has soared, with growth in 2006 estimated at over eight percent. The country, which recently joined the World Trade Organization, has become a regional trading power. As a result, a prosperous middle class is expanding in a once isolated and impoverished country.

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