Former Vietnamese Prime Minister Kiet Dies; Led ReformsBy Matt Steinglass
11 June 2008
Former Vietnamese Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, who led the country's economic reforms in the 1990s, has died. Matt Steinglass reports from Hanoi.
Former Vietnamese Premier Vo Van Kiet (1996 file photo)Vietnamese government spokesman Le Dung confirmed that the 85-year-old Kiet died Wednesday morning in a hospital in Singapore.
"I think they used life support for the former prime minister, and the information I have at the moment is that he died today, June the 11," said the spokesman.
Kiet was prime minister from 1991 to 1997, years in which the once isolated Communist country opened its doors, invited in tourists and investors, and moved from centralized state planning to a free-market economy.
Kiet was one of the major backers of the liberalization program called "doi moi". Vietnam began the reforms in 1986 at the same time as its former patron, the Soviet Union, began its "glasnost" reforms. "Doi moi" proved far more successful.
Under Kiet, Vietnam weathered the collapse of its Soviet patron in 1991, and reconciled with its old enemy, the United States. The two countries normalized relations in 1994.
In recent years, Kiet became frustrated with what he considered the slow pace of reform in Vietnam. He urged the government to privatize state-owned companies faster.
While the Communist Party has allowed economic reforms and increased social freedoms, it has little tolerance for political opposition.
In an interview with the BBC in 2007, Kiet suggested the government should talk to political dissidents, rather than jail them. With his death, Vietnam has lost one of the few figures with the authority to air such unorthodox views.