2020 was the year that Vietnam gained widespread recognition as a substantial player in the global economy and as a model “developmental state.”

The world noticed because Vietnam effectively contained COVID-19 even while the disease wreaked havoc on the populations and economies of much wealthier nations. International media outlets normally pay Vietnam scant attention; the war that ravaged it ended nearly half a century ago, and the one-party regime in Hanoi discourages investigative reporting. However, its strikingly successful mobilization against the pandemic has prompted a spate of essays hailing Vietnam’s “breakout moment.”

As Richard Heydarian wrote recently in Nikkei Asia, Hanoi has lately delivered remarkably good governance to a nation blessed with a high degree of social cohesion. Along with Taiwan—another top performer against the pandemic—Vietnam has shown “the importance of competent political…

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