Obituaries

Do Muoi, Vietnam’s leader in economic transition, dies at 101

FILE - In this June 30, 2018, file photo, then Vietnam's Communist Party head Do Muoi answers questions from journalists during a break at the 8th National Party Congress taking place in Hanoi. Former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Do Muoi, a committed communist, has died at age 101. The government said in a announcement posted on its website that Muoi died late Monday night, Oct. 1, 2018, at the National Military Hospital 108 after battling a serious illness despite efforts by Vietnamese and foreign doctors to treat him. (AP Photo/Xoan Lam, File)
Xoan Lam/Associated Press/File
Vietnam's Communist Party head Do Muoi answers questions from journalists during a break at the 8th National Party Congress taking place in Hanoi in June.

NEW YORK — Do Muoi, a Vietnamese revolutionary who served for six years as the country’s leader during its transition to a market economy under a Communist government, died Monday in Hanoi. He was 101.

Mr. Muoi was the Communist Party’s general secretary from 1991 to 1997. One Vietnamese news report of his death called him “a prime example of a steadfast communist.”

But he also pushed through difficult economic reforms following Vietnam’s disastrous attempt to impose a command economy after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

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He was general secretary during the crucial years of Vietnam’s transition from communism to the economic liberalization called “doi moi,” generally translated as “renovation,” which unleashed a burst of pent-up energy in free enterprise.

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In a process known in China as “peaceful evolution,” Vietnam hesitantly opened its markets and encouraged free enterprise while maintaining the party’s grip on political affairs.

At a party congress in 1996, when he was named to a second term as general secretary, Mr. Muoi spoke to foreign reporters of the need to accelerate economic reforms while maintaining party control.

“Slow development means hunger, don’t you think?” he said. “But at the same time, I want to see efficiency and stability.”

He added: “If reform is too fast, we will make mistakes. If you run too fast and there is something in the road, you may fall down.”

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At the time, 80 percent of Vietnam’s mostly rural population of 75 million remained poor.

In addition to economic reforms, the government was preoccupied with endemic corruption, which has resisted repeated campaigns for reform.

“As long as governments exist, corruption will exist,” Mr. Muoi said. “It is an illness of government, and it can be cured only by the people. It will be severely punished, even by execution, no matter what position the person was holding.”

Mr. Muoi had joined the movement to oust French colonial rule when he was 19. He became a member of the Communist Party in 1939.