A woman dressed in the traditional Vietnamese "ao dai"costume serves tea to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (front R) during the opening ceremony of the 11th Party Congress in Hanoi January 12, 2011
Vietnam's ruling communists opened an eight-day party congress on Wednesday with a candid admission the fast-growing economy had become unstable, as delegates began the process of reshuffling leaders and charting new policies.
As leaders sang the national anthem to begin the five-yearly event, streets in the chilly capital Hanoi were festooned with red and yellow banners, some bearing the iconic hammer and sickle. Propaganda posters bore the smiling likeness of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh or of proud, uniformed workers.
The economic backdrop is less festive. Inflation surged to a 22-month high in December, the government is struggling to bring down a hefty fiscal deficit, the currency has been depreciating for three years and the trade deficit remains stubbornly high.
A Reuters Special Report takes a close look at Vietnam's new breed of captitalists, as the country of 90 million takes a page out of China's Communist Party playbook and promotes a more consumption-led economy. This is a development path divergent from that of its East Asian neighbours, whose economies became Tigers or Dragons (as the case may be) on the back of exports not consumers.
In contrast to most emerging markets, Vietnam has been a sell -- up until recently, anyway. The Vietnam stock index is down 59 percent from its March 2007 peak and lost more than 3 percent last year, compared to gains of more than 40 percent in Thailand and Indonesia.
But the situation could reverse this year. The lone ETF tracking the country, Market Vectors Vietnam, has gained 10 percent over the past three months, handily outpacing the iShares NSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund.