During our travels through IndoChina we were regularly informed that the way the various countries worked changed around 1989 and this date struck a chord because of the repetition.  So what is important about 1989?

Well first and foremost it was the year we married and so the year does rather tend to stick in the memory.

On a much wider level I can remember vividly driving home listening to the news hearing that the Germans were tearing down the Berlin Wall and dashing into the house to see the evidence that the Wall constructed earlier in my lifetime was disappearing.  Economically and socially the pressure for changes in Eastern Europe had been growing for many months with regular newspaper reports of the demand for those in Eastern Europe to cross over into Western Europe with queues at border points and significant demand.

In the USSR the economy had for a long time needed to support the satellite communist states and put quite simply this burden could no longer be maintained and so outside China and North Korea the entire communist system driven by central planning was breaking down.

1989 also saw the peace process in Cambodia get underway with the Vietnamese troops withrawing and therefore both countries started to become acceptable trading partners with the other countries in South East Asia; inward investment also commenced flowing (particularly into Cambodia to build garment factories) and this has meant that the economies have been able to show growth at good levels for many years.

In Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos various reforms happened before during and after 1989; in general however government fixed prices were abandoned in favour of market prices, people were allowed to buy land and much greater freedom of movement (including foreign travel) was permitted.  Such changes and the ways they have been implemented have not been trouble free – in Vietnam there have been cases of land being taken by abuse of the law (which has led to prosecutions) and in Cambodia the fact that at the time 2/3 of the populace was illiterate meant that only those with some education could apply the laws to claim land.  This has meant that the process was inevitably corrupt and tended to enrich certain groups linked with the military and the ruling party.

However it is clear that the situation is far closer to a market economy since 1989 than was the case before.  Outwardly this is evidenced in Vietnam with a very high level of shops along all of the major roads between the various towns and villages – ribbon development run wild!  I would argue that there are far more shopkeepers in Vietnam than in the UK – and all run by a family in their front room and not by Tesco!

What we also found from the guides is that there is no state healthcare in any of the countries – visit a doctor and you pay – and no doubt away from the tourist areas and major towns poverty is inevitably a major problem.  However the economies are no longer centrally planned but at the moment the corruption levels in Cambodia are probably particularly high.

So 1989 marked a turning point not just in Europe but across the world.  The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848; 140 years later the concept of central economic management was abandoned.