2018 Volume 27 Issue 1 Pages 51-61
This paper highlights a new perspective of the ‘Ishikawa Project’, a monumental achievement of Japan's intellectual cooperation. The ‘Ishikawa Project’ in the late 1990s is the Vietnam-Japan joint study on the economic development policy, in which Shigeru Ishikawa headed the Japanese research team. The existing literatures explain the success, stressing an innovative ‘joint study’ approach, which was a process of knowledge creation through two-way interactions between the donor and recipient, in contrast to the traditional one-way transfer of knowledge.
While highly evaluating the achievements of the Ishikawa Project, this article raises a question: why was the approach not successful in other attempts and why is it not recognized by current Vietnamese technocrats？ To answer the question, the paper suggests and verifies a hypothesis that the ‘Ishikawa Project’ played a crucial role in the specific context of Vietnam in the middle of 1990s. In other words, the success was highly context specific.
In 1993, the IMF and the World Bank jointly recommended the Vietnamese leaders to tackle privatization of state enterprises as the ‘priority to the year 2000’. However, privatization was a politically sensitive issue in Vietnam particularly in those days. Although the Vietnamese leaders well recognized the importance of state enterprise reform, they chose to ‘listen to another voice’, presumably to show the World Bank and IMF “there is an alternative view”. They asked Ishikawa's opinion on the draft Five-Year Plan, and later invited him to the party politbureau. As Ishikawa did not put priority to privatization, the Vietnamese leaders found the ‘Ishikawa Project’ effective as a counterbalance acting against the powerful influence of the Washington-based institutions. To put it differently, the Project created checks and balances, being quite valuable in the international development arena, which is dominated by a single mainstream view.
The case of the ‘Ishikawa Project’ implies the chance of Japan's contribution to aid recipients acting as a counterbalance to preserve checks and balances.