Feature Editorial:

Cultural Globalization: A View From Vietnam

By Mr. Nguyen Tran Bat
Attorney and International Investment Executive
Hanoi, Vietnam

Globalization, particularly its economic dimension, has become one of the world's most talked-about concepts -- this huge interest holds true here in Vietnam as well. The economic effects of globalization is a topic unto itself, with deep historical roots. In the last decade, the most vital task weighing upon those countries which have only relatively recently been emancipated from colony-status is the development of their economies in order to improve the living standards of their citizens. Of course, when the world moved from "internationalization" to "globalization", globalization was considered an inevitable trend, and thus far has become a topic of interest in countless articles published throughout the world. However, people have increasingly become aware of another trend of globalization, the repercussions of which are even more severe and acute than economic factors, and that is the cultural aspect of globalization.

Like economic globalization, the roots of cultural globalization date back far into history, beginning with the initial interactions between earliest communities, and has taken place in parallel with economic globalization. It is widely known that trading and the exchange of goods is a natural activity, and economic globalization is a process which stems from this natural tendency to trade and exchange goods and services. In the past, people carried goods from one village to another simply to trade for other goods, meaning that they did make a "de-localization", of some degree, of the economic process, thereby practicing the premise for economic globalization. In other words, via this process, the goods became inter- or trans-regional. This process made people aware of the fact that in order for goods to be sold, goods made in one village must meet the requirements or demands of another village in terms of cultural quality. In broader terms, goods made in one country must meet the cultural quality of another country. For example, the packaging of Coca-Cola products sold in Vietnam during the Tet holiday featuring a peach twig or a dragon illustrate Coca-Cola's efforts toward satisfying the cultural requirements of Vietnamese customers. As such, cultural globalization is an inevitable process. Economic exchange is the premise of cultural exchange and cultural globalization in turn promotes human awareness of both cultural differences and similarities. Today, when culture is regarded as both a target of and a stimulus for development, we could affirm that cultural globalization - a natural process - took place in parallel with economic globalization during the initial process, and will exceed economic globalization in later stages of globalization.

1. Cultural Globalization in the Current Context

1.1 Cultural Globalization in the Past and Today

It must be asserted that globalization in general and cultural globalization in particular, are, in the present context, much different in comparison with globalization in the past in terms of content, significance, scope and velocity. In reality, previous globalization was simply localization. Local exchange was limited by the then-undeveloped transportation and communication, thus the scope of the influence of cultural exchange was not genuinely global. Today -- thanks to advances in science and technology -- improved means of transportation and communication allow us to overcome limits of space and time, thereby creating favorable conditions for cultural exchange to develop worldwide. Today it is quite a simple matter to obtain access to abundant amounts of information and therefore people have greater and greater opportunity to participate in exchange and interaction in various fields, from trade, investment and tourism to culture and art. The wave of migration also contributes to an increasing direct exchange of the spiritual aspects as well as the material aspects of life between nations. Furthermore, the advancement of science and technology has formed many global forces strong enough to dominate the entire world -- including multi-national and transnational corporations and international institutions -- accompanied by destructive forces such as terrorism or religious extremism.

Multinational and transnational corporations have now accumulated much more power than that of many nations, and with this enormous corporate power comes an equally enormous influence on the world economy. At the same time, destructive forces resulting from disputes and conflicts among nations -- and between ethnic groups and religions -- appear and operate on worldwide scale. Such extreme forces stemming from economic and political disputes must be viewed as another aspect of cultural globalization. It sounds contradictory but, like all other phenomena, cultural globalization has contradictory elements. Cultural globalization is the most thorough and pressing issue of the overall trend of globalization, and it cannot be described in terms of market forces.

Many show their concern about the possibility of weaker nations having cultural standards imposed upon them by the rich nations due to the rich nations' dominating economic power and the flood of goods imposed upon the market as a result of increasingly severe globalization. I personally think that this concern is rather groundless. I believe it is impossible for cultures to encroach upon each other. My belief is based upon the premise that cultural influence takes place in a natural, gradual and selective manner. Moreover, the cultural vitality of any country is the result of a selective, natural process which takes place over a long period of time. Therefore, cultural globalization per se contributes to enhancing co-operation and selection among cultures, rather than encroaching or bringing pressure to bear upon the cultural identity of any nation.

1.2 Cultural Globalization and National Cultural Independence

Speaking of the cultural independence of individual nations is to emphasize the political dimension or the completion of an individual nation's cultural structure. This concept has now become inopportune as a result of the erosion of national borders and the formation of a system of general values encompassing the entire world. The development of all countries, in all times, cannot be accomplished without the process of cultural exchange which has, in recent decades, boomed on an unprecedented scale. In the present world setting, any nation which is passive or isolates itself from the world trend of cultural exchange will undoubtedly be driven into recession. However, many share the viewpoint that cultural exchange not only facilitates mutual understanding, but also contributes to eliminating cultural dissimilarities and creates common criteria between cultures, thus leading to a harmonious worldwide co-existence. It is cultural dissimilarities that restrain cultural co-operation, thus cultural exchange -- a natural activity of human life -- will eliminate all that hinders cultural exchange and association. However, cultural exchange does not mean the erosion of the cultural independence of individual nations. The world has always existed with the diversification of cultural identities, accompanied by common values. Wherever countries exist, cultural independence also exists. The cultural independence of individual countries is maintained not only by the political will of the leaders but also by specific regionality.

However, in relation to cultural independence, cultural exchange requires that every nation must have its own skills and spirit, must take initiative in receiving new cultural values (and at the same time must eliminate irrelevant values), and then, upon this basis, adapt themselves to world values. In the current world context, the on-going development in communications and liaison resources brings an ever-increasing supply of information about the outside world to even some of the most isolated cultures. Interactive exchange and mutual influence between nations, regions and cultures have allowed cultural qualities from diverse regions of the planet to crystallize into components of the world culture. This means that beautiful elements of all cultures contribute to the common culture, reflecting achievements from different fields of the human life. The common culture only develops based upon the ever-dignified and ample development of every individual national culture.

1.3 Cultural Globalization and National Cultural Identity

While cultural independence emphasizes the political dimension of culture, cultural identity emphasizes the traditional dimension of culture. Cultural identity includes the specific characteristics that help distinguish one nation from another, and these characteristics are naturally formed by a variety of elements, including geographical and historical factors as well as numerous random factors. The cultural identity of each and every nation has a very important role to play in both the spiritual and material aspects of life. Culture or cultural identity is comprised of symbols that differentiate one person from another, one community from another and one nation from another -- and it is also the result of interactions within communities, and interactions between communities. Culture reflects personality in personal terms and reflects national identity in community terms. It is the cultural identity of every nation that makes people different from one another, providing contrast, as it is the community rather than the individual which is the basis of culture. Culture is a tapestry of co-existence, and, as a result, it has the value of co-existence.

It is impossible to deny the worldwide expansion of Western culture over the last century, and it is similarly impossible to deny the indispensability of cultural exchange between Western and Eastern cultures. In the current context of cultural globalization, many people are concerned about the erosion of national cultural identity, and are anxious about the expansion and influence of Western culture. In fact, such concerns are groundless. Exaggerating the task of protecting national identities will isolate the developing nations; it must be recognized that the harmonious co-existence is an inevitable trend of the world today. Sooner or later, all nations will converge to a common standard of co-existence. Therefore, a good cultural identity should be one that is able to exist in harmony with others. In the development of a nation, a wise government is one that knows how to develop all the internal strength of the country's culture, while at the same time assimilating the positive aspects of other cultures into their own through interaction and cooperation. Integrating into the world community, rather than attempting to isolate from it, is the developing nation's path to true progress.

2. Cultural Globalization and its Effects on Human Econo-Political Life

2.1 With regard to economic effects: The effects of cultural globalization on economic activities are very obvious. Firstly, in the current context, the distinction between economic values and cultural values is increasingly indistinct as these values become increasingly interwoven in nearly all aspects. All products inherently contain both economic and cultural values. Therefore, it is vital to be conscious of such a relative separation of culture and economy. Secondly, cultural exchange in the present era of globalization -- now even more intense and comprehensive -- has a strong impact on economic exchange, especially in the three following aspects:

  1. Globalization has great influence on production, since culture contributes a large part -- and at times the largest part -- of product value;

  2. Cultural globalization affects both the organization and quality of labor;

  3. Cultural globalization creates common criteria in production and distribution standards.

Being conscious of the inevitable impacts of cultural globalization on economic factors, those in positions of responsibility must become ever more aware of cultural values within the work force, as well as cultural influences on both production and distribution. Multinational corporations have long been regarded as the agents most able to stimulate the economic and information technology aspects of globalization through investment, transportation, technology transfer, scientific research, and cultural influence. It must be asserted that it is cultural exchange that stimulates economic integration on global scale, and economic integration in turn brings people closer together through the creation of common criteria as components of the world culture.

2.2 With regard to political effects: It is clear to observe the effects of cultural globalization on politics. Cultural globalization has promulgated universal values throughout the world -- these values include human rights, civil rights, democracy, and freedom -- and has at the same time changed the nature of social relations. Today, democracy is not only a socio-political factor but also a prerequisite for development. In other words, democracy is not simply a political right but has now become a right to national development. When people throughout the world are connected, every nation is required to emancipate every individual's creative capacity in order to achieve enhanced competitiveness. Once allowed to thrive, these creative capacities represent huge potential. Therefore, the promulgation of popular democratic values is an indispensable trend, and globalization urges nations and religions to identify commonly acceptable standards for co-existence.

In recent decades, UNESCO and many other progressive organizations have reviewed the issues of culture and cultural globalization, confirming the role of culture together with economics and politics in the development of humankind and the development of each individual nation. Tolerance, care for the aged and care, protection and education for children all reflect legitimate human aspirations. Together with the trend of free trade, cultural globalization has now gathered the world's nations, and as a result national leaders must agree to common principles of dialogue on a world scale. These principles must address issues such as child and prisoner labor as well as environmental standards (which has itself become a moral issue). As such, globalization in general and cultural globalization in particular force the world's nations to commence cooperation with a view to creating a peaceful and stable world in which personal values must not be ignored.

2.3 Cultural globalization and extreme reactions: Beside positive effects, cultural exchange in itself contains many contradictions relating to ideology, viewpoint and content. Obviously, each country reacts in a different way to cultural globalization. It is worth asserting that humankind benefits most from this trend. However, there is no lack of sufferers. The sufferers are the result of some economic or religious regimes which, for selfish or backward reasons, want to maintain their power and interests based upon now-antiquated governing methods. The world today is still witnessing religious and racial conflicts, such as the long-lasting conflicts in the Middle East, in many Asian and African countries, in the Balkans and in East Timor. Such extreme reactions reflect cultural backwardness and reactionary thinking, which in turn inevitably affects economics and politics. When cultures penetrate each other, universal values penetrating specific values will certainly engender reactions, including reactions in the extreme. As a result of differing political and geographical characteristics, different countries display different reactions, even to the point of the extreme and violent. However, despite such extreme reactions, cultural globalization is an unstoppable force. It is certain that extreme reactions will subside in exchange for the benefits that countries receive from the world's common cultural values. Aware of the inevitability of extreme reactions against cultural globalization, the world must remain vigilant while at the same time work to develop solutions to the significant problem of growing extremism. Improving the people's intellectual level, constructing civilized societies and law-governing nations, building up a democratic and equal global co-ordination mechanism, helping one another in economic development and reducing contradictions between nations and regions are seen as optimal solutions.

3. In Conclusion

It must be asserted that cultural globalization is a natural trend, completely independent of the attempted control any nation, force or other power or entity. Cultural globalization promulgates new criteria and standards on a worldwide basis, thus proving requiring new systems within both management and governance. It is impossible for any of us to isolate ourselves from this trend, however it is within our ability to choose a wise new slate of policies to: 1) assure less suffering as globalization continues, and 2) make full use of the opportunities this process makes available to us. Thus we must take initiative in directing our policies in accordance with this trend. The most urgent yet optimal measures for all nations of the world is the democratization of our societies and the creation of a worldwide system of common political-cultural values for peaceful competition and cooperation toward a genuinely stable world environment.

BWW Society member Mr. Nguyen Tran Bat graduated from Hanoi Construction University in 1972 with a degree in Construction Engineering; in 1995 he earned his LL.B. degree from Law Faculty of Hanoi University.

From 1963 until 1975, Mr. Bat served in the army as soldier and Construction Engineer. After 1975 he held positions at the Institute for Transport Science Research, the State Committee for Capital Construction, the National Office on Inventions under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, and from 1987-89 he served as Deputy Director of the Bureau for Promotion and Development of Industrial Properties Activities.

Presently Mr. Bat is Chairman and General Director of the Investment Consultancy and Technology Transfer Company (InvestConsult Group), a leading private Vietnamese Group of consulting and law firms. The firm has four offices in Vietnam, totaling a full time staff of 220 providing consulting services to foreign businesses and investors, ranging from policy advice, legal advice, project advice and post-license services to public relations and intellectual properties services. Mr. Bat has recently established the first private research institute in Vietnam, the Investconsult Development Research Institute, which covers three levels of research: business and services development, Vietnam development, and global development issues. Mr. Bat is also the founder of Vietnam's first consulting service corporation, which since 1987 has assisted more than one-thousand foreign businesses and corporations with their investments in Vietnam; his client list includes numerous Fortune 500 corporations. The consulting group has also been commissioned by WB, IFC, ADB, UNDP, NGOs and foreign embassies to implement donor-funded projects in a wide range of assistance and developmental programs. Additionally, since 1986 Mr. Bat has been involved in the design and construction of major bridges and roads in Vietnam.

Mr. Bat is a member of the Executive Board of the Club for Enterprises with Foreign Investment Capital and is a member of the Australian Economic Development Committee, the Board of Directors of Beta Mekong Fund Ltd., the Vietnam Engineering Consultants Association, and the Nam Dinh Bar Association; he is the Director of International Affairs of Hanoi Lawyers' Association and Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Industrial Property Association. Mr. Bat is a well-known speaker at many important forums and seminars concerning Vietnamese development issues at home and abroad. In his free time, he enjoys studying foreign cultures, religion, philosophy, reading and economics.

[ back to "Publications & Special Reports" ]
[ BWW Society Home Page ]