One of the most striking features of the economic development that has occurred in the East Asian region has been the influential role of the state in directing its course. Vietnam is also following this well-worn path of state-led developmentalism. The principal contribution of this paper is two-fold. First, we place the Vietnamese experience in comparative historical and conceptual perspective. It is suggested that the structure of the Vietnamese state itself and the distinctive nature of the policies it has undertaken are reflections of the country’s traumatic recent history and the fact that its leadership is notionally ‘‘communist.’’ Our second contribution is to detail some of the more important aspects of this process. We provide two case studies which focus on the role of state-owned enterprises and decentralisation initiatives which demonstrate that, despite the frequently ad hoc and contingent nature of the developmental project and an absence of the sort of state capacity that distinguished the likes of Japan in its heyday, the Vietnamese government is overseeing economic development in creative and surprisingly effective ways.