WITH turmoil in neighboring China fresh in mind, Vietnam is setting the bounds on its own pro-democracy movement. The ruling Communist Party is allowing the National Assembly to take up a bill this week to partially democratize local governments.
And last week party leaders agreed to grant protesting students more say on campuses and to improve conditions. ``All schools should give more room to democracy and openness,'' stated Hanoi's official radio broadcast on June 24.
Campus demonstrations in Hanoi last week were described as small and peaceful. Protests were also reported in other cities. A Hanoi party leader, after meeting with student leaders, ordered measures to be taken to meet students' ``legitimate demands'' for food, water, and electricity, as well as security, according to the radio broadcast.
Party-organized student groups were told to ``fully develop their roles.'' Campus officials were told to exchange views with students more often.
But in recent months, the party has tried to head off a growing democracy movement based in the south by denouncing ``pluralism.'' Interior Minister Mai Chi Tho recently said calls for reform do not extend to public security and order. Publications, given slight freedom in 1987, were put under tough rules in April.
``We do not accept the pluralism that mainly demands the existence of opposing parties and political organizations, begins with criticizing and advancing toward the neutralization of party leadership,'' wrote the party's propaganda chief, Tran Trong Tan, last month.
In a reaction to the crackdown on pro-democracy students in China, former general Vo Nguyen Giap, now a vice-premier, said that Vietnam ``hoped ardently'' that calm would soon return to China, and believed that China would ``surely'' restore social stability under the leadership of the Communist Party and government.
``Democracy needs party leadership,'' said party leader Nguyen Van Linh in March.
Hanoi's leaders admit they face a ``raging'' impatience among Vietnamese for not fulfilling promises of reform made over three years ago. Educational reforms have been particularly slow. In 1986, thousands of teachers quit in protest over low pay.
The National Assembly opened a two-week session on June 19, and for the first time, representatives were allowed to hold preparatory meetings to study issues to be discussed.
One issue is a bill that would make elections for district and city governing bodies democratic.
Assembly deputies from the south wanted the bill taken up last year. But party leaders, dominated by more hardline northerners, delayed it until now.