In 2010, the Vietnamese government implemented a national payment for ecosystem services (PES) policy. In promoting the policy, the government has conveyed PES as a successful policy that has achieved multiple objectives, including forest protection and poverty alleviation. Contrary to these claims, however, critical studies of PES in Vietnam have found a weak relationship between PES and forest protection, the continuing dominance, rather than retreat, of the state in forest management, and no clear evidence that PES assists the poor in the near-universal manner purported. Using a discourse analysis approach, this paper examines why and how PES policy was formulated and implemented in Vietnam. We explore the influence of key networked individuals involved in the production and negotiation of PES policy, as well as the socio-political and institutional context that influences PES policy design and implementation. The paper details how social relationships between state officials, donors and technical experts were built and mobilized through the process of PES policy design and implementation to achieve specific state objectives. In this context, we argue that government discourse on the 'success’ of PES has served as an effective vehicle to deflect attention from the weakness of the forestry sector, to generate new funding for the sector's survival in the face of enduring budget shortages, and to expand state power in relation to forest resources. The 'success’ of PES helps sustain the poor management and corrupt practices of state forest entities and eliminates villagers’ opportunities to benefit from the forest, hence sustaining poverty in the uplands.
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