But now environmental concerns have resurfaced, prompted by events 9,000 kilometres away in Hungary. Several people there were killed after a spillage of red sludge, the highly toxic byproduct created when bauxite is refined into aluminium.

This week a leading Vietnamese environmentalist raised his head above the parapet to discuss concerns about the project. A Vietnamese state-owned company involved in the bauxite project was forced to try to allay public fears.

Nguyen Dinh Hoe of the Vietnam Nature and Environment Protection Society told Tuoi Tre, one of the more daring of Vietnam’s official newspapers, that the incident in Hungary was “obviously a warning to Vietnam”.

''The Vietnamese bauxite mining companies have assured that the red mud will be buried carefully. But it does not mean it will be safe after 20-30 years. If a similar catastrophe happens in the Central Highlands, the red mud will flow into Dong Nai River, threatening the lives and health of tens of millions of people.''

Despite the government’s best efforts, anxiety about the environmental consequences of rapid economic development is slowly but surely on the rise in Vietnam. That’s not before time in a country where many industrial companies all but ignore international environmental standards, secreting untreated waste water into rivers and canals.

Vietnam has some of the world’s biggest reserves of bauxite and the government is seeking to attract $15bn of investment to develop bauxite mining and aluminium refining projects by 2025.

However, the government’s decision to bring in Chinalco, a state-owned Chinese mining group, to develop one of the projects caused consternation among many Vietnamese.

Some were worried about the less than stellar environmental record of Chinese companies operating overseas. For others, the problem was more visceral - having been colonised by various Chinese dynasties for 1,000 years, many still view China with great suspicion.

Given Vietnam’s huge trade deficit with China, and the close links between Vietnam’s Communist leaders and their counterparts in Beijing, the opposition to Chinese investment has made the Vietnamese government rather uncomfortable.

Images of Hungary’s disaster mean that, for some Vietnamese, China’s shadow has assumed a reddish tinge.

By Ben Bland - The Financial Times - October 14, 2010