Vietnam last night pledged accelerated reform to snare a better-than-expected commitment of US$2.2 billion (HK$17 billion) in fresh aid from the international community. The figure is less than the record US$2.4 billion promised last year but comes despite the economic crisis and fears that slowing reform, rural development and dispersal of previous loans had tarnished Vietnam's image as an 'aid darling'. 'We are happy with this outcome,' a clearly relieved Minister of Planning and Investment, Tran Xuan Gia, said after the Paris donors' meeting ended. 'In these difficult times and especially given the difficulties faced by donor countries we expected at first a lower level of commitment.' Hanoi has vowed to speed up efforts to reform lumbering state enterprises, banking and trade, while urgently helping the poverty-stricken countryside catch up with the soaring cities. Foreign diplomats said Japan, with a pledge of US$874 million, continued to top the list of donors that included the United States for the first time. Some US$6 billion from six years of international aid efforts still had to be spent.