THERE is a telling frankness in the line from Hanoi these days. Just days after Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet told Vietnam it would be 'cutting its own throat' if it did not do more to catch up with the rest of Asia, a senior finance official has called for US$15 billion in foreign investment to be actually on the ground by the end of the decade. Dau Ngoc Xuan, chairman of the State Committee for Co-operation and Investment, also said, however, that $2.7 billion in disbursed investment - actual cash at work - would have flowed into the country by the end of this year. That is less than a quarter of the $10.7 billion pledged since 1988. So $15 billion? You will be lucky, analysts said. Just look at the way a confused and heavy tax system, the high rents, ad hoc rules and a shuffling bureaucracy conspired to derail the landmark 1986 foreign investment law, they said. But once the dust settles from Hanoi's latest call for help, the long-term outlook was likely to be a little more optimistic. Foreign investors, accountants, bankers, lawyers and car dealers in both Ho Chi Minh City and the still austere Hanoi all seem privately confident, though still wary of speaking openly for fear of offending the government. It was wrong, many said, to merely look at the investment in the last five years, and estimate a similar figure for the years ahead. Big ticket investment was on its way and would bring a more enlightened bureaucracy with it. Vietnam has come a long way and should go a lot further in just a few years - to do in 10 years what other Asian tigers have done in 30. The visit in August of Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and the resulting South Korean 'catch-up' campaign by big-ticket Japanese investors buoyed hopes of better quality investment - money with leverage, too. The eventual restoration of full diplomatic ties with the United States - three years away according to the latest Hanoi gossip - will further draw the sort of money that will force a stronger legal framework and freer access to property and, perhaps, even less intervention. Two United States car-makers signed up plants last month, and retail and food chains are on the way. But more importantly, Hanoi is now much more clear of what it needs in terms of laws, money and projects, so surely the first step if it is going to lure and keep the quality investment it is now targeting.