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|THE VIETNAM COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Vietnam within the continent of Africa
Map of Vietnam
Flag Description of Vietnam: red field with a large yellow five-pointed star in the center; red symbolizes revolution and blood, the five-pointed star represents the five elements of the populace - peasants, workers, intellectuals, traders, and soldiers - that unite to build socialism
Official name Cong Hoa Xa Hoi Chu Nghia Viet Nam (Socialist Republic of Vietnam)
Form of government socialist republic with one legislative house (National Assembly )
Head of state President: Truong Tan Sang
Head of government Prime Minister: Nguyen Tan Dung
Official language Vietnamese
Official religion none
Monetary unit dong (VND)
Population (2013 est.) 89,730,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 127,882
Total area (sq km) 331,212
- Urban: (2012) 31.9%
- Rural: (2012) 68.1%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2011) 73.1 years
- Female: (2011) 77.1 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2008) 96.1%
- Female: (2008) 91.3%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 1,730
Background of Vietnam
The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. It became part of French Indochina in 1887. Vietnam declared independence after World War II, but France continued to rule until its 1954 defeat by communist forces under Ho Chi MINH. Under the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was divided into the communist North and anti-communist South. US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the government, but US armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran the South reuniting the country under communist rule. Despite the return of peace, for over a decade the country experienced little economic growth because of conservative leadership policies, the persecution and mass exodus of individuals - many of them successful South Vietnamese merchants - and growing international isolation. However, since the enactment of Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnamese authorities have committed to increased economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries. The communist leaders, however, maintain control on political expression and have resisted outside calls to improve human rights. The country continues to experience small-scale protests from various groups - the vast majority connected to land-use issues, calls for increased political space, and the lack of equitable mechanisms for resolving disputes. Various ethnic minorities, such as the Montagnards of the Central Highlands and the Khmer Krom in the southern delta region, have also held protests.
Vietnam, country occupying the eastern portion of mainland Southeast Asia.
Tribal Viets inhabiting the Red River delta entered written history when China’s southward expansion reached them in the 3rd century bc. From that time onward, a dominant theme of Vietnam’s history has been interaction with China, the source of most of Vietnam’s high culture. As a tribute-paying state after throwing off Chinese rule in ad 938, Vietnam sent lacquerware, animal skins, ivory, and tropical products to the Chinese emperor and received scrolls on philosophy, administration, and literature in return. Sinic culture seeped deeply into society, but it shaped the aristocracy and mandarinal families more than it did the peasantry, which preserved distinctive customs, beliefs, vocabulary, lifeways, and gender relations. Modeling themselves on Chinese emperors, Vietnam’s kings exacted tribute from ethnic minorities on the periphery of the Vietnamese state and called themselves emperors when not addressing the Chinese court. Although cultural and spatial gaps between the Vietnamese court and the farthest reaches of society were not as great as they were in China (Vietnam is about the size of a Chinese province, with a comparable population), the Vietnamese state’s capacity to rule diminished with distance from the capital. The refractory character of bamboo-hedged peasant communes was captured in the cliché, "The emperor’s writ stops at the village gate."
Vietnam has a long history of affiliating with a dominant civilization and adapting that civilization’s ideas, institutions, and technology to Vietnamese purposes. This pattern of affiliating and adapting was already evident in Vietnam’s historical relations with China, and it reappeared as descendants of mandarins responded to the challenge of the West by rejecting tradition and becoming communists to combat colonialism. The pattern was evident again as it animated 20th-century artistic movements that employed Western forms to promote social renovation; and since the 1980s it has been the driving force behind the Vietnam Communist Party’s embrace of economic liberalization and integration into the world economy. Such strategic absorption and adaptation have helped propel Vietnam to become one of the world’s most populous countries, with one of the most rapidly expanding market economies.
The capital, Hanoi, is located in the north, while the country’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), is in the south. Vietnam experienced a period of prolonged warfare in the mid-20th century, and a partitioning (1954–75), first militarily and later politically, into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, better known as North Vietnam, and the Republic of Vietnam, usually called South Vietnam. Following reunification in April 1975, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established in July 1976.
Geography of Vietnam
With an area and configuration similar to those of Norway, Vietnam extends about 1,025 miles (1,650 km) from north to south and is about 30 miles (50 km) wide east to west at its narrowest part. It is bordered by China to the north, the South China Sea to the east and south, the Gulf of Thailand (Gulf of Siam) to the southwest, and Cambodia and Laos to the west.
Vietnam’s principal physiographic features are the Annamese Cordillera (French: Chaîne Annamitique; Vietnamese: Nui Truong Son), extending generally from northwest to southeast in central Vietnam and dominating the interior, and two extensive alluvial deltas formed by the Red (Hong) River in the north and the Mekong (Cuu Long) River in the south. Between these two deltas is a long, relatively narrow coastal plain.
From north to south the uplands of northern Vietnam can be divided into two distinct regions—the area north of the Red River and the massif that extends south of the Red River into neighbouring Laos. The Red River forms a deep, relatively wide valley that runs in a straight northwest-southeast direction for much of its course from the Chinese border to the edge of its delta. North of the Red River the relief is moderate, with the highest elevations occurring between the Red and Lo (Clear) rivers; there is a marked depression from Cao Bang to the sea. In the Red River delta and in the valleys of the region’s other major rivers are found wide limestone terraces, extensive alluvial plains, and low hills. The northeast coast is dotted with hundreds of islands composed mostly of limestone.
Compared with the area north of the Red River, the vast massif extending southwest across Laos to the Mekong River is of considerably higher elevation. Among its outstanding topographic features is Fan Si Peak, which at 10,312 feet (3,143 metres) is the highest point in Vietnam. South of the Black (Da) River are the Ta P’ing, Son La, and Moc Chau plateaus, which are separated by deep valleys.
In central Vietnam the Annamese Cordillera runs parallel to the coast, with several peaks rising to elevations above 6,000 feet (1,800 metres). Several spurs jut into the South China Sea, forming sections of the coast isolated from one another. Communication across the central ranges is difficult. The southern portion of the Annamese Cordillera has two identifiable regions. One consists of plateaus of approximately 1,700 feet (520 metres) in elevation that have experienced little erosion, as in the Dac Lac Plateau near Buon Me Thuot. The second region is characterized by heavily eroded plateaus: in the vicinity of Pleiku, the Kontum Plateau is about 2,500 feet (760 metres) above sea level; and in the Da Lat area, the Di Linh Plateau is about 4,900 feet (1,500 metres).
Roughly triangular in shape, with its northeast and southwest sides bounded by the northern uplands, the Red River delta extends inland some 150 miles (240 km) and runs some 75 miles (120 km) along the Gulf of Tonkin. The delta can be divided into four subregions. The northwestern section has the highest and most broken terrain, and its extensive natural levees invite settlement despite frequent flooding. The low-lying eastern portion is less than seven feet (two metres) above sea level in the vicinity of Bac Ninh. Rivers there form small valleys only slightly lower than the general surface level, and they are subject to flooding by the area’s unusually high tides. The third and fourth subregions consist, respectively, of the poorly drained lowlands in the west and the coastal area, which is marked by the remains of former beach ridges left as the delta expanded.
The Annamese Cordillera forms a drainage divide, with rivers to the east flowing to the South China Sea and those to the west to the Mekong River. South of the mountain range there is an identifiable terrace region that gives way to the Mekong delta. The terrace region includes the alluvial plains along the Saigon and Dong Nai rivers. The lowlands of southern Vietnam are dominated by alluvial plains, the most extensive of which is the Mekong delta, covering an area of 15,400 square miles (39,900 square km) in Vietnam. Smaller deltaic plains also occur along the south-central coast facing the South China Sea.
In northern Vietnam the heavy monsoonal rains wash away rich humus from the highlands, leaving slow-dissolving alumina and iron oxides that give the soil its characteristic reddish colour. The soils of the Red River delta vary: some are fertile and suitable for intense cultivation, while others lack soluble bases. Nonetheless, the delta soils are easily worked. The diking of the Red River to prevent flooding has deprived the delta’s rice fields of enriching silts they once received, and it has been necessary to apply chemical fertilizers.
There are some two dozen soil associations, but certain soil types predominate. Among these are red and yellow podzolic soils (i.e., soils that are heavily leached in their upper layers, with a resulting accumulation of materials in the lower layers), which occupy nearly half of the land area, and lateritic soils (reddish brown, leached tropical soils), which constitute another one-tenth more. These soil types dominate the central highlands.
Alluvial soils account for about one-fourth of the land in the south and are concentrated in the Mekong delta, as are peat and muck soils. Gray podzolic soils are found in parts of the central highlands and in old terraces along the Mekong, while regurs (rich black loams) and lateritic soils occur in both the central highlands and the terrace zone. Along the coast of central Vietnam are regosols (soft, undeveloped soils) and noncalcic brown soils.
The northern part of Vietnam is on the edge of the tropical climatic zone. During January, the coldest month of the year, Hanoi has a mean temperature of 63 °F (17 °C), while the annual average temperature is 74 °F (23 °C). Farther south, the average annual temperature in Hue is 77 °F (25 °C) and in Ho Chi Minh City is 81 °F (27 °C); in the highland city of Da Lat, it drops to 70 °F (21 °C). The winter season in northern Vietnam lasts from November to April; from early February to the end of March there is a persistent drizzle, and March and April are sometimes considered to be a transitional period. The summer in northern Vietnam lasts from April or May to October and is characterized by heat, heavy rainfall, and occasional typhoons. In central and southern Vietnam the southwest monsoon winds between June and November bring rains and typhoons to the eastern slopes of the mountains and the lowland plains. The period between December and April is drier and is characterized by the winds of the northeast monsoon and, in the south, by high temperatures.
- Plant and animal life
Vietnam’s vegetation is rich and diversified, reflecting the country’s great range of climate, topography, and soils and the varying effects of human habitation. The forests of Vietnam can be divided into two broad categories: evergreen forests, which include conifers, and deciduous forests. There are more than 1,500 species of woody plants in the country, ranging from commercially important hardwoods, such as ebony and teak, to palms, mangroves, and bamboos. There also are numerous species of woody vines (lianas) and herbaceous plants. In the aggregate, the dense and open forests, savannas, brushland, and bamboo cover approximately half of the country’s total area.
In most areas the forests are mixed, containing a great variety of species within a given area. Rainforests are relatively limited, and pure stands are few. The nearest to pure forest types are the pines—the three-needled Pinus khasya and the two-needled P. merkusii found in the uplands—and the mangrove forests of the coastal areas. In the mountainous regions are subtropical species from such genera as Quercus (oak), Castanopsis, Pinus (pine), and Podocarpus. Brushwood, bamboo, weeds, and tall grasses invade logged areas and grow around settlements and along arterial highways and railroads. Between the logged areas and the upland forests are other mixtures of forest types.
A large part of the forest in the central highlands is dense and rich in broad-leaved evergreens and semievergreens, some of which yield valuable timbers. Some of this region is still composed of undisturbed (primary) forests. Other types of forests there include secondary forests; open forests, which typically have trees of the family Dipterocarpaceae and species from the genus Lagerstroemia (crape myrtle); mangrove forests; and barren lands of sand dunes with eucalyptus and small, thorny deciduous trees and species from the Casuarina genus of flowering plants. Cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica) is commonly found in the open forests, and savanna vegetation occupies large areas formerly covered by forests. Grass and sedge swamps are characteristic of the Thap Muoi Plain (Plain of Reeds), a depression in the Mekong delta.
During the Vietnam War, herbicides were used by the U.S. Army to defoliate large areas of forest in southern Vietnam. Most of these forests have been regenerating, but resettlement programs and illegal logging appear to have created longer lasting damage.
The most common domesticated animals in Vietnam are water buffalo, cattle, dogs, cats, pigs, goats, ducks, and chickens. Wild game in the central highlands includes elephants and tapirs; Sumatran rhinoceroses, believed to have become extinct by the 1960s, were sighted in the 1990s. Also found in the forests are large cats, including tigers, leopards, and ounces (snow leopards); several kinds of wild oxen, including gaurs and koupreys; and various types of bears, among them black bears and sun bears (honey bears). Deer are plentiful and include the small musk deer and muntjac (barking deer). Other common wild animals are wild pigs, porcupines, jackals, otters, mongooses, hares, skunks, and squirrels, including flying squirrels.
There are also small wild cats, binturongs, and palm civets. Primates such as langurs, macaques, gibbons, and rhesus monkeys live in the forests. Three species of hoofed mammals—the saola, giant muntjac, and Truong Son muntjac—were discovered in the 1990s. Crocodiles are found on the edges of some lakes and along riverbanks; other reptiles include several kinds of lizards, pythons, and cobras. Of the wide variety of land and water birds, some 600 species have been identified in southern Vietnam alone.
Demography of Vietnam
Diverse cultural traditions, geographies, and historical events have created distinct regions within the country. The lowlands generally have been occupied by ethnic Vietnamese, while the highlands have been home to numerous smaller ethnic groups that differ culturally and linguistically from the Vietnamese. The highland peoples can be divided into the northern ethnic groups, who have affinities with peoples in southern China who speak Tai languages; and the southern highland populations, who have ties with peoples in Cambodia, who speak Mon-Khmer languages (Austroasiatic family), and peoples in Indonesia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, who speak Austronesian languages. A north-south variation has also emerged among the ethnic Vietnamese as they have expanded southward from the Red River delta along the coastal plain and into the Mekong delta. The Vietnamese have long made a distinction between the northern region, with Hanoi as its cultural centre; the central region, where the Nguyen dynasty established a capital at Hue; and the southern region, with Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) as its urban centre. After the mid-19th century, Vietnam was similarly divided by the French into Tonkin in the north, Annam in the centre, and Cochinchina in the south.
- Ethnic groups
Vietnam has one of the most complex ethnolinguistic patterns in Asia. The Vietnamese majority was significantly Sinicized during a millennium of Chinese rule, which ended in ad 939. Indian influence is most evident among the Cham and Khmer minorities. The Cham formed the majority population in the Indianized kingdom of Champa in what is now central Vietnam from the 2nd to the late 15th century ad. Small numbers of Cham remain in the south-central coastal plain and in the Mekong delta near the Cambodian border. The Khmer (Cambodians) are scattered throughout the Mekong delta.
Many other ethnic groups inhabit the highlands. While cultures vary considerably in the central region, shared characteristics include a way of life still largely oriented toward kin groups and small communities. Known collectively by the French as Montagnards (“highlanders” or, literally, “mountain people”), these central highlanders have affinities with other Southeast Asians and have exhibited an intense desire to preserve their own cultural identities. In the northern uplands, the various groups have ethnolinguistic affiliations with peoples in Thailand, Laos, and southern China.
Highland groups in general have experienced little Chinese or Indian influence, although they absorbed some Western (French and then American) cultural traits, primarily between the late 19th century and the early 1970s. By the early 21st century, however, the active promotion of tourism, as well as increased availability of products from foreign markets, brought new international influences into the highland communities.
Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. Although one of the Mon-Khmer languages of the Austroasiatic family, Vietnamese exhibits strong influences from Chinese. The language of the Khmer minority also belongs to the Mon-Khmer group, whereas Cham belongs to the Austronesian family.
Many Montagnard peoples—such as the Rade (Rhade), Jarai, Chru, and Roglai—speak Austronesian languages, linking them to the Cham, Malay, and Indonesian peoples; others—including the Bru, Pacoh, Katu, Cua, Hre, Rengao, Sedang, Bahnar, Mnong, Mang (Maa), Muong, and Stieng—speak Mon-Khmer languages, connecting them with the Khmer. French missionaries and administrators provided Roman script for some of the Montagnard languages, and additional orthographies have since been devised.
The largest of the northern highland groups speak languages belonging to the Tai language family and generally live in upland valleys. Thai, the national language of Thailand, also belongs to this language family. Hmong (Miao) and Mien groups, who speak Sino-Tibetan languages, are scattered at higher elevations.
Confucianism, Daoism, and Mahayana Buddhism entered Vietnam over many centuries. Gradually they became intertwined, simplified, and Vietnamized to constitute, along with vestiges of earlier local beliefs, an indigenous religion that came to be shared to some considerable extent by all Vietnamese, regardless of region or social class. It is largely this religious amalgam that is practiced by the roughly half of the population that identifies itself as being Buddhist. The religion of Cao Dai, a synthesis of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and Roman Catholicism, appeared during the 1920s, and in the 1930s the Hoa Hao neo-Buddhist sect spread through parts of the Mekong delta. Cao Dai has about twice as many adherents as Hoa Hao, but both congregations are growing. Together, the two new-religionist movements have embraced a significant minority of the population. Local religions involving numerous spirits predominate in many upland communities, and most Cham are adherents of Islam.
Roman Catholicism was introduced into Vietnam in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers and Dominican missionaries and spread rapidly following the French conquest in the mid-19th century. The heaviest concentrations of Roman Catholics in Vietnam were in the north until 1954, when, after the partition of the country, many of them to fled to the south. Protestantism came to Vietnam in 1911 and spread mainly among small segments of the urban population in the central and southern regions.
In 1954 all foreign Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy were expelled from North Vietnam, leaving only the native clergy. The North Vietnamese government tried to supplant the existing structures of organized religion with its own patriotic Buddhist, Cao Dai, Catholic, and Protestant religious organizations. Catholic clergy and believers were forced to renounce their allegiance to Rome. With the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam in 1975, northern institutions of control over churches and clergies were extended to the south as well. The country’s constitution, promulgated in 1992, guarantees freedom of religion, but in practice government controls have been relaxed only gradually. Performance of religious services by foreign missionaries without government approval continues to be illegal. Similarly, faith-based non-governmental organizations must register with the government, and may not proselytize.
- Settlement patterns
There are several distinct rural settlement patterns in Vietnam. Especially in northern and central Vietnam, geomantic principles influence the orientation of houses and community buildings. In central Vietnam, many of these structures face the sea. In the densely populated Red River delta in the north, village buildings are often grouped closely together and are enclosed by a bamboo hedge or an earthen wall. Those along rivers, canals, or roads often abut each other, forming a single elongated settlement. Lowland Vietnamese villages on the central coastal plain are characteristically close-knit, small clusters of farmsteads near watercourses, and fishing villages are often situated in sheltered inlets. In the Mekong delta in the south many settlements are strung out along waterways and roads; most are loose-knit clusters of farmsteads, with some of them scattered among the rice fields. The settlements of the Cham and Khmer minorities closely resemble those of the Vietnamese. Most highland peoples build their houses on pilings.
Historically, Vietnam’s major cities have been Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Throughout Vietnamese history the Hanoi area has been important and was the site of several early capitals. Hanoi also served as the capital of French Indochina from 1902 until 1954, and the city has retained the architecture of that era. The city’s port of Haiphong was developed by the French in the late 19th century as a trade and banking centre. Hue was the seat of the Nguyen family, which controlled central and southern Vietnam from the late 17th to the late 19th century. Located on the Huong (Perfume) River, it was laid out in the early 19th century as a political and religious centre, and its economic functions were ancillary. Saigon was built largely by the French in the second half of the 19th century as the administrative capital and principal port of Cochinchina. The city’s architecture recalls towns and cities in southern France. The adjoining city of Cholon has long been a major centre for ethnic Chinese.
- Demographic trends
Vietnam’s population experienced rapid growth in the decade following reunification in 1975. Throughout the 1980s, roughly two-fifths of the population was under age 15. Toward the end of the decade, however, birth rates began to decline, dropping from well above to notably below the world average over the next 20 years. Life expectancy simultaneously increased by nearly 15 years over that period. Consequently, the median age of Vietnam’s population has been rising steadily.
Migrations have historically been predominantly from north to south; more recently there have also been migrations from the lowlands to higher elevations and from rural to urban areas. Following the partition of Vietnam in 1954, nearly one million people moved from the north to the south. In the late 1950s, the governments in both the north and the south sought to resettle ethnic Vietnamese from the lowlands to the uplands. While these efforts were abandoned in the south in 1963, they continued in the north. In the five years immediately following reunification, the government reinstituted resettlement programs in the south and intensified its activities in implementing them throughout the country, with a significant number of people moving from the southern lowlands to the central highlands. Since then, however, there has been an ongoing flow of migrants into Ho Chi Minh City and its environs and into the central highlands. The greatest migration outflow has been from parts of the northeast and the central coastal plain.
Emigration was substantial following reunification. Between 1975 and 1990 hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese left the country, both legally and illegally; these refugees became known as “boat people,” and an unknown number of them died at sea. Many remained in refugee camps in Thailand and other countries, but a large number emigrated, especially to the United States. By the late 1980s, several countries had begun to refuse Vietnamese refugees’ automatic resettlement. Throughout the subsequent decade, large-scale repatriation programs were implemented by the broader international community. The last refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people, in Hong Kong, closed in 2000.
Economy of Vietnam
Vietnam’s greatest economic resource is its literate and energetic population. Its long coastline provides excellent harbours, access to marine resources, and many attractive beaches and areas of scenic beauty that are well suited to the development of tourism. Since the late 1990s, the country’s economy has been on a vigorous upswing. Tourism has expanded, manufacturing and export earnings have increased, and the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) has grown rapidly. Early in the 21st century, state markets were opened to foreign competition, and Vietnam became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This surge followed two decades of post-reunification economic instability, during which a slowly developing infrastructure, excessive population growth, environmental degradation, and a rising domestic demand (that was increasingly difficult to meet) impeded economic development.
During the period 1954–75, when the country was divided, there were three layers to the economies in both the north and the south: a bottom layer based on the cultivation of rice, a middle layer dominated by mining in the north and rubber plantations in the south, and a third wartime layer that relied on Soviet and Chinese aid in the north and American aid in the south. In the north, land reform in 1955–56 was followed by rapid collectivization of agriculture and handicrafts. Government investment favoured heavy industry at the expense of agriculture, handicrafts, and light industry, the traditional mainstays of the economy. Heavy industry grew, but efficiency was low, quality was poor, and further progress was hampered by deficiencies in agriculture and light industry. Economic aid from socialist countries masked many economic weaknesses. In the south, although a substantial proportion of manufacturing was conducted by state-owned enterprises, other sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, trade, and transport, were characterized by private ownership and private enterprise. Agriculture flourished in the Mekong delta, and the standard of living was significantly higher in the south than it was in the north.
After reunification, the northern model of development was imposed on the entire country. Efforts to socialize the commercial sector and to collectivize agriculture met with resistance, especially in urban centres and in the rich Mekong delta, where the majority of farmers in the 1970s were self-sufficient, middle-income peasants. The south also underwent a severe drain of human resources. Many well-educated people fled Vietnam after 1975. Hundreds of thousands more, mainly those who had been associated with the former government or the Americans and had not been able to leave the country, were placed in jails or reeducation centres, while other skilled but politically suspect people were forced to resettle in remote areas. The government’s efforts to abolish private enterprise and private property in the south and its deteriorating political relations with China affected Vietnam’s ethnic Chinese more than any other group and precipitated their flight from the country. The Chinese exodus was most intense in 1978–79, but it continued at a slower pace with sponsorship from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees into the early 1990s. Large police and military expenditures further strained the budget and diverted resources from productive enterprises.
These factors, combined with poor management of state-run economic programs, led to a severe economic crisis. Food production and per capita income dropped, and consumer goods were shoddy, expensive, and in short supply. The government responded with minor changes in 1979, and initiated a program of more basic reforms known as doi moi (“renovation”) beginning in 1986. While maintaining state ownership in many sectors and overall government control of the economy, Vietnam moved away from a centrally planned, subsidized economy toward one that utilizes market forces and incentives and tolerates private enterprise in some areas. The quality and variety of food, consumer goods, and exports subsequently improved.
The pace of reform slowed during the 1990s, and the economy continued to be more cumbersome and bureaucratic than the dynamic market economies of Vietnam’s more successful Southeast Asian neighbours. Although manufacturing and especially services grew in importance after the reforms were introduced, agriculture remained a major component of the economy. After 1998, however, the economy began to rebound. Exports diversified, and per capita income started to climb, nearly doubling in less than a decade.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture is fading as the most important economic sector in Vietnam. Although agriculture still employs more than half of the population and manufacturing accounts for a mere 8 percent of all employment, the output value of both manufacturing and services surpassed that of agriculture in the early 1990s. Yet, agriculture is the main source of raw materials for the processing industries and a major contributor to exports; by the late 1980s Vietnam was again exporting rice after years of shortages. Permanent cultivation covers large areas of the country’s lowlands and smaller portions of the highlands. The primary agricultural areas are the Red River delta, the Mekong River delta, and the southern terrace region. The central coastal land, which is subject to destructive typhoons, is a region of low productivity. The central highlands area, traditionally one of low productivity, has been intensively cultivated since 1975, but with mixed results.
Rice is the most important crop. It is grown principally in the Red and Mekong river deltas. Other major food crops are sugarcane, cassava (manioc), corn (maize), sweet potatoes, and nuts. Agriculture is highly labour-intensive in Vietnam, and much plowing is still done by water buffalo. There are many plantations of banana, coconut, and citrus trees, most of them found in the Mekong delta and the southern terrace regions. Coffee and tea are grown in the central highlands. The production of rubber was disrupted by the war but has been restored in the central highlands and southern terrace regions. Fields, groves, and kitchen gardens throughout Vietnam include a wide variety of fruit trees (banana, orange, mango, jackfruit, and coconut) and vegetables. Kapok trees are found in many villages, and the Vietnamese cultivate areca palms and betel peppers for their nuts and leaves and mulberry bushes to feed silkworms.
The export of such seafood as shrimp, squid, crab, and lobster has become a major source of foreign exchange. There also has been an increase in the number of commercial shrimp farms. The most important freshwater fisheries are located on the plains of the Mekong and Champasak (Bassac) rivers.
Forestry is of major importance, primarily serving the domestic market. Charcoal production is widespread, and a number of factories produce furniture, pulp, and paper. Plywood, lumber, and rattan products also contribute to the economy. Deforestation and soil degradation, however, threaten the viability of the industry, especially as domestic demand for forest products rises.
- Resources and power
Mineral deposits, mainly in the north, include large reserves of anthracite coal, lime, phosphates, iron ore, barite, chromium ore, tin, zinc, lead, and gold. Coal production is the most important sector of the mining industry. International loans for equipment upgrades enabled Vietnam’s coal production to expand rapidly in the early years of the 21st century.
A number of offshore oil deposits have been discovered in the South China Sea, mainly off Vietnam’s southern coast. Although these reserves have yet to be exploited fully, they have propelled a rapid increase in crude petroleum production. Construction of a natural-gas pipeline in 1995 also allowed considerable growth in gas production. In 2004 Vietnam National Petroleum Company aggressively launched several projects aimed to take full advantage of the country’s petroleum resources, including construction of a large oil refinery, a gas-electricity-fertilizer plant, a petrochemical and oil refining plant, and a major oil pipeline.
By the mid-1990s domestic demand for electricity had surpassed Vietnam’s energy output. Production was subsequently boosted from existing gas-fired thermal generators and hydroelectric stations, new hydroelectric plants were constructed, and a power line was completed to connect the country’s northern and southern regions. Over the next decade, electricity production nearly quadrupled. Vietnam’s rural electrification programs have also been highly successful, supplying the great bulk of households with electricity by the early 21st century.
Following reunification and the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976, the government made a concerted effort rapidly to transform the privately owned, capitalist industry in the south into a state-owned, state-run sector. Many industrial operations there were nationalized or forced to become joint state-private enterprises. For industry as a whole, the productivity of both capital and labour declined, and gross output slumped. Heavy industry—plagued by waste and inefficiency, lack of spare parts and raw materials, energy shortages, and poor quality control—led the decline.
Reform measures in the 1980s, which included reducing subsidies to inefficient state-run operations, introducing incentives, and gradually accepting limited market mechanisms, initiated Vietnam’s conversion from a collective to market economy. Light industry registered significant gains, while heavy industry responded more sluggishly but showed some improvement. With encouragement from the government, private enterprise grew, albeit somewhat at the expense of the state sector. Throughout the 1990s the government further implemented an array of successful policies to control inflation, lower interest rates, decrease the budget deficit, and ultimately stimulate production.
Food and beverage processing is the largest industrial activity in Vietnam. Seafood is processed for export, while coffee and tea are processed both for export and for domestic consumption. Other beverages and a variety of condiments also are produced in significant quantities. Vietnam has long been a major producer of cement. The chemical industry has been growing, with fertilizer being its most important product. Steel is a major part of Vietnam’s heavy industry. Because of their high prices, cement, fertilizer, and steel are among the greatest contributors to the country’s economic sector. Garments and textiles are of increasing importance; silk production revived in the 1990s after a period of decline. Production of electronic equipment and motorcycles has similarly expanded, and in the early years of the 21st century automobile manufacturing has been Vietnam’s fastest growing industry. Other important manufactures include footwear, tobacco products, paints, soaps, and pharmaceuticals.
The State Bank of Vietnam, the central bank, issues the national currency, the dong, and oversees the country’s banking system. Known until 1975 as the National Bank of Vietnam in the north, the State Bank of Vietnam formerly functioned as a government monopoly in the banking sector. With the economic reforms of the late 1980s, however, the government recognized that this structure was inadequate to attract badly needed foreign trade and investment. Consequently, in a series of systemic changes from 1988–91, four state-owned commercial banks were created from preexisting institutions, and several joint venture banks were established. As international investment gradually increased in the 1990s, foreign commercial banks were allowed to establish branch offices in Vietnam. In 2004 branches of foreign and joint-venture banks were allowed to join the Viet Nam Bank Association, and two years later, foreign banks were permitted to offer a full array of banking services.
Both parts of Vietnam experienced trade deficits during the war, and deficits continued after reunification. A trade embargo imposed by the United States exacerbated problems of low efficiency and poor quality control that hampered exports. In the first decade after reunification, the value of exports was only one-third that of imports. The Soviet Union and the communist countries of eastern Europe came to be Vietnam’s most important trading partners.
Vietnam’s move to broaden trade relations as part of its larger program of economic reforms took on added urgency in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the demise of the communist governments in eastern Europe. Because trade with these areas was drastically reduced, Vietnam shifted its orientation more heavily toward Asia, and was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1995. Shortly thereafter, Singapore, along with Japan and China, emerged as Vietnam’s major bidirectional trading partners. South Korea and Taiwan also became significant suppliers of imports. Non-Asian countries figured more prominently as recipients of Vietnamese exports. The United States quickly rose as Vietnam’s primary export destination, following a trade agreement between the two countries in 2001. Other important non-Asian recipients of Vietnamese goods have included Australia, Germany, and France.
Vietnam’s aggressive reform measures increased exports and narrowed the trade deficit considerably. However, rapid industrialization fueled by foreign direct investment caused the deficit to begin growing again. In 2001 the country opened its state markets to foreign competitors, and in January 2007 it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). Although the government maintains some restrictions on foreign exchange and upholds various bans, quotas, and surcharges, its efforts to liberalize its markets have had an overwhelmingly positive effect on the country’s economy.
Machinery, petroleum products, iron, steel, garments, and leather account for the bulk of Vietnam’s imports. Most of these products fuel the country’s expanding industrial sector. The majority of Vietnam’s export revenues are generated by crude petroleum, garments, footwear, and seafood, and electronic products are of growing importance. Coffee, once among Vietnam’s primary generators of export revenue, has begun to rebound after a damaging decline in prices at the end of the 20th century.
Formerly a neglected sector under central planning, services began to boom at the end of the 20th century. Since the early 1990s, the contribution of services to GDP has surpassed that of agriculture and matched or exceeded that of industry. By the early 21st century, services accounted for roughly one-fourth of total employment. The focus of the sector was processing and assembly; scientific research and design, marketing and market research, finance, and telecommunications were still in their infancy but growing. Although hundreds of thousands of service jobs were added to Vietnam’s employment market in 2006, sectoral growth continued to lag behind demand, posing a threat to broader economic development. Pressure from the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement and the WTO resulted in a liberalization of the rules governing foreign participation in banking, telecommunications, and insurance that was expected to accelerate the service sector’s growth. Tourism has become increasingly important.
- Labour and taxation
At the beginning of the 21st century, women accounted for about half of the active workforce, and highland ethnic minorities were more likely than the lowland Vietnamese to be unemployed or working in agriculture and forestry. Ethnic Chinese, despite the persecution and exodus of the late 1970s, have capitalized on liberalizing reforms and contacts with the Chinese diaspora to recover an important role in business, commerce, and trade.
The government is motivated by its socialist identity to be more rigorous than most developing countries in enforcing workers’ rights. In one celebrated case, the government in 1997 sentenced the foreign floor manager of a foreign contractor of a multinational corporation to six months in jail for compelling workers to run laps if they did not wear regulation shoes. In numerous similar incidents, particularly involving foreign-owned firms, labour unions have displayed a subdued but real determination to defend the interests of workers.
Workers’ rights do not extend to organizing independent labour unions, however. The Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) is the sole legal national trade union, and all unions must affiliate with it. The confederation is a constituent of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, a communist party coalition, and is under the party’s firm control. The president of the VGCL is usually a member of the party central committee. Unions may press the government to enforce laws and regulations as well as to organize strikes, albeit within strict legal limits. Direct action by workers and the formation of alternative unions, however, are forbidden. A wave of worker unrest in 2006 was largely a protest against the failure of basic wages to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living, especially in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnamese citizens and resident foreigners are subject to progressive taxation, while nonresident foreigners are taxed at a fixed rate on income earned in Vietnam. A law on corporate income tax adopted in 2003 lowered the standard tax rate for all legal entities, including foreign-invested firms. Another law makes it possible to grant lower, time-limited preferential rates as incentives for investment in certain projects, particularly those involving high technology. In addition, there are special sales taxes—some quite high—on various goods and activities, such as tobacco, alcohol, playing cards, automobiles, gasoline, certain air conditioners, massage services, and casinos. A value-added tax (VAT) was introduced in 1999. Import and export tariffs began to fall in 2006 to comply with the requirements of the ASEAN Free Trade Area agreement and WTO membership.
- Transportation and telecommunications
The topography of Vietnam renders land transportation between the north and the south difficult, with traffic limited to the narrow coastal corridor. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are connected by rail and highway through this passage. Two railways connect northern Vietnam to southern China; one track leads to Yunnan province, the other terminates in the Guangxi autonomous region. Construction of a new line between Yen Vien, near Hanoi, and the northern Vietnamese port of Cai Lan began in 2004.
Vietnam’s road network is extensive and growing. Heavy government investment in highway construction and upgrades, especially since the late 1990s, has allowed the country’s total road length to increase rapidly—by nearly half between 1999 and 2004. This expansion, however, has come somewhat at the expense of road maintenance, which has posed a perennial challenge to the Vietnamese government. Some half of the country’s roads remain unpaved, and many paved ones need repair.
In the two large delta regions, where most of the population is concentrated, a vast network of navigable rivers and canals is integral to local transportation. These waterways are generally inaccessible to larger vessels and their cargoes, as are the numerous seaports that dot Vietnam’s coasts. Larger ships operate through the country’s major ports, which include Haiphong in the north, Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and Da Nang in central Vietnam. There are several other good ports, including Cam Ranh, a superb natural harbour developed extensively by the Americans during the war. At the turn of the 21st century, the government inaugurated a plan to improve the seaport system by upgrading the shipping fleet, improving existing ports and constructing new ones (especially deep-sea facilities), and further developing the shipbuilding industry. Several ports in the Mekong delta are scheduled for expansion to accommodate ocean-going vessels. Progress on all these projects, however, has been slow.
Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have international airports. In addition, a number of smaller cities are connected by domestic air routes. The state-owned airline, Viet Nam Airlines, has been growing steadily and substantially since the early 1990s, serving both domestic and international travelers. In addition, the company has acquired several long-range aircraft to handle more direct flights to Europe and North America.
Market reforms of the 1980s and ’90s brought exponential growth in Vietnam’s telecommunications sector. By the early 21st century the number of main line telephones per capita was among the highest in Southeast Asia. Internet and cellular phone services were officially absorbed into Vietnam’s infrastructure in 2002, a few years after their arrival in the country, and subscriptions for both have nearly doubled each year since then.
Government and Society of Vietnam
Culture Life of Vietnam
Polite behavior is highly valued. One of the most important dimensions of politeness is for the young to show respect to their elders. In everyday life, younger people show this respect by using hierarchical terms of address when interacting with their seniors and parents regularly instruct their children on their proper usage. Younger people should also be the first to issue the common salutation chao when meeting someone older, should always invite their seniors to begin eating before they do, ask for permission to leave the house, announce their arrival when they return, and not dominate conversations or speak in a confrontational manner with their seniors. Prerevolutionary practices demanded that juniors bow or kowtow to their seniors, but the revolution has largely eliminated such practices. Many elders today feel that the revolution produced a general decline in politeness.
People of the same gender often maintain close proximity in social contexts. Both males and females will hold hands or sit very close together. People of different genders, however, especially if they are not married or related, should not have physical contact. In general woman are expected to maintain greater decorum than men by avoiding alcohol and tobacco, speaking quietly, and dressing modestly. In many public spaces, however, people often avoid standing in queues, resulting in a chaotic environment where people touch or press up against one another as they go about their business.
History of Vietnam
The early history of Vietnam is that of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China. The first Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese in 1535. Dutch, French, and English traders came in the 17th cent., at which time missionaries entered the area, winning many converts to Roman Catholicism. The persecution of missionaries and of their Vietnamese converts by the ruler of Vietnam was a factor prompting French conquest in the 19th cent. The French captured Saigon in 1859, and after a period of warfare, organized (1867) the colony of Cochin China. In 1884, France declared protectorates over Tonkin and Annam; in 1887 it merged Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China with Cambodia to form a union of Indochina, to which Laos was added in 1893.
- Nationalism and Foreign Occupation
A nationalist movement arose in Vietnam in the early 20th cent. and gained momentum during the Japanese occupation in World War II. The Japanese allowed the French Vichy administration to continue as a figurehead power until Mar., 1945, when they ousted it and established the autonomous state of Vietnam (comprising Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China) under the rule of Bao Dai, the emperor of Annam. The Bao Dai government quickly collapsed, and at the end of World War II, the Viet Minh party (the League for the Independence of Vietnam, a coalition of nationalist and Communist groups), headed by Ho Chi Minh, established a republic with its capital at Hanoi.
The Chinese Nationalists, who occupied N Vietnam for seven months after the war (in accordance with a decision made at the Potsdam Conference), did not challenge Ho's power. The French attempted to reassert their authority in Vietnam following the war, and the British, who occupied S Vietnam, permitted French troops to land and assisted them in suppressing native resistance. In Mar., 1946, France signed an agreement with Ho Chi Minh, recognizing Vietnam as a free state within the Indochina federation and the French Union. French troops were then permitted to replace the Chinese in the north. However, differences immediately arose over whether Cochin China was included in the independent state of Vietnam; in June, 1946, France supported the establishment of a separate republic of Cochin China.
- War with France
Fighting broke out (Nov., 1946) between Vietnamese and French troops in Haiphong, and French ships shelled the city, killing some 6,000 civilians. The next month the Viet Minh attacked the French at Hanoi, ushering in the prolonged and bloody guerrilla conflict that became known as the French Indochina War (1946–54). In an attempt to win popular support, the French in 1949 reinstalled Bao Dai as the ruler of Vietnam, of which Cochin China was then recognized to be a part.
Spurred by the Communist takeover of mainland China, which brought Chinese Communist forces to the northern border of Indochina by Dec., 1949, France concluded a treaty (ratified Feb., 1950) granting Vietnam independence within the French Union. The new state was promptly recognized by the United States, Great Britain, and other states; meanwhile the Ho regime was recognized by the USSR, Communist China, and other Soviet allies. Except for Thailand (which recognized Bao Dai), the states of Southeast Asia held aloof from both regimes.
Bao Dai failed to win the general support of the Vietnamese, many of whom saw him as a French puppet. Thousands of non-Communists joined the Viet Minh, and the war reached an eventual stalemate, with the French controlling the cities and a few isolated outposts and the Viet Minh occupying most of the countryside. France formally asked U.S. aid for the Bao Dai regime in Feb., 1950. By 1954, the United States was paying about 80% of the French war costs in Vietnam. The French military situation deteriorated rapidly in early 1954 as Viet Minh forces closed in on Dienbienphu, upon which the French had staked the defense of the Red River delta. Dienbienphu fell in May, and at the Geneva Conference of 1954, France had to accept disadvantageous terms for an armistice. The truce agreement was signed by representatives of the French Union and of the Viet Minh forces.
- Two Vietnams
As a temporary expedient after the Vietnamese defeat of French forces, Vietnam was divided into two parts along a line approximating the 17th parallel (lat. 17°N). North Vietnam, where the Viet Minh were the strongest, went to the Communist government of Ho Chi Minh, while South Vietnam was placed under the control of the French-backed government of Bao Dai. Freedom of movement between the two areas was to be permitted for a period of 300 days, thereby facilitating the regroupment of Communist forces in the north and non-Communist forces in the south. During this period some 900,000 people, many of whom were Catholics or individuals fleeing the land reform program initiated by the Ho Chi Minh government, migrated south. The unification of the country under one government was to be effected through general elections, later scheduled for July, 1956. These elections, which were considered likely to favor the Communists, were never held; the South Vietnamese government refused to participate on the grounds that it had not signed the Geneva agreements and was therefore not bound by them.
A few months after the partition of Vietnam in 1954, South Vietnam withdrew from the French Union and thus attained complete sovereignty. In a referendum held in Oct., 1955, the electorate deposed Bao Dai as chief of state and approved the establishment of a republic with Ngo Dinh Diem as president. The republic, proclaimed on Oct. 26, 1955, was recognized as the legal government of Vietnam by the United States, France, Great Britain, and other Western powers. Diem was faced with a war-torn economy and serious political chaos as numerous factions and individuals vied for power. He suppressed the Cao Dai, a religious sect with its own private army (the Binh Xuyen), and the Hoa Hao, an occultist religious group, both of which opposed him. But his authoritarian policies—rigid press censorship, interference with elections, restriction of opposition parties, and mass arrests—drew increasing criticism.
North Vietnam, meanwhile, continued to be dominated by Ho Chi Minh, who maintained good relations with both China and the USSR, receiving enormous aid from both countries while skillfully protecting the independence of his country. A three-year economic rehabilitation program (1958–60) and a five-year plan (1961–66), financed with Soviet and Chinese aid, were aimed at improving both industry and agriculture. Electric power production was increased fifteenfold, new mineral deposits were located, mining operations were expanded, and many new industries were established, especially in Hanoi and Haiphong. Also constructed were a large iron-and-steel complex at Thai Nguyen, a chemical combine at Viet Tri, and a textile complex at Nam Dinh. Much national effort was also devoted to the support of Communist insurgents in South Vietnam (the Viet Cong), who operated under the leadership of the National Liberation Front, an organization alleged to be indigenous to South Vietnam.
- The Vietnam War
By late 1961, the Viet Cong had won control of virtually half of South Vietnam with little local opposition. The United States increased its military and economic aid to combat the Communist threat and at the same time put pressure on President Diem for democratic reforms. In Apr., 1961, Diem was reelected president, but many voters boycotted the election. Resentment against the government was dramatized by the Buddhist crisis, which erupted in May, 1963, as a result of government persecution. A number of self-immolations by Buddhist monks followed. Large antigovernment demonstrations provoked police shootings, mass arrests, and more repressive government measures. These actions, along with the increasing loss of territory to the Viet Cong, prompted Diem's own military commanders to resort to a coup (Nov. 1, 1963), in which Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu (who headed the secret police), were murdered. A period of great political instability followed, with frequent changes in government, mounting disorders, and continued religious unrest (both Buddhist and Catholic).
In 1964 regular units of the North Vietnamese army began infiltrating into South Vietnam by way of what came to be known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. The guerrilla conflict expanded into open warfare. The United States, deeply committed to the support of the non-Communist government of South Vietnam, became increasingly involved militarily, sending troops and then engaging in systematic bombing (see Vietnam War). The U.S. bombing of North Vietnam began after two U.S. destroyers were reportedly attacked (Aug., 1964) by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The bombing was directed at military and industrial targets and extended to Hanoi and Haiphong.
In June, 1965, a military junta came to power with Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu as chief of state and Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky as prime minister. Their regime was strengthened by the capture (1966) of Buddhist rebel strongholds in Da Nang and Hue. A new constitution (approved Mar., 1967) provided for a strong executive and a bicameral legislature. In Sept., 1967, Thieu and Ky were elected president and vice president respectively. The problems they faced were aggravated by the rapidly accelerating war. Heavy fighting in the rural areas forced thousands of people to seek refuge in the cities, where serious overcrowding ensued. Heavy damage was sustained in the Tet offensive of early 1968, especially in Hue and in the Saigon area.
Later in 1968 the United States, in response to increasing pressure by the American public, began a policy of "de-escalation." In Mar., 1968, raids north of latitude 19°N were halted to promote peace negotiations, and in Nov., 1968, all bombing ceased. Peace talks between the United States and Hanoi were begun in Paris. During this time, South Vietnam had become increasingly dependent upon U.S. aid, which reached massive proportions, and the presence of U.S. troops, whose numbers peaked at almost 550,000 in 1969 dislocated the traditional agricultural economy. Peace talks made little headway, and in early 1970 U.S. "protective action" air strikes against military installations south of latitude 19°N were resumed, as well as air strikes against North Vietnamese forces in Laos and Cambodia.
In Oct., 1971, President Thieu of South Vietnam was reelected for another four-year term; he ran unopposed as other candidates, fearing a rigged election, refused to participate. In his second term President Thieu faced serious problems. The gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, which had begun in 1969, adversely affected the economy, bringing a severe recession. At the same time, the endless war fed a raging inflation. In Apr., 1972, in response to a major Communist drive from North Vietnam, the United States reinstituted mass bombings throughout the country; Haiphong harbor and six other North Vietnamese ports, as well as rivers and canals, were mined and effectively closed to shipping. Heavy, concentrated air strikes (as many as 340 a day) continued, with one temporary halt (Oct. 24–Dec. 18), until Dec. 30, 1972, inflicting enormous damage.
The country's industrial plant was destroyed, transportation lines were cut, and many non-military targets—including the extensive system of dikes in the Red River delta and numerous residential areas—were hit. Morale nevertheless remained high; damaged transportation facilities were constantly repaired, and "ant tactics" kept supplies laboriously moving from China. Despite the declaration of a cease-fire in Jan., 1973, fighting continued. While the fighting prevented any attempt at economic recovery in the south, North Vietnam was able to begin reconstruction with foreign aid, and in less than a year the shipyards at Haiphong, the iron- and steelworks at Thai Nguyen, and many small factories were again in operation. In 1974, South Vietnam came into direct conflict with China, which seized the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
President Thieu gradually assumed dictatorial powers; he abolished local self-government, restricted the press, arrested thousands of suspected Viet Cong sympathizers, and increased the number of executions. Mass protest demonstrations (Oct., 1974) in Saigon caused Thieu to reorganize his cabinet in an attempt to quiet the opposition. In early 1974 the constitution was amended to permit him to seek a third term in 1975, at the same time increasing that term from four to five years. During 1974 Thieu decided to abandon military defense of outlying areas, which were becoming increasingly difficult to hold without the U.S. presence. In Jan., 1975, the North Vietnamese began a major offensive, and the repeated withdrawal of South Vietnamese troops quickly enabled the North Vietnamese forces to gain a decisive advantage. By April President Thieu resigned and fled to Taiwan, the remaining government of South Vietnam surrendered, and the North Vietnamese entered Saigon without opposition.
- A Reunified Nation
In June, 1976, the country was officially reunited. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vietnam expanded its control of Southeast Asia by invading Cambodia (where it toppled the regime of Pol Pot and installed a Vietnamese-backed government) and also by establishing a military presence in Laos. These actions alienated Vietnam from China, its long-time ally, and generally worsened its international relations. In 1979, Vietnam and China fought a brief, but intense border war. Vietnam succeeded in establishing close ties with the Soviet Union during this period, a necessity in consideration of the severe economic difficulties caused by the war. Despite substantial aid from the Soviet Union, Vietnam continued to experience economic problems, exacerbated by a U.S. trade embargo. Economic hardship prompted the flight of great numbers of refugee boat people.
In the late 1980s changes in national leadership resulted in a policy reorientation toward privatization and efforts to attract foreign investment. In 1991, Do Muoi was chosen as party leader; Vo Van Kiet became premier and Le Duc Anh became president. Relations with China were normalized the same year. By the early 1990s the country had experienced limited success in revitalizing its economy, although there was no corresponding attempt to introduce political liberalization. In 1994 the United States ended its embargo, in response to Vietnamese cooperation in the search for missing American servicemen. A U.S. liaison office was opened in Hanoi early in 1995, and in July the United States extended full recognition to Vietnam. Also in 1995, Vietnam was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
In 1997, Le Kha Phieu took over as general secretary of the Communist party; Phan Van Khai, an economic reformer, became premier, and Tran Duc Luong was chosen as president. Vietnam's economy was affected by the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, and the country was forced to devalue its currency. China and Vietnam signed an agreement settling disputes concerning their shared land border in 1999, and the following year demarcated their territorial waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. In 2000, Vietnam and the United States signed an agreement designed to normalize trade relations between the two countries.
Le Pha Phieu was replaced as party leader in 2001 by Nong Duc Manh, a moderate regarded as more receptive to further economic reform. There was speculation that Manh, an ethnic Tai, was chosen in part to help ease ethnic tensions that had sparked violence in the Central Highlands. The government continued to move forward slowly on economic reforms, largely out of necessity, but by 2010 the economy, despite its growth, was hampered by its dependence on relatively inefficient state-run companies and by the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. Manh was reappointed party leader in 2006, and Nguyen Tan Dung, a southerner with experience in Vietnam's security forces, and Nguyen Minh Triet, the party chief for Ho Chi Minh City, became premier and president, respectively.
Manh retired in 2011 and was succeeded as party leader by Nguyen Phu Trong, the former chairman of the National Assembly; Truong Tan Sang, a southerner and high-ranking party leader, became president the same year. Tensions with China increased in 2011 over economic interests in the South China Sea, where China was more confrontational in asserting its extensive claims. The revision of the constitution in 2013 (effective 2014) was notably mainly for continuing the role of state-owned companies in the economy and further entrenching the Communist party's political power.
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