Official Name: Socialist
Republic of Vietnam
Area: 331,114 sq. km. (127,243 sq. mi.); equivalent in size to Ohio, Kentucky,
and Tennessee combined.
Cities (April 1, 2009): Capital--Hanoi (pop. 6.449 million). Other
cities--Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon; pop. 7.123 million), Haiphong
(pop. 1.837 million), Danang (pop. 887,069), Can Tho (pop. 1.187 million).
Terrain: Varies from mountainous to coastal delta.
Climate: Tropical monsoon.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Vietnamese (sing. and pl.).
Population (2009): 85.79 million.
Annual growth rate (2007): 1.188%.
Ethnic groups (2003): 54 groups including Vietnamese (Kinh) (85.73%), Tay
(1.97%), Thai (1.79%), Muong (1.52%), Khmer (1.37%), Chinese (1.13%), Nung
(1.13%), Hmong (1.11%).
Religions (2008): Buddhism (approx. 50%), Catholicism (8%-10%), Cao Dai
(1.5%-3%), Protestantism (0.5%-2%), Hoa Hao (1.5%-4%), Islam (0.1%), and other
Languages: Vietnamese (official), English (increasingly favored as a second
language), some French, Chinese, and other ethnic minority languages.
Education (2006): Literacy--90%.
Health (2008 estimate): Birth rate--16.7 births/1000 population. Infant
mortality rate--15/1,000. Life expectancy--72.2 yrs. Death rate--4.9/1,000.
Type: Single-party constitutional republic (Communist Party).
Independence: September 2, 1945.
New constitution: April 15, 1992.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state and chair of National
Defense and Security Council) and prime minister (heads cabinet of ministries
and commissions). Legislative--National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme
People's Court; Prosecutorial Supreme People's Procuracy.
Administrative subdivisions: 58 provinces, 5 municipalities (Can Tho, Haiphong,
Danang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City).
Political party: Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) with over 3 million members,
formerly (1951-76) Vietnam Worker's Party, itself the successor of the
Indochinese Communist Party founded in 1930.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
GDP (2009): $92.6 billion.
Real growth rate: 5.32% (2009); 5.8% (first quarter of 2010 year-on-year).
Per capita income (2009): $1,052.
Inflation rate: 6.88% (average monthly Consumer Price Index of 2009,
year-on-year; 8.50% (average monthly CPI of first quarter 2010).
External debt (2009): 32.8% of GDP, $30.1 billion.
Natural resources: Coal, crude oil, zinc, copper, silver, gold, manganese, iron.
Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries (20.7% of GDP, 2009): Principal products--rice,
coffee, cashews, maize, pepper (spice), sweet potato, pork, peanut, cotton, plus
extensive aquaculture of both fish and shellfish species. Cultivated land--12.2
million hectares. Land use--21% arable; 28% forest and woodland; 51%
Industry and construction (40.3% of GDP, 2009): Principal types--mining
and quarrying, manufacturing, electricity, gas, water supply, cement, phosphate,
Services (39.1% of GDP, 2009): Principal types--tourism, wholesale and
retail, repair of vehicles and personal goods, hotel and restaurant, transport
Trade (2009): Exports--$56.6 billion (first quarter 2010: $14.0 billion).
Principal exports--crude oil, garments/textiles, footwear, fishery and
seafood products, rice (world’s second-largest exporter), pepper (spice;
world’s largest exporter), wood products, coffee, rubber, handicrafts. Major
export partners--U.S., EU, Japan, China, Australia, Singapore, Germany, and
the United Kingdom. Imports--$68.8 billion (first quarter 2010: $17.5
billion). Principal imports--machinery, oil and gas, iron and steel,
garment materials, plastics. Major import partners--China, Japan,
Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Exports to U.S.
(2009)--$12.3 billion. Imports from U.S. (2009)--$3.1 billion.
Originating in what is now southern China and northern Vietnam, the Vietnamese
people pushed southward over 2 millennia to occupy the entire eastern seacoast
of the Indochinese Peninsula. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups; ethnic Vietnamese or
Kinh constitute approximately 85% of Vietnam's population. The next largest
groups are ethnic Tay and Thai, which account for 1.97% and 1.79% of Vietnam's
population and are concentrated in the country's northern uplands.
With a population of more than 900,000, Vietnam's Chinese community has
historically played an important role in the Vietnamese economy. Restrictions on
economic activity following reunification of the north and south in 1975 and a
general deterioration in Vietnamese-Chinese relations caused increasing anxiety
within the Chinese-Vietnamese community. As tensions between Vietnam and China
reached their peak in 1978-79, culminating in a brief but bloody war in
February-March 1979, some 450,000 ethnic Chinese left Vietnam by boat as
refugees (many officially encouraged and assisted) or were expelled across the
land border with China.
Other significant ethnic minority groups include central highland peoples
(formerly collectively termed Montagnards) such as the Gia Rai, Bana, Ede, Xo
Dang, Gie Trieng, and the Khmer Krom (Cambodians), who are concentrated near the
Cambodian border and at the mouth of the Mekong River. Taken collectively, these
groups made up a majority of the population in much of Vietnam's central
highlands until the 1960s and 1970s. They now compose a significant minority of
25% to 35% of the provinces in that region.
Vietnamese is the official language of the country. It is a tonal language with
influences from Thai, Khmer, and Chinese. Since the early 20th century, the
Vietnamese have used a Romanized script introduced by the French. Previously,
Chinese characters and an indigenous phonetic script were both used.
Vietnam's identity has been shaped by long-running conflicts, both internally
and with foreign forces. In 111 BC, China's Han dynasty conquered northern
Vietnam's Red River Delta and the ancestors of today's Vietnamese. Chinese
dynasties ruled Vietnam for the next 1,000 years, inculcating it with Confucian
ideas and political culture, but also leaving a tradition of resistance to
foreign occupation. In 939 AD, Vietnam achieved independence under a native
dynasty. After 1471, when Vietnam conquered the Champa Kingdom in what is now
central Vietnam, the Vietnamese moved gradually southward, finally reaching the
agriculturally rich Mekong Delta, where they encountered previously settled
communities of Cham and Cambodians. As Vietnam's Le dynasty declined, powerful
northern and southern families, the Trinh and Nguyen, fought civil wars in the
17th and 18th centuries. A peasant revolt originating in the Tay Son region of
central Vietnam defeated both the Nguyen and the Trinh and unified the country
at the end of the 18th century, but was itself defeated by a surviving member of
the Nguyen family, who founded the Nguyen dynasty as Emperor Gia Long in 1802.
French Rule and the Anti-Colonial Struggle
In 1858, the French began their conquest of Vietnam starting in the south. They
annexed all of Vietnam in 1885, governing the territories of Annan, Tonkin, and
Cochin China, together with Cambodia and Laos, as French Indochina. The French
ruled Cochin China directly as a French colony; Annan and Tonkin were
established as French "protectorates." Vietnam's emperors remained in
place in Hue, but their authority was strictly limited as French officials
assumed nearly all government functions. In the early 20th century, Vietnamese
intellectuals, many of them French educated, organized nationalist and
communist-nationalist anti-colonial movements.
Japan's military occupation of Vietnam during World War II further stirred
nationalist sentiment, as well as antipathy toward the French Vichy colonial
regime, which took its direction from the Japanese until the Japanese took
direct control in March 1945. Vietnamese communists under Ho Chi Minh organized
a coalition of anti-colonial groups, the Viet Minh, though many anti-communists
refused to join. The Viet Minh took advantage of political uncertainty in the
weeks following Japan's surrender to take control of Hanoi and much of northern
Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh announced the independence of the Democratic Republic of
Vietnam on September 2, 1945.
North and South Partition
France's determination to reassert colonial authority in Vietnam led to failed
talks and, after armed hostilities broke out in Haiphong at the end of 1946, an
8-year guerrilla war between the communist-led Viet Minh on one side and the
French and their anti-communist nationalist allies on the other. Following the
French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, France and other parties, including
Britain, China, the Soviet Union, the United States, and representatives of the
Viet Minh and Bao Dai governments convened in Geneva, Switzerland for peace
talks. On July 29, 1954, an Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam
was signed between France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The United
States observed, but did not sign, the agreement. French colonial rule in
The 1954 Geneva agreement provided for a cease-fire between communist and
anti-communist nationalist forces, the temporary division of Vietnam at
approximately the 17th parallel, provisional northern (communist) and southern
(noncommunist) zone governments, and the evacuation of anti-communist Vietnamese
from northern to southern Vietnam, as well as the movement of a smaller number
of former communist-led Viet Minh anti-colonial fighters to the north. The
agreement also called for an election to be held by July 1956 to bring the two
provisional zones under a unified government, a provision that the South
Vietnamese Government refused to accept, arguing that conditions for free
elections throughout Vietnam were not present. On October 26, 1955, South
Vietnam declared itself the Republic of Vietnam.
After 1954, North Vietnamese communist leaders consolidated their power and
instituted a harsh agrarian reform and socialization program. During this
period, some 450,000 Vietnamese, including a large number of Vietnamese
Catholics, fled from the north to the south, while a much smaller number, mostly
consisting of former Viet Minh fighters, relocated north. In the late 1950s,
North Vietnamese leaders reactivated the network of communist guerrillas that
had remained behind in the south. These forces--commonly known as the Viet
Cong--aided covertly by the north, started an armed campaign against officials
and villagers who refused to support the communist reunification cause.
American Assistance to the South
In December 1961, at the request of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem,
President Kennedy sent U.S. military advisers to South Vietnam to help the
government there deal with the Viet Cong campaign. In the wake of escalating
political turmoil in the south after a November 1963 generals' coup against
President Diem, which resulted in his death, the United States increased its
military support for South Vietnam. In March 1965, President Johnson sent the
first U.S. combat forces to Vietnam. The American military role peaked in 1969
with an in-country force of 534,000. The Viet Cong's surprise Tet Offensive in
January 1968 weakened the Viet Cong infrastructure and damaged American and
South Vietnamese morale. In January 1969, the United States, governments of
South and North Vietnam, and the Viet Cong met for the first plenary session of
peace talks in Paris, France. These talks, which began with much hope, moved
slowly. They finally concluded with the signing of a peace agreement, the Paris
Accords, on January 27, 1973. The Accords called for a ceasefire in place in
which North Vietnamese forces were permitted to remain in areas they controlled.
Following the Accords, the South Vietnamese Government and the political
representatives of the communist forces in the South, the Provisional
Revolutionary Government, vied for control over portions of South Vietnam. The
United States withdrew its forces, although reduced levels of U.S. military
assistance continued, administered by the Defense Attaché Office.
In early 1975, North Vietnamese regular military forces began a major offensive
in the south, inflicting great damage to the south's forces. The communists took
Saigon on April 30, 1975, and announced their intention to reunify the country.
The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (north) absorbed the former Republic of
Vietnam (south) to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976.
After reunification, the government confiscated privately owned land and forced
citizens to adopt collectivized agricultural practices. Hundreds of thousands of
former South Vietnamese government and military officials, as well as
intellectuals previously opposed to the communist cause, were sent to study
socialist doctrine in re-education camps, where they remained for periods
ranging from months to over 10 years.
Expectations that reunification of the country and its socialist transformation
would be condoned by the international community were quickly dashed as the
international community expressed concern over Vietnam's internal practices and
foreign policy. Vietnam's 1978 invasion of Cambodia in particular, together with
its increasingly tight alliance with the Soviet Union, appeared to confirm
suspicions that Vietnam wanted to establish a Soviet-backed hegemony in
Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia also heightened tensions that had been building
between Vietnam and China. Beijing, which backed the Khmer Rouge regime in
Cambodia, retaliated in early 1979 by initiating a brief, but bloody border war
Vietnam's tensions with its neighbors, internal repression, and a stagnant
economy contributed to a massive exodus from Vietnam. Fearing persecution, many
ethnic Chinese in particular fled Vietnam by boat to nearby countries. Later,
hundreds of thousands of other Vietnamese nationals fled as well, seeking
temporary refuge in camps throughout Southeast Asia.
The continuing grave condition of the economy and the alienation from the
international community became focal points of party debate. In 1986, at the
Sixth Party Congress, there was an important easing of communist agrarian and
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
A new state constitution was approved in April 1992, reaffirming the central
role of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) in politics and society, and
outlining government reorganization and increased economic freedom. Though
Vietnam remains a one-party state, adherence to ideological orthodoxy has become
less important than economic development as a national priority.
The most important powers within the Vietnamese Government--in addition to the
Communist Party--are the executive agencies created by the 1992 constitution:
the offices of the president and the prime minister. The Vietnamese President,
presently Nguyen Minh Triet, functions as head of state but also serves as the
nominal commander of the armed forces and chairman of the Council on National
Defense and Security. The Prime Minister of Vietnam, presently Nguyen Tan Dung,
heads a cabinet currently composed of five deputy prime ministers and the heads
of 22 ministries and agencies, all confirmed by the National Assembly.
Notwithstanding the 1992 constitution's reaffirmation of the central role of the
Communist Party, the National Assembly, according to the constitution, is the
highest representative body of the people and the only organization with
legislative powers. It has a broad mandate to oversee all government functions.
Once seen as little more than a rubber stamp, the National Assembly has become
more vocal and assertive in exercising its authority over lawmaking,
particularly in recent years. However, the National Assembly is still subject to
Communist Party direction. More than 90% of the deputies in the National
Assembly are party members. The assembly meets twice yearly for 7-10 weeks each
time; elections for members are held every 5 years, although its Standing
Committee meets monthly and there are now over 100 "full-time"
deputies who function on various committees. In 2007, the assembly introduced
parliamentary "question time," in which cabinet ministers must answer
often pointed questions from National Assembly members. There is a separate
judicial branch, but it is still relatively weak. There are few lawyers and
trial procedures are rudimentary.
The present 15-member Politburo, selected at the Tenth Party Congress of the
Communist Party of Vietnam in April 2006 and headed by Communist Party General
Secretary Nong Duc Manh, determines government policy; its Secretariat, headed
by Truong Tan Sang, oversees day-to-day policy implementation. In addition, the
Communist Party's Central Military Commission, which is composed of select
Politburo members and additional military leaders, determines military policy.
A Party Congress meets every 5 years to set the direction of the party and the
government. The most recent Congress, the Tenth, met in April 2006 and comprised
1,176 delegates. The Eleventh Party Congress is scheduled to convene in January
2011. The 161-member Central Committee (with an additional 20 alternate
members), is elected by the Party Congress and usually meets at least twice a
year. The most recent Central Committee Plenum met in July 2009.
Principal Government Officials
President--Nguyen Minh Triet
Prime Minister--Nguyen Tan Dung
National Assembly Chairman--Nguyen Phu Trong
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs--Pham Gia Khiem
Ambassador to the United States--Le Cong Phung
Ambassador to the United Nations--Le Luong Minh
(Tenth Party Congress Politburo, named April 25, 2006; listed in the order it
was announced, including the individuals' current positions.)
General Secretary of CPV Central Committee, 10th Party Congress--Nong Duc Manh
Minister of Public Security--Le Hong Anh
Prime Minister--Nguyen Tan Dung
State President--Nguyen Minh Triet
Politburo Member and Standing Member of the Secretariat Central Committee of
Communist Party--Truong Tan Sang
National Assembly Chairman--Nguyen Phu Trong
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs--Pham Gia Khiem
Minister of Defense--Phung Quang Thanh
Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman, Party’s West North Committee--Truong Vinh
Secretary of HCMC Party's Committee--Le Thanh Hai
Standing Deputy Prime Minister--Nguyen Sinh Hung
Secretary of Hanoi Party's Committee--Pham Quang Nghi
Chairman, Party Organization and Personnel Commission--Ho Duc Viet
Chairman, Party Control Commission--Nguyen Van Chi
Chairman, Party Education and Propaganda Commission--To Huy Rua
Vietnam maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 1233 20th Street, NW, #400,
Washington DC 20036 (tel. 202-861-0737; fax 202-861-0917); Internet home page: www.vietnamembassy-usa.org/.
There is also a consulate general located in San Francisco at 1700 California
Street, Suite 430, San Francisco, CA 94109 (tel. 415-922-1707; fax 415-922-1848;
Internet homepage: http://www.vietnamconsulate-sf.org/.
Following economic stagnation after reunification from 1975 to 1985, the
1986 Sixth Party Congress approved broad economic reforms (known as "Doi
Moi" or renovation) that introduced market reforms, opened up the country
for foreign investment, and dramatically improved Vietnam's business climate.
Vietnam became one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging
around 8% annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth from 1990 to 1997 and 6.5%
from 1998-2003. From 2004 to 2007, GDP grew over 8% annually, slowing slightly
to 6.2% in 2008 and to 5.3% in 2009. Viewed over time, foreign trade and foreign
direct investment (FDI) have improved significantly. The average annual foreign
investment commitment has risen sharply since foreign investment was authorized
in 1988, although the global economic crisis affected FDI in 2009. In 2009,
registered FDI (including new and additional capital) was $21.4 billion, a fall
of about 70% compared to 2008. Disbursed FDI capital totaled $10.0 billion in
2009, down 13% compared to 2008. In 2008, registered FDI was $71.7 billion and
actual FDI was $11.5 billion. From 1990 to 2005, agricultural production nearly
doubled, transforming Vietnam from a net food importer to the world's
second-largest exporter of rice. In 2009, Vietnam’s exports ($56.6 billion)
were down by 9.7%. Vietnam’s imports ($68.8 billion) were down by 14.7% from
2008, but the country is still running a $12.2 billion trade deficit.
The shift away from a centrally planned economy to a more market-oriented
economic model has improved the quality of life for many Vietnamese. Per capita
income rose from $220 in 1994 to $1,052 in 2009. Year-on-year inflation was
reduced to 6.8% in 2009 from 23% in 2008, but most estimates predict inflation
will be higher in 2010. The average Vietnamese savings rate is about 25% of GDP.
Urban unemployment has been rising in recent years, and both urban and rural
underemployment, estimated to be between 25% and 35% during non-harvest periods,
The Vietnamese Government still holds a tight rein over major sectors of the
economy through large state-owned economic groups and enterprises and much of
the banking system. The government has plans to reform key sectors and partially
privatize state-owned enterprises, but implementation has been gradual and the
state sector still accounts for approximately 36% of GDP. Greater emphasis on
private sector development is critical for job creation.
The 2001 entry-into-force of the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) between the
U.S. and Vietnam was a significant milestone for Vietnam's economy and for
normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations. Bilateral trade between the United
States and Vietnam has expanded dramatically, rising from $2.91 billion in 2002
to $15.4 billion in 2009. The U.S. is Vietnam's second-largest trade partner
overall (after China).
Implementation of the BTA, which includes provisions on trade in goods and
services, enforcement of intellectual property rights, protection for
investments, and transparency, fundamentally changed Vietnam's trade regime and
helped it prepare to accede to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007.
Vietnam was granted unconditional normal trade relations (NTR) status by the
United States in December 2006. To meet the obligations of WTO membership,
Vietnam revised nearly all of its trade and investment laws and guiding
regulations and opened up large sectors of its economy to foreign investors and
A U.S.-Vietnam Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), a bridge to
future economic cooperation, was signed in 2007 during President Triet's visit
to the United States. The first TIFA Council occurred in December 2007 in
Washington, and there have been five TIFA meetings since then. During Prime
Minister Dung's June 2008 visit, the United States and Vietnam committed to
undertake Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations, and have completed
three rounds of talks since then.
Agriculture and Industry
As in the rest of Asia, farms in Vietnam tend to be very small, and are usually
less than one hectare (2.5 acres) each. Rice and other farm outputs are quite
profitable, on a per-kilogram basis, but the total income from these small
operations is increasingly insufficient to cover daily household needs. Off-farm
income is necessary, and growing in importance. Due to its high productivity,
Vietnam is currently a net exporter of agricultural products. Besides rice, key
exports are coffee (robusta), pepper (spice), cashews, tea, rubber, wood
products, and fisheries products. In 2009, Vietnam was ranked 17 among all
suppliers of food and agricultural products to the United States, a strong
indicator of Vietnam’s growing importance as a global supplier of key
agricultural commodities. Agriculture's share of economic output has declined,
falling as a share of GDP from 42% in 1989 to 21% in 2009, as production in
other sectors of the economy has risen.
Vietnam's industrial production has also grown. Industry and construction
contributed 39.86% of GDP in 2008, up from 27.3% in 1985. Subsidies have been
cut. The government is also in the process of "equitizing" (e.g.,
transforming state enterprises into shareholding companies and distributing a
portion of the shares to management, workers, and private foreign and domestic
investors) a significant number of state enterprises. However, to date the
government continues to maintain control of the largest and most important
Trade and Balance of Payments
To compensate for drastic cuts in Soviet-bloc support after 1989, Vietnam
liberalized trade, devalued its currency to increase exports, and embarked on a
policy of regional and international economic re-integration. Vietnam has
demonstrated its commitment to trade liberalization in recent years, and
integration with the world economy has become one of the cornerstones of its
reform program. Vietnam has locked in its intention to create a more competitive
and open economy by committing to several comprehensive international trade
agreements, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free
Trade Area (AFTA) and the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA).
Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organization further integrated Vietnam
into the global economy. In February 2009, Vietnam officially joined the
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as an “associate member.”
As a result of these reforms, exports expanded significantly, growing by as much
as 20%-30% in some years. In 2009, exports accounted for 61.7% of GDP. Imports
have also grown rapidly, and Vietnam had a significant trade deficit in 2009
($12.2 billion). Vietnam's total external debt, amounting to 32.8% of GDP in
2009, was estimated at around $30.1 billion.
During the second Indochina war (1954-75), North Vietnam sought to balance
relations with its two major allies, the Soviet Union and China. Tensions with
China began to grow during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and by 1975, Beijing
had become increasingly critical of Hanoi's growing ties with Moscow. Over the
next four years, Beijing's growing support for Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, which in
1978 initiated bloody attacks across its border with Vietnam, reinforced
Vietnamese suspicions of China's motives.
Vietnam-China relations deteriorated significantly after Hanoi instituted a ban
in March 1978 on private trade, which had a particularly large impact on
southern Vietnam's ethnic Chinese community. Following Vietnam's December 1978
invasion of Cambodia, China in February 1979 launched a month-long retaliatory
incursion over Vietnam's northern border. Faced with severance of Chinese aid
and strained international relations, Vietnam established even closer ties with
the Soviet Union and its allies in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon).
Through the 1980s, Vietnam received nearly $3 billion a year in economic and
military aid from the Soviet Union and conducted most of its trade with that
country and with other Comecon countries. However, Soviet and East bloc economic
aid declined during the perestroika era and ceased completely after the breakup
of the Soviet Union.
Vietnam did not begin to emerge from international isolation until it withdrew
its troops from Cambodia in 1989. Within months of the 1991 Paris Agreements,
Vietnam established diplomatic and economic relations with ASEAN, as well as
with most of the countries of Western Europe and Northeast Asia. China
reestablished full diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1991, and the two countries
began joint efforts to demarcate their land and sea borders, expand trade and
investment ties, and build political relations.
Over the past decade, Vietnam has recognized the increasing importance of
growing global economic interdependence and has made concerted efforts to adjust
its foreign relations to reflect the evolving international economic and
political situation in Southeast Asia. The country has begun to integrate itself
into the regional and global economy by joining international organizations.
Vietnam has stepped up its efforts to attract foreign capital from the West and
regularize relations with the world financial system. In the 1990s, following
the lifting of the American veto on multilateral loans to the country, Vietnam
became a member of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the
Asian Development Bank. The country has expanded trade with its East Asian
neighbors as well as with countries in Western Europe and North America. Of
particular significance was Vietnam's acceptance into the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July 1995. In recent years, Vietnam's
influence in ASEAN has expanded significantly; the country took over as Chairman
of ASEAN in January 2010, a position it will hold through the calendar year. In
addition, Vietnam joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) in
November 1998 and hosted the ASEAN summit in 2001 and APEC in 2006. In December
2009, Vietnam completed a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United
Nations Security Council.
While Vietnam has not experienced war since its withdrawal from Cambodia,
tensions have periodically flared between Vietnam and China, primarily over
their overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea. Vietnam and China each
assert claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands, archipelagos in the
potentially oil-rich area of the South China Sea. Malaysia, the Philippines,
Brunei, and Taiwan also claim all or part of the South China Sea. Over the
years, conflicting claims have produced small-scale armed altercations in the
area; in 1988, 70 Vietnamese sailors died in a confrontation with China in the
Spratlys. China's assertion of "indisputable sovereignty" over the
Spratly Islands and the entire South China Sea has elicited concern from Vietnam
and its Southeast Asia neighbors. Tensions escalated in the latter half of 2007
as, according to press reports, China pressured foreign oil companies to abandon
their oil and gas exploration contracts with Vietnam in the South China Sea,
including pressuring U.S. firm ExxonMobil to drop an exploration agreement with
Vietnam in July 2008 in the same waters. Vietnamese students staged several
anti-China demonstrations in response, prompting a warning from the Chinese
Foreign Ministry spokesman that Hanoi's failure to quell the demonstrations was
harming relations. China's efforts in the summer of 2009 to strictly enforce its
unilateral fishing ban in disputed waters led to the detention for several weeks
of more than two dozen Vietnamese fishermen.
In contrast, Vietnam has made significant progress with China in delineating its
northern land border and the Gulf of Tonkin, pursuant to a Land Border Agreement
signed in December 1999, and an Agreement on Borders in the Gulf of Tonkin
signed in December 2000. The two sides completed demarcation of their land
border in December 2008 and have reached understanding on maritime boundaries in
the mouth of the Tonkin Gulf.
President Bill Clinton announced the formal normalization of diplomatic
relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 11, 1995. Subsequent to
President Clinton's normalization announcement, in August 1995, both nations
upgraded their Liaison Offices opened in January 1995 to embassy status. As
diplomatic ties between the nations grew, the United States opened a consulate
general in Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam opened a consulate general in San
Francisco. In 2009, Vietnam opened a consulate in Houston; the United States
received permission to open a consulate in Danang.
U.S. relations with Vietnam have become increasingly cooperative and broad-based
in the years since political normalization. A series of bilateral summits have
helped drive the improvement of ties, including President George W. Bush's visit
to Hanoi in November 2006, President Triet's visit to Washington in June 2007,
and Prime Minister Dung's visits to Washington in June 2008 and April 2010. The
two countries hold an annual dialogue on human rights, which resumed in 2006
after a two-year hiatus. Vietnam and the United States signed a Bilateral Trade
Agreement in July 2000, which went into force in December 2001. In 2003, the two
countries signed a Counternarcotics Letter of Agreement (amended in 2006), a
Civil Aviation Agreement, and a textile agreement. In January 2007, Congress
approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for Vietnam. In October 2008,
the U.S. and Vietnam inaugurated annual political-military talks and policy
planning talks to consult on regional security and strategic issues. Bilateral
and regional diplomatic engagement expanded at ASEAN, which Vietnam chairs in
2010, and continues through APEC.
Vietnam's suppression of political dissent has continued to be a main issue of
contention in relations with the United States, drawing criticism from
successive administrations, as well as from members of Congress and the U.S.
public. Since October 2009, Vietnam's government has convicted more than 20
political dissidents, and has further tightened controls over the press and
freedom of speech. Over the past 18 months, two journalists were arrested and
convicted in connection with their reporting on high-level corruption, and
several journalists and editors at leading newspapers have been fired. Several
Internet bloggers were also jailed and convicted after writing about corruption
and protesting China's actions in the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands.
In contrast, Vietnam has continued to make progress on expanding religious
freedom. In 2005, Vietnam passed comprehensive religious freedom legislation,
outlawing forced renunciations and permitting the official recognition of new
denominations. Since that time, the government has granted official national
recognition to a number of new religions and religious groups, including seven
more Protestant denominations, and has registered hundreds of local
congregations. As a result, in November 2006, the Department of State lifted the
designation of Vietnam as a "Country of Particular Concern," based on
a determination that the country was no longer a serious violator of religious
freedoms, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act. This decision
was reaffirmed by the Department of State in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Nevertheless,
there is room for further progress. The government's slow pace of church
registration and harassment of certain religious leaders for their political
activism, including leaders of the unrecognized United Buddhist Church of
Vietnam and Hoa Hao faith were an ongoing source of U.S. concern. Violence
against the Plum Village Buddhist order at the Bat Nha Pagoda in Lam Dong and
Catholic parishioners outside of Hanoi at Dong Chiem parish at the hands of the
police and organized mobs was particularly troubling.
As of April 15, 2010, the U.S. Government listed 1,720 Americans unaccounted for
in Southeast Asia, including 1,313 in Vietnam. Since 1973, 926 Americans have
been accounted for, including 655 in Vietnam.
Additionally, the Department of Defense has confirmed that of the 196
individuals who were "last known alive" (LKA) in Vietnam, the U.S.
Government has determined the fate of all but 27. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting
command (JPAC) conducts four major investigation and recovery periods a year in
Vietnam, during which specially trained U.S. military and civilian personnel
investigate and excavate hundreds of cases in pursuit of the fullest possible
accounting. Accessing restricted areas by using unilateral Vietnamese
investigation and recovery teams has been a recent highlight of cooperation by
the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, as was the June 2009 coastal search mission
by the oceanographic survey ship USNS Heezen, the first of its kind. The U.S.
would still like to see the provision of archival documents related to U.S.
losses along the wartime Ho Chi Minh Trail, as well as more openness in general
with regard to Vietnam’s wartime archives. The United States considers
achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans missing and unaccounted
for in Indochina to be one of its highest priorities with Vietnam.
Since entry into force of the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement on December
10, 2001, increased trade between the U.S. and Vietnam, combined with
large-scale U.S. investment in Vietnam, evidence the maturing U.S.-Vietnam
economic relationship. In 2009, the United States exported $3.1 billion in goods
to Vietnam and imported $12.3 billion in goods from Vietnam. Similarly, U.S.
companies continue to invest directly in the Vietnamese economy. During 2009,
the U.S. private sector committed $9.8 billion to Vietnam in foreign direct
investment. Another sign of the expanding bilateral relationship is the signing
of a Bilateral Air Transport Agreement in December 2003. Several U.S. carriers
already have third-party code sharing agreements with Vietnam Airlines. Direct
flights between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco began in December 2004. The
Bilateral Air Transport Agreement was amended in October 2008 to fully open
markets for cargo air transportation. Vietnam and the United States also signed
a Bilateral Maritime Agreement in March 2007 that opened the maritime transport
and services industry of Vietnam to U.S. firms.
The United States and Vietnam engage in a wide range of cooperative activities
in the areas of peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,
search and rescue, maritime and border security, law enforcement, and
nonproliferation. In June 2008, Prime Minister Dung announced plans to take part
in the multinational Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) to train
international peacekeepers. Many of these topics are discussed in annual
bilateral defense discussions. In April 2009, senior officials from Vietnam's
Navy and Air Force toured the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C.
Stennis, which was berthed in international waters 270 miles off the southern
coast of Vietnam. Two years after its first visit to Vietnam, the hospital ship
USNS Mercy will pay a port call to Quy Nhon, where it will provide medical and
dental treatment to thousands; the USNS Mercy's June 2008 visit to Nha Trang
reached over 11,000 Vietnamese patients. Other U.S. Navy visits in 2009 included
the USNS Heezen supporting the search and accounting for U.S. MIA and the USS
Safeguard for maintenance and repair. Vietnam continues to observe multinational
exercises such as the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT),
organized by the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the yearly GPOI CAPSTONE exercise
organized by the U.S. Pacific Command. An active partner in nonproliferation
regimes, Vietnam also takes full advantage of expertise, equipment, and training
available under the Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program.
Vietnam recently agreed to join the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear
Terrorism, and Prime Minister Dung was an active participant in President Barack
Obama's April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.
Tourism is increasingly important in Vietnam. For backpackers, culture and
nature lovers, beach-lovers and veterans touring the country for a long time,
Vietnam has emerged itself as a new tourist destination in South-East Asia and
on is now on lists in magazines worldwide. Hotel investors especially the
potential of the 3000-kilometer-long coast line and the big cities. The tourism
offer has been increasingly diversified. Local and international tour operators
offer tours to ethnic minority groups, walking and bicycle tours, kayak trips
and multi-country trips in particular in connection with neighboring Cambodia,
Laos and Thailand. In addition, thanks to the lift of several movement
regulations, foreign tourists have been able to travel freely in the country
The economy of Vietnam has transformed from an agrarian to a service economy.
More than a third of gross domestic product is generated by services, which
include the hotel and catering industry and transportation. The manufacturing
and construction (28 percent), agriculture and fisheries (20 percent) and mining
(10 percent) have much smaller shares.
Meanwhile, tourism contributes 4.5 percent to gross domestic product (as of
2007). More and more foreign direct investment has been focused on tourism.
After the heavy industry and urban development, most foreign investment has been
concentrated in tourism, especially in hotel projects .
Principal U.S. Embassy Official
The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam is
located at 7 Lang Ha, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
(tel. 84-4-850-5000; fax 84-4-850-5010).
Principal U.S. Consulate General Official
Consul General--Kenneth J. Fairfax
The U.S. Consulate General in Ho
Chi Minh City is located at 4 Le Duan, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Socialist
Republic of Vietnam (tel. 84-8-822-9433; fax 84-8-822-9434).