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16 00 N, 106 00 E
Communist state
Day, 2 September (1945)
329,560 sq km


Government and politics

Politics of Vietnam takes place in a framework of a single-party socialist republic. A new state constitution was approved in April 1992, reaffirming the central role of the Communist Party of Vietnam in politics and society, and outlining government reorganization and increased market reforms in the economy. Though Vietnam remains a one-party state, adherence to ideological orthodoxy has become less important than economic development as a national priority.

Ethnic groups

Kinh (Viet) 86.2%, Tay 1.9%, Thai 1.7%, Muong 1.5%, Khome 1.4%, Hoa 1.1%, Nun 1.1%, Hmong 1%, others 4.1% (1999 census)

The History

Foundation Legend

The famous Vietnamese legend tells that the Vietnamese people of various tribes were born outside of the womb by the marriage of Lạc Long Quân (Dragon Chief) and Âu Cơ. However, most Vietnamese historians consider the Dong Son civilization that covered much of Southeast Asia to be the beginning of Vietnam's history. In 208 BC, a Qin general named Triệu Đà (Zhao Tuo) established a country called Nam Việt which encompassed Southern China and the Red River Delta. The historical significance of the original Nam Việt remains controversial because some historians consider it a Chinese occupation while some believe it was an independent era.

The Kingdom of Dai Viet

What is known for sure is that for most of the period from 207 BC to the early 10th century, it was under the rule of successive Chinese Dynasties. Sporadic independence movements were attempted, but were quickly extinguished by Chinese forces. In 939, the Vietnamese defeated Chinese forces at the Bạch Đằng River and gained independence. They gained complete autonomy a century later. During the rule of the Trần Dynasty, it defeated three Mongol attempts of invasion by the Yuan Dynasty. Feudalism in Vietnam reached its zenith in the Lê Dynasty of the 15th century, especially during the reign of Emperor Le Thanh Tong. Between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Vietnamese expanded southward in a process known as nam tiến (southward expansion). They eventually conquered the kingdom of Champa and much of the Khmer empire. The independent period ended in the mid-19th century, when the country was colonized by France.

French Colonial Rule and Division

The French maintained dominant control of their colony until World War II, when Japanese forces invaded and occupied Vietnam, using the country as a base to launch attacks against Southeast Asia and India. After the war France attempted to reestablish its colony, however a communist insurgency that had arisen during Japanese occupation forced the French into the First Indochina War that lasted until 1954. The French suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and shortly afterwards withdrew from the country. The world community divided the country at the 17th parallel into North Vietnam and South Vietnam during the Geneva Accords. This division was meant to be temporary, pending democratic elections and reunification.

This did not turn out to be the case. North and South Vietnam both formed geopolitical alliances, the North aligning itself with Communist China and the Soviet Union and the South with the United States. The Northern government sought implementation of the Geneva Accords, including reunification following an election that would likely lead to a victory for the Communists, while the government of the South sought to make the division of the country permanent, and was supported in this by the United States, which saw the "nation of South Vietnam" as a bulwark against the spread of "international communism" in the region.

The Vietnam War and Reunification

Beginning in 1965, the United States eventually committed some three million troops in an attempt to defeat the ongoing communist insurgency in the South. However with military support from the communist North, as well as material, intelligence and logistical support from China and the Soviet Union, the southern communists entrenched the U.S. in a costly war. Graphic televised reporting by the US news media played no small role in influencing the American public to hold demonstrations demanding US withdrawal from the war. Beginning in 1970 US combat roles were turned over to the Vietnamese military under a program known as Vietnamization. However, corruption, nepotism, incompetence and a long standing dependence on the US military left the Vietnamese military ill prepared to continue the war. All American combat troops were withdrawn by March 29, 1973. Advisors and support troops remained until April 1975. The Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973 formally recognized the sovereignty of both sides, however the war continued until the North overpowered the South on April 30, 1975 and unified the country under the North Vietnamese rule known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam or Vietnam

The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam

In 1976 the South was reunited with the North in a new Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. The conclusion of the war, however, did not end the violence. Border tension with the Communist government in Cambodia escalated rapidly after the fall of Saigon, and in early 1979 the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and installed a pro-Vietnamese government. A few weeks later, Viet Nam was itself attacked by its Communist neighbor and erstwhile benefactor, China. In the mid-1980s, about 140,000 Vietnamese troops were stationed in Cambodia and another 50,000 troops in Laos. Viet Nam substantially reduced its forces in Laos during 1988 and withdrew virtually all its troops from Cambodia by September 1989.

Within Viet Nam, postwar economic and social problems were severe, and reconstruction proceeded slowly. Efforts to collectivize agriculture and nationalize business aroused hostility in the south. Disappointing harvests and the absorption of resources by the military further retarded Viet Nam's recovery. In the early 1990s the government ended price controls on most agricultural production, encouraged foreign investment, and sought to improve its foreign relations. In 1990 the European Community (now the European Union) established official diplomatic relations with Viet Nam. The country signed a peace agreement with Cambodia in 1991 and shortly thereafter restored diplomatic relations with China.

The peace agreement also forged the way for strengthening relations with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In 1992 Viet Nam signed a 1976 ASEAN agreement on regional amity and cooperation, regarded as the first step toward eventual ASEAN membership. Also in 1992, Viet Nam established diplomatic relations with South Korea. The United States removed a trade embargo in 1994, and in 1995 Viet Nam and the United States agreed to exchange low-level diplomats, although full diplomatic relations (which involve opening embassies and appointing ambassadors) have not yet been established.



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