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Country Profile

Vietnam is a one-party Communist state, which has one of south-east Asia's fastest-growing economies and has set its sights on becoming a developed nation by 2020. Opportunities are plentiful.

The Vietnamese are descendants of nomadic Mongols from China and migrants from Indonesia. According to mythology, the first ruler of Vietnam was Hung Vuong, who founded the nation in 2879 B.C. China ruled the nation then known as Nam Viet as a vassal state from 111 B.C. until the 15th century, an era of nationalistic expansion, when Cambodians were pushed out of the southern area of what is now Vietnam.

A century later, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to enter the area. France established its influence early in the 19th century, and within 80 years it conquered the three regions into which the country was then divided into three regions being Cochin in the south, Annam in the central region, and Tonkin in the north.

France first unified Vietnam in 1887, when a single governor-general was appointed, followed by the first physical links between north and south, a rail and road system. Even at the beginning of World War II, however, there were internal differences among the three regions. Japan took over military bases in Vietnam in 1940, and a pro-Vichy French administration remained until 1945. Veteran Communist leader Ho Chi Minh organized an independence movement known as the Vietminh to exploit the confusion surrounding France's weakened influence in the region. At the end of the war, Ho's followers seized Hanoi and declared a short-lived republic, which ended with the arrival of French forces in 1946.

Paris proposed a unified government within the French Union under the former Annamite emperor, Bao Dai. Cochin and Annam accepted the proposal, and Bao Dai was proclaimed emperor of all Vietnam in 1949. Ho and the Vietminh withheld support, and the revolution in China gave them the outside help needed for a war of resistance against French and Vietnamese troops armed largely by a United States worried about cold war Communist expansion.

A bitter defeat at Dien Bien Phu in northwest Vietnam on May 5, 1954, broke the French military campaign and resulted in the division of Vietnam into two regions (North and South). In the new South, Ngo Dinh Diem, prime minister under Bao Dai, deposed the monarch in 1955 and made himself president. Diem used strong U.S. backing to create an authoritarian regime that suppressed all opposition but could not eradicate the Northern-supplied Communist Viet Cong.

Skirmishing grew into a full-scale war, with escalating U.S. involvement. A military coup, U.S.-inspired in the view of many, ousted Diem on Nov. 1, 1963, and a kaleidoscope of military governments followed. In March, 1965, the first American troops landed in South Vietnam, and the bloody conflict called the Vietnam War began. In Vietnam, this period is known as the American War.

U.S. bombing and an invasion of Cambodia in the summer of 1970 was an effort to destroy Viet Cong bases in the neighbouring state and marked the end of major U.S. participation in the fighting. Most American ground troops were withdrawn from combat by mid-1971 when the U.S. conducted heavy bombing raids on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was a crucial North Vietnamese supply line. In 1972. Secret peace negotiations led by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger took place, and a peace settlement was signed in Paris on Jan. 27, 1973.

By April 9, 1975, Hanoi's troops marched within 40 miles of Saigon, capital of the South and South Vietnam's President Thieu resigned on April 21 and fled. Gen. Duong Van Minh, the new president, surrendered Saigon on April 30, ending a war that claimed the lives of 1.3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans.

Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, the North and South Vietnam joined together as one. The most savage fighting of the war occurred in early 1968 during the Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet. Although the so-called Tet Offensive ended in a military defeat for the North, its psychological impact changed the course of the war.

For the next few decades, Vietnam, demoralized by the affects of war, remained closed to the world and economically stagnant with the Soviet Union as it's main benefactor. Indeed, Vietnam was closed to the world until 1986, when Doi Moi (meaning Rejuvenation) was introduced, due to the demise of the Soviet Union brought on by glasnost and perestroika reforms introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev.

As a result of Doi Moi, privately-owned enterprises were permitted in commodity production (and later encouraged) by the Communist Party of Vietnam. Furthermore, the push to collectivize the industrial and agricultural sectors of Vietnam, previously the focus of intense efforts by the Communist authorities, was abandoned. This was a major change of policy!

Vietnam struggled to find its feet after unification and tried at first to organise the agricultural economy along strict collectivist lines. But elements of market forces and private enterprise were introduced from the late 1980's and a stock exchange opened in 2000.

A visit to Vietnam by US President Bill Clinton in November 2000 was presented as the culmination of American efforts to normalise relations with the former enemy. This was a major change in mindset!

Prime Minister Phan Van Khai visited the United States in June 2005, becoming the first Vietnamese leader to do so since the Vietnam War ended. He met with President Bush and several business leaders, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. The U.S. is Vietnam's largest trading partner, buying about $7 billion in Vietnamese goods each year. IT is a major driver in Vietnam's ‘leapfrog

Foreign investment has grown and the US is now Vietnam's main trading partner. In the cities, the consumer market is fuelled by the appetite of a young, middle class for electronic and luxury goods. After 12 years of negotiations the country joined the World Trade Organization in January 2007. There is a disparity in wealth between urban and rural Vietnam.


· Full name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam

· Land area: 329,566 sq. km. ( land - 325,360 sq km water - 4,200 sq km

· Coastline: 2,140 miles (3,444 km)

· Landforms Vietnam is a country of tropical lowlands, rolling green hills, and densely forested mountains. Low-level land covers about 20% of the country. The Red River delta is fronted by hills that rise gently into the high mountains of the northwest; the Annam Highlands cover much of the central landscape, and in the southern areas, the coastal lowlands and Mekong River Delta merge. A fertile and narrow coastal lowland extends south from the Red River Delta to the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is a low-level plain, one inundated by hundreds of small rivers and canals. Thick jungles and mangrove swamps cover the far-southern areas of land. The Red River (Song Hong), and the Mekong are the most significant rivers; both have numerous tributaries, and the latter is certainly among the great rivers of the world.

· Land Divisions: 59 provinces and 5 municipalities; provinces include: An Giang, Bac Giang, Bac Kan, Bac Lieu, Bac Ninh, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Ben Tre, Binh Dinh, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Binh Thuan, Ca Mau, Cao Bang, Dac Lak, Dac Nong, Dien Bien, Dong Nai, Dong Thap, Gia Lai, Ha Giang, Hai Duong, Ha Nam, Ha Tay, Ha Tinh, Hau Giang, Hoa Binh, Hung Yen, Khanh Hoa, Kien Giang, Kon Tum, Lai Chau, Lam Dong, Lang Son, Lao Cai, Long An, Nam Dinh, Nghe An, Ninh Binh, Ninh Thuan, Phu Tho, Phu Yen, Quang Binh, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Quang Ninh, Quang Tri, Soc Trang, Son La, Tay Ninh, Thai Binh, Thai Nguyen, Thanh Hoa, Thua Thien-Hue, Tien Giang, Tra Vinh, Tuyen Quang, Vinh Long, Vinh Phuc and Yen Bai; municipalities include: Can Tho, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh

· Highest Point: Mount Fan Si Pan near Sa Pa, Northern Vietnam - 10,315 ft. (3,144 m)

· Climate: In general terms, Vietnam's climate is tropical; subject to monsoon rains, warm temperatures and wind, and high humidity throughout the year. The winter dry season extends (November - April), while summers (May - October) bring substantial rainfall across the entire country. Central and south, temperatures reach the mid 80s in the summer months, and in April, temps in the high 90s are commonplace; winter lows below 50° F are rare. In the northern third of the country, temperatures moderate, especially in the higher elevations.

· Population (2010 est.): 89,571,130 (growth rate: 1.0%); birth rate: 17.3/1000; infant mortality rate: 21.5/1000; life expectancy: 71.9; density per sq mi: 679

·  Ethnicity/race: 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)

· Capital: Hanoi (Latitude/Longitude 21º 01' N, 105º 52' E )

· Largest city: Ho Chi Minh City

· Area: 329,247 sq km (127,123 sq miles)

· Major language: Vietnamese Other languages spoken: Russian, French, Chinese, English and Khmer

· Literacy rate: 94% (2003 est.)

· Major religion: Buddhism is the principal religion but there are also sizeable Taoist, Confucian, Hoa Hao, Caodists, Muslim and Christian minorities

· National Day: September 2nd

· Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 77 years (women) (UN)

· Monetary unit: Dong

· Main exports: Petroleum, rice, coffee, clothing, fish

· GNI per capita: US $1,010 (World Bank, 2009)

· Internet domain: .vn

· International dialling code: +84

· Largest cities: Hanoi (Capital) 2,543,700 (metro. area), 1,396,500 (city proper); Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), 5,894,100 (metro. area), 3,415,300 (city proper); Haiphong, 581,600; Da Nang, 452,700; Hué 271,900; Nha Trang, 270,100; Qui Nho'n, 199,700

· Monetary unit: Dong

· Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2009 est.): $258.1 billion; per capita $2,900.

· Real growth rate: 5.3%.

· Inflation: 6.9%.

· Unemployment: 2.9%.

· Arable land: 20%.

· Agriculture: paddy rice, coffee, rubber, cotton, tea, pepper, soybeans, cashews, sugar cane, peanuts, bananas; poultry; fish, seafood.

· Labor force: 46.42 million; agriculture 55.6%, industry 18.9%, services 25.5% (July 2005).

· Industries: food processing, garments, shoes, machine-building; mining, coal, steel; cement, chemical fertilizer, glass, tires, oil, paper.

· Natural resources: phosphates, coal, manganese, bauxite, chromate, offshore oil and gas deposits, forests, hydropower.

· Exports: $56.55 billion (2009 est.): crude oil, marine products, rice, coffee, rubber, tea, garments, shoes.

· Imports: $68.8 billion (2009 est.): machinery and equipment, petroleum products, fertilizer, steel products, raw cotton, grain, cement, motorcycles.

· Major trading partners: U.S., Japan, China, Australia, Germany, Singapore, UK, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong.

· Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 15.845 million (2005); mobile cellular: 9.593 million (2005).

· Radio broadcast stations: AM 65, FM 7, shortwave 29 (1999).

· Radios: 8.2 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: at least 7 (plus 13 repeaters) (1998).

· Televisions: 3.57 million (1997).

· Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 12,114 (2006).

· Internet users: 13.1 million (2006).

· Transportation: Railways: total: 2,600 km (2006).

· Highways: total: 222,179 km km; paved: 42,167 km; unpaved: 180,012 km (2004 est.).

· Waterways: 17,702 km navigable; more than 5,149 km navigable at all times by vessels up to 1.8 m draft.

· Ports and harbors: Cam Ranh, Da Nang, Haiphong, Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Long, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang, Vinh, Vung Tau.

· Airports: 32 (2006).

Vietnam is involved in international disputes, they are:

· demarcation of the land boundary with China continues, but maritime boundary and joint fishing zone agreement remains unratified;

· Cambodia and Laos protest Vietnamese squatters and armed encroachments along border;

· China occupies Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan;

· involved in a complex dispute over Spratly Islands with China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and possibly Brunei; claimants in November 2002 signed the "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” a mechanism to ease tension but which fell short of a legally binding "code of conduct.”

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has a factbook ( which provides much more information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military and transnational issues of Vietnam.