U.S. Department of State Background Note
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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. Ethnic Vietnamese constitute about 90% of Vietnam's population.
Vietnam's approximately 2.3 million ethnic Chinese, concentrated mostly in southern Vietnam, constitute Vietnam's largest minority group. Long important in the Vietnamese economy, Vietnamese of Chinese ancestry have been active in rice trading, milling, real estate, and banking in the south and shop keeping, stevedoring, and mining in the north. Restrictions on economic activity following reunification of the north and south in 1975 and the subsequent but unrelated general deterioration in Vietnamese-Chinese relations sent chills through the Chinese-Vietnamese community. In 1978-79, 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.
The second-largest ethnic minority grouping, the central highland peoples (formerly termed Montagnards or mountain people), comprise two main ethnolinguistic groups--Malayo-Polynesian and Mon-Khmer. About 30 groups of various cultures and dialects are spread over the highland territory.
The third-largest minority, the Khmer Krom (Cambodians), numbering about 600,000, is concentrated near the Cambodian border and at the mouth of the Mekong River. Most are farmers. Other minority groups include the Cham--remnants of the once-mighty Champa Kingdom, conquered by the Vietnamese in the 15th century--Hmong, and Thai.
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. 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 rich Mekong Delta, encountering there earlier settled Cham and Cambodians. While Vietnam's emperors reigned ineffectually, powerful northern and southern families fought civil wars in the 17th and 18th centuries.
French Rule and the Anti-Colonial Struggle
Japan's occupation of Vietnam during World War II further stirred nationalism. Vietnamese communists under Ho Chi Minh organized a coalition of anti-colonial groups, the Viet Minh, though many anti-communists refused to join. After Japan stripped the French of much power in Indochina in March 1945, Ho Chi Minh announced the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945.
North and South Partition
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. The agreement also called for an election to be held by July 1956 to bring the two provisional zones under a unified government. However, the South Vietnamese Government refused to accept this provision. 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. In the late 1950s, they 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
After reunification, the government confiscated privately owned land and forced citizens into 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 re-education camps to study socialist doctrine.
While Vietnamese leaders thought that reunification of the country and its socialist transformation would be condoned by the international community, this did not happen. Besides international concern over Vietnam's internal practices, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978 and its growing tight alliance with the Soviet Union appeared to confirm suspicions that Vietnam wanted to establish hegemony in Indochina.
Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia also heightened tensions that already existed between Vietnam and China. Beijing, which had long backed the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, retaliated in early 1979 by initiating a border war with Vietnam.
Vietnam's tensions with its neighbors and its stagnant economy contributed to a massive exodus from Vietnam. Fearing persecution, many 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 commercial policies.
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 three deputy prime ministers and the heads of 26 ministries and commissions, 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 party direction. More than 80% 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. There is a separate judicial branch, but it is still relatively weak. Overall, there are few lawyers and trial procedures are rudimentary.
The present 14-member Politburo, elected in April 2006 and headed by Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, determines government policy, and its Secretariat oversees day-to-day policy implementation. In addition, the Party's Central Military Commission, which is composed of select Politburo members and additional military leaders, determines military policy.
A Party Congress, which most recently was comprised of 1,176 delegates at the Tenth Party Congress in April 2006, meets every 5 years to set the direction of the party and the government. The 160-member Central Committee (with an additional 21 alternate members), was elected by the Party Congress and it usually meets at least twice a year.
Principal Government Officials
General Secretary of CPV Central Committee, 10th Party Congress--Nong Duc Manh
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-ca.org/home.asp.
Land reform, de-collectivization, and the opening of the agricultural sector to market forces converted Vietnam from a country facing chronic food shortages in the early 1980s to the second-largest rice exporter in the world. Besides rice, key exports are coffee, tea, rubber, and fisheries products. Agriculture's share of economic output has declined, falling as a share of GDP from 42% in 1989 to 20.4% in 2006, as production in other sectors of the economy has risen.
Paralleling its efforts to increase agricultural output, Vietnam’s industrial production has grown. Industry contributed 41.5% of GDP in 2006, up from 27.3% in 1985. State-owned enterprises are marked by low productivity and inefficiency, the result of a command-style economic system applied in an underdeveloped country. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is a dynamic feature of Vietnam's industrializing economy. As of the end of 2005, cumulative implemented foreign direct investment totaled over $34 billion, helping to transform the industrial landscape of Vietnam.
Vietnam has successfully increased exports of manufactured goods, especially labor-intensive manufactures, such as textiles and apparel and footwear. Subsidies have been cut to some inefficient state enterprises. The Government is also in the process of "equitizing" (e.g., transforming state enterprises into share holding 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 companies. Despite reforms, the state share of GDP has remained relatively constant since 2000, at 38-39%.
Trade and Balance of Payments
As a result of these reforms, exports expanded significantly, growing by as much as 20%-30% in some years. In 2005, exports accounted for 63% of GDP. Imports have also grown rapidly, and Vietnam has a significant trade deficit (forecast to be $4.8 billion in 2006). Vietnam’s total external debt, accounting for 32.5% of GDP in 2005, was estimated at around $17.2 billion.
During the second Indochina war (1954-75), North Vietnam balanced relations with its two major allies, the Soviet Union and China. By 1975, tension began to grow as Beijing increasingly viewed Vietnam as a potential Soviet instrument to encircle China. Meanwhile, Beijing's increasing support for Cambodia's Khmer Rouge sparked Vietnamese suspicions of China's motives.
Vietnamese-Chinese relations deteriorated significantly after Hanoi instituted a ban in March 1978 on private trade, mostly affecting Sino-Vietnamese. Following Vietnam's December 1978 invasion of Cambodia, China launched a 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 Council for Mutual Economic Assistance countries. However, Soviet and East bloc economic aid ceased 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 continue their joint efforts to demarcate their land and sea borders, expand trade and investment ties, and build political relations.
In 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. Vietnam joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) in November 1998 and hosted the ASEAN summit in 2001 and APEC in 2006. Vietnam is seeking to join the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member for the 2008 and 2009 term.
While Vietnam has remained relatively conflict-free since its Cambodia days, tensions have arisen in the past between Vietnam and its neighbors (especially China). Vietnam and China each assert claims to the Spratly Islands (as does Taiwan), an archipelago in a potentially oil-rich area of the South China Sea. Over the years, conflicting claims have produced small-scale armed altercations in the area; in 1988 more than 70 people were killed during a confrontation between China and Vietnam. China's assertion of control over the Spratly Islands and the entire South China Sea has elicited concern from Vietnam and its Southeast Asia neighbors. The territorial border between the two countries is being definitively mapped pursuant to a Land Border Agreement signed in December 1999, and an Agreement on Borders in the Gulf of Tonkin signed in December 2000. Vietnam and Russia declared a strategic partnership in March 2001 during the first visit ever to Hanoi of a Russian head of state, largely as an attempt to counterbalance the People's Republic of China's (P.R.C.) growing profile in Southeast Asia.
After a 20-year hiatus of severed ties, President Clinton announced the formal normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam on July 11, 1995. Subsequent to President Clinton's normalization announcement, in August 1995, both nations upgraded their Liaison Offices opened during 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 in San Francisco.
U.S. relations with Vietnam have become deeper and more diverse in the years since political normalization. The two countries have broadened their political exchanges through regular dialogues on human rights and regional security. They 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.
As of November 2, 2006, the U.S. Government listed 1,796 Americans unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, including 1,373 in Vietnam. Since 1973, 850 Americans have been accounted for, including 608 in Vietnam. Additionally, the Department of Defense has confirmed that of the 196 individuals who were "last known alive" (LKA), the U.S. Government has determined the fate of all but 31. 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 2006, the United States exported $1.1 billion of goods to Vietnam and imported $8.6 billion of goods from Vietnam. Similarly, U.S. companies continue to invest directly in the Vietnamese economy. During 2006, the U.S. private sector committed $444 million to Vietnam in foreign direct investment. This number is expected to rise dramatically following Vietnam's accession into the WTO.
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. 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.
Cooperation in other areas, such as defense, nonproliferation, counterterrorism, and law enforcement, is also increasing at a measured pace.
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
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).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jun. 2007