Vietnam: Land and People
Vietnam upies a land area of 330,000 sq. km. and measures 1,650 km from
its northern border with China to its southernmost tip at the Eastern Sea.
Situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, with 3,260 km of spectacular
coastline, Vietnam offers ideal advantages for economic development, trade
Mountains and tropical forest cover three quarters of Vietnam, but the
flatlands make up the most heavily populated portion of the country. The
country's two "rice bowls" lie in the Red River delta in the north and the
Mekong River delta in the south.
Hanoi, in the north, is the country's capital, while Ho Chi Minh City, in
the south, is the largest commercial city. Danang, in the central part of
the country, is the third largest city and an important port.
Vietnam has two climates. The southern and central regions have a tropical
climate with dry and rainy seasons and are normally humid throughout the
year. In the north, the four seasons, including a distinct winter, are more
defined. Average annual rainfall is about 223 cm.
Vietnam's population stood at around 78 million in 1999. The average
population density is 227 people per sq. km. The annual growth rate is 1.7%.
Of the 54 ethnic groups, those of Kinh (Vietnamese) descent account for 88%
of the total population. The literacy rate is about 90%. Approximately 70%
of the population is employed in agriculture and more than half is under the
age of 25.
In addition to having significant potential in energy sources such as oil,
gas and coal, Vietnam is also very rich in other minerals, including
bauxite, iron ore, copper, gold, precious stones, tin, chromate, apatite,
and building materials, such as granite, marble, clay, silica sand, and
graphite. This mineral wealth is complemented by significant marine
resources, tropical forest, and agricultural potential.
(Map of Vietnam)
Vietnamese history dates back more than 4,000 years to when the ancient
Vietnamese people founded their first nation under the name "Van Lang ".
The recent history of Vietnam is best characterized as one long, continuous
struggle for freedom and independence. The country was ruled by the Chinese
feudalists for nearly a thousand years from 111 B.C. to 939 A.D. It was also
colonized by France for almost 100 years from 1859 to 1945.
During the Second World War, Vietnam was occupied by Japanese troops, but
the French administration continued until March 9, 1945 when it was toppled
by the Japanese. Vietnam regained its power from the Japanese in August 1945
and was declared independent on September 2 in the same year, giving the
birth to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Right after the declaration of
independence, the country was immediately plunged into a war against the
French attempts to re-colonize, which lasted for another nine years. The war
ended in 1954, leaving the country divided at the 17th parallel. The north
remained as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, led by the communists, while
the south fell under the influence of the West, namely the United States.
The U.S. involvement in Vietnam grew in the 1950s and escalated into a
full-fledged war in March 1965 when the first U.S. troops landed in Vietnam.
Although U.S. troops were completely withdrawn by the end of March 1973 as a
result of the Paris Peace Accords, the war continued until April 30, 1975,
when the south was liberated. The nation was reunified as the Socialist
Republic of Vietnam in January 1976.
As a result of the country's foreign policy of "being the friend of all
countries," Vietnam has enjoyed increasing rapprochement with other
countries. Relations with China were normalized in 1991 and have been
expanding and developing since then. U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations were
re-established in July 1995. A bilateral trade agreement was signed by the
two countries in July 1999. Vietnam became a full member of ASEAN in July
1995 and in the same year, signed a cooperation treaty with the European
Union. Vietnam currently maintains diplomatic relations with more than 160
countries, including all the world powers, and has economic and trade links
with nearly 150 countries and territories. Ties with multilateral credit
organizations such as World Bank, IMF and ADB have been resumed. The
nation's international and regional economic integration process is being
stepped up. Vietnam has been a member of ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) since
January 1st, 1996 and a full member of APEC since 1998. The country is also
in the process of negotiating WTO membership.
The Political Structure
Vietnam is a socialist country under the leadership of the Communist Party.
The Party holds a national congress every five years to outline the
country's overall direction and future course as well as to formalize
The National Assembly, which includes 450 members as maximum, representing
all walks of life throughout the country, and is open to non-Party members,
is the highest State authority and the only body with constitutional and
legislative power. The President of the State and the Prime Minister are
elected by the National Assembly.
The President has the right to nominate candidates for a number of key
positions, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the
Procurator-General of the Supreme People's Procuracy. Nominees are then
approved by the National Assembly.
The Prime Minister, who is charged with the day-to-day handling of the
government, has the right to nominate and dismiss the members of his
cabinet, though only with the approval of the National Assembly.
The Vietnamese Government now consists of 17 ministries and 12 ministerial
agencies. The Ministry of Trade (MOT) is responsible for state management of
both international and domestic trade while the Ministry of Planning and
Investment is responsible for economic planning and management of both
domestic and foreign investment.
In Vietnam, laws and ordinances are enacted by the National Assembly while
decrees guiding the implementation of laws and ordinances are issued by the
Vietnam is divided into 61 provinces and cities under the direct control of
the central authority. Provinces are divided into districts, provincial
capitals and towns. The districts are further divided into wards and
villages. Municipalities remain under central authority and are divided into
precincts and townships, which in turn are divided into wards.
Local People's Councils are elected by the local population in each area.
The Councils have the duty to maintain respect for the law, to carry out
state policies and tasks assigned from above, and to decide on local
economic and social development plans and budgets.
Local People's Committees are the executive bodies of local People's
Councils and serve as local administrative bodies, responsible to the Local
People's Councils at the same level. The Chairmen, Vice Chairmen and members
of the People's Committee are elected by the People's Council.