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1975-2005 - Unified Vietnam

On 25 April 1976, Communist leaders replaced the the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), formed in 1945, with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV), with its capital in Ha Noi. In the post-1975 period, it was immediately apparent that the popularity and effectiveness of Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) policies did not necessarily extend to the party’s peacetime nation-building plans. Having unified North and South politically, the VCP still had to integrate them socially and economically. In this task, VCP policy makers were confronted with the South’s resistance to communist transformation, as well as traditional animosities arising from cultural and historical differences between North and South. More than a million Southerners, including about 560,000 “boat people,” fled the country soon after the communist takeover, fearing persecution and seizure of their land and businesses. About a million Vietnamese were relocated to previously uncultivated land called “new economic zones” for reeducation.

The harsh postwar crackdown on remnants of capitalism in the South led to the collapse of the economy during the 1980s. With the economy in shambles, Vietnam’s government altered its course and adopted consensus policies that bridged the divergent views of pragmatists and communist traditionalists. In 1986 Nguyen Van Linh, who was elevated to VCP general secretary the following year, launched a campaign for political and economic renewal (Doi Moi). His policies were characterized by political and economic experimentation that was similar to simultaneous reform agendas undertaken in China and the Soviet Union. Reflecting the spirit of political compromise, Vietnam phased out its reeducation effort. The government also stopped promoting agricultural and industrial cooperatives. Farmers were permitted to till private plots alongside state-owned land, and in 1990 the government passed a law encouraging the establishment of private businesses.

Compounding economic difficulties were new military challenges. In the late 1970s, two countries—Cambodia and China—posed threats to Vietnam. Clashes between Vietnamese and Cambodian communists on their common border began almost immediately after Vietnam’s reunification in 1975. To neutralize the threat, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and overran Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, driving out the incumbent Khmer Rouge communist regime and initiating a prolonged military occupation of the country.

In February and March 1979, China retaliated against Vietnam's incursion into Cambodia by launching a limited invasion of Vietnam, but the Chinese foray was quickly rebuffed. Relations between the two countries had been deteriorating for some time. Territorial disagreements along the border and in the South China Sea that had remained dormant during the Second Indochina War were revived at the war's end, and a postwar campaign engineered by Hanoi to limit the role of Vietnam's ethnic Chinese community in domestic commerce elicited a strong protest from Beijing. China also was displeased with Vietnam because of its improving relationship with the Soviet Union.

During its incursion into Cambodia in 1978–89, Vietnam’s international isolation extended to relations with the United States. The United States, in addition to citing Vietnam's minimal cooperation in accounting for Americans who were missing in action (MIAs) as an obstacle to normal relations, barred normal ties as long as Vietnamese troops occupied Cambodia. Washington also continued to enforce the trade embargo imposed on Hanoi at the conclusion of the war in 1975. Soon after the Paris Agreement on Cambodia resolved the conflict in October 1991, however, Vietnam established or reestablished diplomatic and economic relations with most of Western Europe, China, and other Asian countries. Vietnam normalized relations with China in 1991 and with Japan in 1993. In February 1994, the United States lifted its economic embargo against Vietnam, and in June 1995, the United States and Vietnam normalized relations. In June 2005, a high-level Vietnamese delegation, led by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, visited the United States and met with their U.S. counterparts, including President George W. Bush. This was the first such visit in 30 years. Relations with China took another step forward after the two countries settled their long-standing border dispute in 1999. China is now a major trading partner, and Vietnam models its economic policies after China's.

As of late 2005, a three-person collective leadership was responsible for governing Vietnam. This triumvirate consisted of the VCP general secretary (Nong Duc Manh, April 2001– ), the prime minister (Phan Van Khai, September 1997– ), and the president (Tran Duc Luong, September 1997– ). General Secretary Manh headed up not only the VCP but also the 15-member Politburo. President Luong was chief of state, and Prime Minister Khai was head of government. The leadership is promoting a “socialist-oriented market economy” and friendly relations with China, Japan, the European Union, Russia, and the United States. Although the leadership is presiding over a period of rapid economic growth, official corruption and a widening gap between urban wealth and rural poverty remain stubborn problems that are eroding the VCP’s authority. A major goal is gaining full membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Vietnam now hopes to join the WTO by mid-2006, although previously it had hoped to achieve this goal by the end of 2005. Vietnam still needs to conclude bilateral agreements with the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic in order to qualify for membership.



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