Vietnam: A Reunified Nation

A Reunified Nation

In June, 1976, the country was officially reunited. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vietnam expanded its control of Southeast Asia by invading Cambodia (where it toppled the regime of Pol Pot and installed a Vietnamese-backed government) and also by establishing a military presence in Laos. These actions alienated Vietnam from China, its long-time ally, and generally worsened its international relations. In 1979, Vietnam and China fought a brief, but intense border war. Vietnam succeeded in establishing close ties with the Soviet Union during this period, a necessity in consideration of the severe economic difficulties caused by the war. Despite substantial aid from the Soviet Union, Vietnam continued to experience economic problems, exacerbated by a U.S. trade embargo. Economic hardship prompted the flight of great numbers of refugee boat people.

In the late 1980s changes in national leadership resulted in a policy reorientation toward privatization and efforts to attract foreign investment. In 1991, Do Muoi was chosen as party leader; Vo Van Kiet became premier and Le Duc Anh became president. Relations with China were normalized the same year. By the early 1990s the country had experienced limited success in revitalizing its economy, although there was no corresponding attempt to introduce political liberalization. In 1994 the United States ended its embargo, in response to Vietnamese cooperation in the search for missing American servicemen. A U.S. liaison office was opened in Hanoi early in 1995, and in July the United States extended full recognition to Vietnam. Also in 1995, Vietnam was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In 1997, Le Kha Phieu took over as general secretary of the Communist party; Phan Van Khai, an economic reformer, became premier, and Tran Duc Luong was chosen as president. Vietnam's economy was affected by the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, and the country was forced to devalue its currency. China and Vietnam signed an agreement settling disputes concerning their shared land border in 1999, and the following year demarcated their territorial waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. In 2000, Vietnam and the United States signed an agreement designed to normalize trade relations between the two countries; an embargo on U.S. weapons sales, however, remained in effect until 2016.

Le Pha Phieu was replaced as party leader in 2001 by Nong Duc Manh, a moderate regarded as more receptive to further economic reform. There was speculation that Manh, an ethnic Tai, was chosen in part to help ease ethnic tensions that had sparked violence in the Central Highlands. The government continued to move forward slowly on economic reforms, largely out of necessity. Manh was reappointed party leader in 2006, and Nguyen Tan Dung, a southerner with experience in Vietnam's security forces, and Nguyen Minh Triet, the party chief for Ho Chi Minh City, became premier and president, respectively. Dung subsequently was an advocate for economic reforms and increased foreign investment. By 2010, however, the economy, despite its growth, was hampered by its dependence on relatively inefficient state-run companies and by the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Manh retired in 2011 and was succeeded as party leader by Nguyen Phu Trong, the former chairman of the National Assembly; Truong Tan Sang, a southerner and high-ranking party leader, became president the same year. Tensions with China increased in 2011 over economic interests in the South China Sea, where China was more confrontational in asserting its extensive claims. The revision of the constitution in 2013 (effective 2014) was notably mainly for continuing the role of state-owned companies in the economy and further entrenching the Communist party's political power. In May, 2014, confrontations at sea between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels over Chinese oil exploration in the South China Sea led to anti-Chinese riots and attacks on Chinese- and Taiwanese-owned factories. Trong was reappointed party leader in 2016; the more conservative Trong had been unsuccessfully challenged by Premier Dung. Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the deputy premier, was chosen as premier, and Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang, president. Quang died in office in 2018; Trong succeeded him as president. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the country's reported cases and deaths were very low compared to other nations.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vietnam Political Geography