Vietnam Country Information
Location: South East Asia
Population: 86 million (est. 2008)
GDP per capita: $1024
GDP growth: 6.23% (2008)
Principal Exports: Coffee, crude oil, rubber, textiles
Ethnic Groups: Kinh (86%)
Land Area: 333,000 km2
Vietnam is situated in South East Asia. It has a total land area of 333,000 square kilometres stretching 1,800 kilometres from north to south and has a coastline of 3,260 kilometres. The population is currently estimated at 84 million. Vietnam is rapidly evolving from a mainly agricultural and rural economy to one embracing globalisation. Almost 75% of the population is rural and is concentrated in the country’s two deltas. The main ethnic group, the Kinh, represents 86% of the total population while there are 53 minority ethnic groups concentrated in the upland areas.
Vietnam is a one-party socialist state. Power rests with the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) whose central role in politics and society is confirmed by the Constitution. The CPV holds ultimate responsibility for policy, which is executed and administered by the Government. There is no division of powers in the western sense. However, the National Assembly increasingly seeks to hold the Government to account. Elections for the National Assembly and the representative bodies at provincial and lower level take place every five years. Candidates do not have to be members of the CPV but need to be approved by the Vietnam Fatherland Front, an umbrella organisation dominated by the CPV. The Grassroots Democracy Decree of 1998, revised in 2003, foresees limited participation by the population in decision-making and implementation at the local level.
Recent Vietnamese history is a story of protracted struggle against domination by outside powers, from China in the 19th century to France, Japan and latterly the US. Vietnam was reunified after US withdrawal in 1975 under communist rule. Vietnam’s presence in Cambodia in 1978 led to UN sanctions, resulting in Vietnam’s international isolation until 1989. Following the withdrawal of US objections, the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank resumed credits and loans to Vietnam in 1993. This was followed by a significant increase in donor funding. The government led Doi Moi (renovation) reform process began in 1986, resulting in a doubling of the GDP during the 1990’s.
Vietnam has been amongst the fastest growing economies in the world for the past two decades. This has been achieved with only a modest increase in inequality while bringing a dramatic reduction in poverty from 58% of the population in 1993 to 20% in 2004. The next five years will see major challenges as Vietnam opens further to the market economy. Preventing significant growth in inequality will be a major challenge. Many of the required reforms are considered “locked in” following Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in January 2007.