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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Electronic Information and Publications Office > Background Notes
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
August 2008

PeopleHistoryGovernmentPolitical ConditionsEconomyForeign RelationsU.S. RelationsTravel/BusinessBackground Notes A-Z  Background Note: Vietnam

Men watch a procession from under an umbrella during spring festival in Binh Minh, Vietnam, March 4, 2001. [© AP Images]

[Country Map]

Flag of Vietnam is red field with a large yellow five-pointed star in the center.


Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Area: 331,114 sq. km. (127,243 sq. mi.); equivalent in size to Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee combined.
Cities (2008): Capital--Hanoi (6.232 million); on August 1, 2008 the capital city's administrative borders were officially expanded to include Ha Tay Province and parts of Hoa Binh and Ving Phuc. Other cities--Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon; 6.602 million), Haiphong (1.711 million), Danang (806,900), Can Tho (1.154 million).
Terrain: Varies from mountainous to coastal delta.
Climate: Tropical monsoon.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Vietnamese (sing. and pl.).
Population (2007): 85.15 million; (2008 estimate): 86.1 million.
Annual growth rate (2007): 1.188%.
Ethnic groups (2003): 54 groups including Vietnamese (Kinh) (85.73%), Tay (1.97%), Thai (1.79%), Muong (1.52%), Khmer (1.37%), Chinese (1.13%), Nung (1.13%), Hmong (1.11%).
Religions (2007): Buddhism (14.38%), Catholic (6.9%), Cao Dai (2.8%), Protestantism (1.75%), Hoa Hao (1.5%), Islam (0.076%), Baha'i (0.007%), and other animist religions.
Languages: Vietnamese (official), English (increasingly favored as a second language), some French, Chinese, and other ethnic minority languages.
Education (2006): Literacy--90%.
Health (2007 estimate): Birth rate--16.63 births/1000 population. Infant mortality rate--17.4 /1000. Life expectancy--70.8 yrs. Death rate--6.56/1,000.

Type: Communist Party-dominated constitutional republic.
Independence: September 2, 1945.
New constitution: April 15, 1992.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state and chair of National Defense and Security Council) and prime minister (heads cabinet of ministries and commissions). Legislative--National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme People's Court; Prosecutorial Supreme People's Procuracy.
Administrative subdivisions: 59 provinces, 5 municipalities (Can Tho, Haiphong, Danang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City).
Political party: Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) with over 3 million members, formerly (1951-76) Vietnam Worker's Party, itself the successor of the Indochinese Communist Party founded in 1930.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.

GDP (2007): $71.4 billion.
Real growth rate (2007): 8.5%.
Per capita income (2007): $832.
Inflation rate (May 2008): 25%.
External debt (2007): 27% of GDP, $19.3 billion.
Natural resources: Coal, crude oil, zinc, copper, silver, gold, manganese, iron.
Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries (20.25% of GDP, 2007): Principal products--rice, maize, sweet potato, peanut, soya bean, cotton, coffee, cashews. Cultivated land--12.2 million hectares. Land use--21% arable; 28% forest and woodland; 51% other.
Industry and construction (41.62% of GDP, 2007): Principal types--mining and quarrying, manufacturing, electricity, gas, water supply, cement, phosphate, and steel.
Services (38.13% of GDP, 2007): Principal types--tourism, wholesale and retail, repair of vehicles and personal goods, hotel and restaurant, transport storage, telecommunications.
Trade (2007): Exports--$48.39 billion. Principal exports--crude oil, garments/textiles, footwear, fishery products, wood products, rice (second-largest exporter in world), sea products, coffee, rubber, handicrafts. Major export partners--U.S., EU, Japan, China, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, and Germany. Imports--$60.8 billion. Principal imports--machinery, oil and gas, garment materials, iron and steel, transport-related equipment. Major import partners--China, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Exports to U.S. (2007)--$10.6 billion. Imports from U.S. (2007) $1.9 billion.

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. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups; ethnic Vietnamese or Kinh constitute approximately 85% of Vietnam's population. The next largest groups are ethnic Tay and Thai, which account for 1.97% and 1.79% of Vietnam's population and are concentrated in the country's northern uplands.

With a population of more than 900,000, Vietnam's ethnic Chinese community is one of the most significant and wealthiest in Vietnam. 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 caused increasing anxiety within the Chinese-Vietnamese community. As tensions between Vietnam and China reached their peak 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.

Other significant ethnic minority groups include central highland peoples (formerly termed Montagnards) such as the Gia Rai, Bana, Ede, Xo Dang, Gie Trieng, and the Khmer Krom (Cambodians), who are concentrated near the Cambodian border and at the mouth of the Mekong River.

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, but also leaving a tradition of resistance to foreign occupation. 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, where they encountered previously settled communities of Cham and Cambodians. As Vietnam's Le dynasty declined, powerful northern and southern families, the Trinh and Nguyen, fought civil wars in the 17th and 18th centuries. A peasant revolt originating in the Tay Son region of central Vietnam defeated the Nguyen and Trinh and unified the country at the end of the 18th century, but was itself defeated by a surviving member of the Nguyen family, who founded the Nguyen dynasty as Emperor Gia Long in 1802.

French Rule and the Anti-Colonial Struggle
In 1858, the French began their conquest of Vietnam starting in the south. They annexed all of Vietnam in 1885, governing the territories of Annan, Tonkin, and Cochin China, together with Cambodia and Laos, as part of French Indochina. The French allowed Vietnam's emperors to continue to reign, although not actually to rule. In the early 20th century, Vietnamese intellectuals, many of them French educated, organized nationalist and communist-nationalist anti-colonial movements.

Japan's occupation of Vietnam during World War II further stirred nationalism, as well as antipathy toward the French Vichy colonial regime, which took its direction from the Japanese. 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 Indochina's Vichy authorities of much of their remaining power in March 1945, Ho Chi Minh announced the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945.

North and South Partition
France's post-World War II unwillingness to leave Vietnam led to failed talks and an 8-year guerrilla war between the communist-led Viet Minh on one side and the French and their anti-communist nationalist allies on the other. Following a humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, France and other parties, including Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States, convened in Geneva, Switzerland for peace talks. On July 29, 1954, an Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam was signed between France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The United States observed, but did not sign, the agreement. French colonial rule in Vietnam ended.

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. During this period, some 450,000 Vietnamese, including a large number of Vietnamese Catholics, fled from the north to the south, while a much smaller number relocated north. In the late 1950s, North Vietnamese leaders 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
In December 1961, at the request of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, President Kennedy sent U.S. military advisers to South Vietnam to help the government there deal with the Viet Cong campaign. In the wake of escalating political turmoil in the south after a 1963 generals' coup against President Diem, the United States increased its military support for South Vietnam. In March 1965, President Johnson sent the first U.S. combat forces to Vietnam. The American military role peaked in 1969 with an in-country force of 534,000. However, the Viet Cong's surprise Tet Offensive in January 1968 deeply hurt both the Viet Cong infrastructure and American and South Vietnamese morale. In January 1969, the United States, governments of South and North Vietnam, and the Viet Cong met for the first plenary session of peace talks in Paris, France. These talks, which began with much hope, moved slowly. They finally concluded with the signing of a peace agreement, the Paris Accords, on January 27, 1973. As a result, the south was divided into a patchwork of zones controlled by the South Vietnamese Government and the Viet Cong. The United States withdrew its forces, although U.S. military advisers remained.

In early 1975, North Vietnamese regular military forces began a major offensive in the south, inflicting great damage to the south's forces. The communists took Saigon on April 30, 1975, and announced their intention of reunifying the country. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (north) absorbed the former Republic of Vietnam (south) to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976.

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, where they remained for periods ranging from months to several years.

Expectations that reunification of the country and its socialist transformation would be condoned by the international community were quickly dashed as the international community expressed concern over Vietnam's internal practices and foreign policy. Vietnam's 1978 invasion of Cambodia in particular, together with its increasingly 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 brief, but bloody border war with Vietnam.

Vietnam's tensions with its neighbors, internal repression, and a 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.

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 five deputy prime ministers and the heads of 22 ministries and agencies, 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. In 2007, the assembly introduced parliamentary "question time," in which cabinet ministers must answer often pointed questions from National Assembly members. 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
President--Nguyen Minh Triet
Prime Minister--Nguyen Tan Dung
National Assembly Chairman--Nguyen Phu Trong
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs--Pham Gia Khiem
Ambassador to the United States--Le Cong Phung
Ambassador to the United Nations--Le Luong Minh

(Tenth Party Congress Politburo, named April 25, 2006; listed in the order it was announced, including the individuals' current positions.)

General Secretary of CPV Central Committee, 10th Party Congress--Nong Duc Manh
Minister of Public Security--Le Hong Anh
Prime Minister--Nguyen Tan Dung
State President--Nguyen Minh Triet
Standing Secretariat Member--Truong Tan Sang
National Assembly Chairman--Nguyen Phu Trong
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs--Pham Gia Khiem
Minister of Defense, General Chief of Staff--Phung Quang Thanh
Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman, Party Internal Affairs Commission--Truong Vinh Trong
Secretary of HCMC Party's Committee--Le Thanh Hai
Standing Deputy Prime Minister--Nguyen Sinh Hung
Secretary of Hanoi Party's Committee--Pham Quang Nghi
Chairman, Party Organization and Personnel Commission--Ho Duc Viet
Chairman, Party Control Commission--Nguyen Van Chi

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.

Economic stagnation marked the period after reunification from 1975 to 1985. In 1986, the Sixth Party Congress approved a broad economic reform package called "Doi Moi" (renovation) that introduced market reforms and dramatically improved Vietnam's business climate. Vietnam became one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging around 8% annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth from 1990 to 1997 and 6.5% from 1998-2003. From 2004 to 2007, GDP grew over 8% annually. Foreign trade and foreign direct investment have improved significantly. Average annual foreign investment commitment has risen sharply since foreign investment was authorized in 1988, and in 2007 Vietnam licensed $17.86 billion in foreign direct investment. Actual investment in that year totaled $4.60 billion. From 1990 to 2005, agricultural production nearly doubled, transforming Vietnam from a net food importer to the world's second-largest exporter of rice. Exports in 2007 were a historic $48.39 billion, but Vietnam's need for capital goods, construction materials, refined fuel, and primary material for exports meant that it ran a trade deficit of $12.4 billion.

The shift away from a centrally planned economy to a more market-oriented economic model improved the quality of life for many Vietnamese. Per capita income rose from $220 in 1994 to $832 in 2007. Inflation in 2007 was 7.3% but was in the double digits and approaching 30% year-on-year by August 2008. The average Vietnamese savings rate is about 30%. Urban unemployment has been rising in recent years, and rural unemployment, estimated to be between 25% and 35% during non-harvest periods, is significant.

The Vietnamese Government still holds a tight rein over major sectors of the economy through large state-owned enterprises and the banking system. The government has plans to reform key sectors and partially privatize state-owned enterprises, but implementation has been gradual and the state sector still accounts for approximately 40% of GDP. Greater emphasis on private sector development is critical for job creation.

The 2001 entry-into-force of the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) between the U.S. and Vietnam was a significant milestone for Vietnam's economy and for normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations. Bilateral trade between the United States and Vietnam has expanded dramatically, rising from $2.91 billion in 2002 to $12.5 billion in 2007.

Implementation of the BTA, which includes provisions on trade in goods and services, enforcement of intellectual property rights, protection for investments, and transparency, fundamentally changed Vietnamís trade regime and helped it prepare to accede to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Following the conclusion of bilateral negotiations with interested WTO members and completion of multilateral negotiations in 2006, the WTO General Council approved the terms for Vietnam's membership on November 7, 2006. Vietnam formally acceded to the WTO as its 150th member on January 11, 2007.

Vietnam was granted unconditional normal trade relations (NTR) status by the United States through a Presidential Proclamation signed by President Bush on December 29, 2006. On January 11, 2007, the United States removed the application of quotas on textile and apparel imports from Vietnam consistent with the terms of our WTO bilateral market access agreement and treatment provided to other WTO members. To meet the obligations of WTO membership, Vietnam revised nearly all of its trade and investment laws and guiding regulations. As a result, foreign investors and those seeking to sell goods and services to the increasingly affluent Vietnamese population will benefit from the improved legislative framework and lower trade barriers. Local firms that have heretofore enjoyed a range of protections, meanwhile, will experience increased competition. In 2006, the Government of Vietnam reasserted its goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2010. That would entail raising the average per capita income to at least $1,000 from the 2007 average of $832. Economic analysts, including those at the World Bank, believe that this goal is attainable.

A U.S.-Vietnam Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), a bridge to future economic cooperation, was signed in June 2007 during President Triet's visit to the United States. The first TIFA Council occurred on December 17, 2007 in Washington. During Prime Minister Dung's June 2008 visit, the United States and Vietnam committed to undertake Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations.

Agriculture and Industry
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 20.25% in 2007, as production in other sectors of the economy has risen.

Paralleling its efforts to increase agricultural output, Vietnam's industrial production has grown. Industry and construction contributed 41.6% of GDP in 2007, up from 27.3% in 1985.

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 shareholding 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
From the late 1970s until the 1990s, Vietnam was heavily dependent on the Soviet Union and its allies for trade and economic assistance. To compensate for drastic cuts in Soviet-bloc support after 1989, Vietnam liberalized trade, devalued its exchange rate to increase exports, and embarked on a policy of regional and international economic re-integration. Vietnam has demonstrated its commitment to trade liberalization in recent years, and integration with the world economy has become one of the cornerstones of its reform program. Vietnam has locked in its intention to create a more competitive and open economy by committing to several comprehensive international trade agreements, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA). Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organization further integrated Vietnam into the global economy.

As a result of these reforms, exports expanded significantly, growing by as much as 20%-30% in some years. In 2007, exports accounted for 68% of GDP. Imports have also grown rapidly, and Vietnam has a significant trade deficit ($12.4 billion in 2007). Vietnam's total external debt, amounting to 27% of GDP in 2007, was estimated at around $19.3 billion.

During the second Indochina war (1954-75), North Vietnam sought to balance 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 declined during the perestroika era and ceased completely 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. In recent years, Vietnam's influence in ASEAN has expanded significantly. In addition, Vietnam joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) in November 1998 and hosted the ASEAN summit in 2001 and APEC in 2006. In October 2007, Vietnam was elected for the first time to the United Nations Security Council, to serve a two-year term starting January 1, 2008.

While Vietnam has not experienced war since its withdrawal from Cambodia, tensions have periodically flared between Vietnam and China, primarily over their overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea. Vietnam and China each assert claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands, archipelagos in the potentially oil-rich area of the South China Sea. Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan also claim all or part of the South China Sea. Over the years, conflicting claims have produced small-scale armed altercations in the area; in 1988, 70 Vietnamese sailors died in a confrontation with China in the Spratlies. China's assertion of "indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly Islands and the entire South China Sea has elicited concern from Vietnam and its Southeast Asia neighbors. Tensions escalated in the latter half of 2007, as China pressured foreign oil companies, notably BP, to abandon their oil and gas exploration contracts with Vietnam in the South China Sea. Press reports in July 2008 also cited Chinese pressure on U.S. firm ExxonMobil to drop an exploration agreement with Vietnam in the same waters. Vietnamese students staged several anti-China demonstrations in response, prompting a warning from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman that Hanoi's failure to quell the demonstrations was harming relations. By contrast, Vietnam has made progress with China in delineating its northern land border and the Gulf of Tonkin, pursuant to a Land Border Agreement signed in December 1999, and an Agreement on Borders in the Gulf of Tonkin signed in December 2000.

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 increasingly cooperative and broad-based in the years since political normalization. A series of bilateral summits have helped drive the improvement of ties, including President Bush's visit to Hanoi in November 2006, President Triet's visit to Washington in June 2007, and Prime Minister Dung's visit to Washington in June 2008. The two countries hold an annual dialogue on human rights, resumed in 2006 after a two-year hiatus. 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. In January 2007, Congress approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for Vietnam. In June 2008, the U.S. and Vietnam agreed to hold political-military talks and policy planning talks to consult on regional security and strategic issues. Bilateral diplomatic engagement expanded at ASEAN and APEC, and with Vietnam's January 2008 start of a two-year term on the UN Security Council.

Vietnam's suppression of political dissent continued to be the main issue of contention in relations with the U.S., drawing criticism from the administration and Congress. In spring 2007, Vietnam's government launched a crackdown on political dissidents, and in November the same year arrested a group of pro-democracy activists, including two Americans. By May 2008, all Americans had been released. In contrast, Vietnam continued to make significant progress on expanding religious freedom. In 2005, Vietnam passed comprehensive religious freedom legislation, outlawing forced renunciations and permitting the official recognition of new denominations. As a result, in November 2006, the Department of State lifted the designation of Vietnam as a "Country of Particular Concern," based on a determination that the country was no longer a serious violator of religious freedoms, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act. This decision was reaffirmed by the Department of State in November 2007. The government's harassment of certain religious leaders for their political activism, including leaders of the outlawed United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, was an ongoing source of U.S. concern.

As of December 14, 2007, the U.S. Government listed 1,763 Americans unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, including 1,353 in Vietnam. Since 1973, 883 Americans have been accounted for, including 627 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 2007, the United States exported $1.9 billion of goods to Vietnam and imported $10.6 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 engagement, nonproliferation, and law enforcement, is also expanding steadily. Prime Minister Dung announced during his June 2008 visit to the U.S. that Vietnam plans to take part in peacekeeper training under the U.S.-funded, multinational Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). In June 2008, Vietnam hosted a port call to Nha Trang by the hospital ship USNS Mercy, providing medical and dental treatment to over 11,000 Vietnamese patients. This followed Vietnam's hosting of visits by five U.S. Navy vessels in 2007, including a port call to Danang by the humanitarian supply ship USS Peleliu, whose personnel carried out numerous medical and engineering projects. Also in June 2008, Vietnamese observers took part for the second successive year in the multinational naval exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), organized by the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Principal U.S. Embassy Official
Ambassador--Michael W. Michalak

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
Consul General--Ken J. Fairfax

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).

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings. Country Specific Information exists for all countries and includes information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

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, Travel Alerts, 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: 1-877-4-USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778); TDD/TTY: 1-888-874-7793. Passport information is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. You may speak with a representative Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 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 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) and a web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. The CDC publication "Health Information for International Travel" can be found at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentYellowBook.aspx.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

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.

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