U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Vietnam, August 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Area: 329,560 sq. km. (127,243 sq. mi.); larger than Virginia, North
Carolina, and South Carolina combined.
Cities (1994): Capital--Hanoi (3.5 million); Other cities--Ho Chi
Minh City (formerly Saigon--5 million); Haiphong (1.5 million).
Terrain: Varies from mountainous to coastal delta.
Climate: Tropical monsoon.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Vietnamese (sing. and pl.).
Population (1994): 74 million.
Annual growth rate (1994): 2.4%.
Ethnic groups: Vietnamese (85%-90%), Chinese, Muong, Thai, Khmer,
Cham, mountain groups.
Religions: Buddhism, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Christian (predominantly Roman
Catholic, some Protestant), animism, Islam.
Languages: Vietnamese, English (increasingly favored as a second
language), some French, Chinese, Khmer, mountain area languages.
Health: Infant mortality rate--36/1000. Life expectancy--63 yrs.
male, 67 yrs. female.
Type: Communist people's republic.
Independence: Sept. 2, 1945.
Reunification: July 2, 1976.
New constitution: 1992.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state and chair of National
Defense and Security Council) and prime minister (heads cabinet of
ministries and commissions); "People's Committees" governing in local
jurisdictions. Legislative--National Assembly; locally, People's
Councils. Judicial--Supreme People's Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 50 provinces, 3 municipalities under
central government control, one special zone; urban quarters and
rural districts; urban precincts and rural communes.
Political party: Vietnamese Communist Party, formerly (1951-76)
Vietnam Worker's Party, itself the successor of the Indochinese
Communist Party founded in 1930.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (1994): $15.4 billion.
Real growth rate (1994): 8.8%.
Per capita income (1994): $220.
Natural resources: Phosphates, coal, manganese, bauxite, chromate,
offshore oil deposits, forests, rubber, marine products.
Agriculture (36% of GDP--38% of export earnings): Products--rice,
rubber, fruit, vegetables, corn, manioc, sugar cane, coffee, fish.
Industry (26% of GDP-- 34% of total exports): Food processing,
textiles, cement, chemical fertilizers, steel, electric power.
Trade (1994): Exports--$3.6 billion: crude oil, textiles, marine
products, rice (third-largest exporter in world) and coal. Major
partners--Japan (22%), Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and China.
Imports--$4.5 billion: petroleum, steel products, transport-related
equipment, chemicals, fertilizers, medicines, raw cotton. Major
partners--Singapore (28%), Japan, South Korea, France, and Taiwan.
Exports to U.S.--$50 million. Imports from U.S.--$172 million.
President Clinton announced the normalization of diplomatic relations
with Vietnam on July 11, 1995. This followed the establishment of
Liaison Offices in Hanoi and Washington, DC, in January 1995 and the
lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Vietnam in February 1994.
American companies have entered the Vietnamese market, and the U.S.
is now the eighth-largest foreign investor in Vietnam, with more than
$530 million committed in 34 projects as of June 1995.
The U.S. maintains an active dialogue with Vietnam on issues
concerning Americans missing from the war in Vietnam. It has been
U.S. policy since the early 1980s that normalization of relations
with Vietnam be based on withdrawal of the Vietnamese military from
Cambodia as part of a comprehensive political settlement--such a
settlement was signed in October 1992--and continued cooperation on
the prisoner of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) issue and other
In the 1980s, the United States and Vietnam developed and sustained
an active relationship on a range of humanitarian issues,
particularly on achieving the fullest accounting possible of
Americans missing and unaccounted for in Indochina. The two countries
agreed to handle these issues as a separate, humanitarian agenda,
without reference to political differences.
In June 1993, progress in repatriating the remains of American
servicemen increased, and a Vietnamese Government office was
established in Ho Chi Minh City to facilitate better accounting
operations in the south. A month later, the U.S. dropped its
objection to bilateral and multilateral lending to Vietnam. In 1994,
based on significant cooperation on the part of the Vietnamese on
POW/MIA issues, President Clinton removed the American trade embargo
on Vietnam. Since the lifting of the embargo, cooperation with
Vietnam on POW/MIA issues has increased. In January 1995, the two
countries opened liaison offices in their respective capitals, and on
July 11, President Clinton announced the establishment of diplomatic
relations with Vietnam.
Since January 1993, 167 sets of remains believed to be American have
been returned to the U.S., and 42 Americans have been identified.
Investigators have made a determination of the fate of 80 of 135
discrepancy cases--where individuals could have survived but did not
return alive and remain unaccounted for--leaving only 55 individuals
whose fates are unresolved. Achieving the fullest possible accounting
for those who did not return from the war remains the
administration's highest priority in its relations with Vietnam.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Desaix Anderson
The U.S. embassy in Hanoi is at 7 Lang Ha Road, and the mailing
address is USLO Hanoi, PSC 461, Box 400, FPO AP 96521-0002 (tel. 844-
431-500 through 507; fax 844-350-484).
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The most important political institution in Vietnam is the Communist
Party of Vietnam (formerly the Vietnam Worker's Party), headed by
General Secretary Do Muoi. Sweeping amendments to the country's 1981
constitution were approved in April 1992, introducing a major
restructuring of the government while reaffirming the role of the
Communist Party of Vietnam as the leading force of state and society.
The Communist Party
According to the constitution, the Communist Party must operate
within the framework of the laws of the country and is separated from
the day-to-day operation of the government. In reality, however,
government policy remains largely the prerogative of the communist
The Communist Party Central Committee membership is elected from the
large and unwieldy national Party Congress, which is supposed to
gather every five years and last met in 1991. The Central Committee
represents less than 10% of the national Party Congress and meets
about twice a year.
Government policy is set by the all-powerful party Politburo and
carried out by the Secretariat, the governmental organ which oversees
day-to-day policy implementation. Many major policy directives are
issued as Central Committee resolutions but are formulated by the
Politburo; many others emanate directly from the Politburo.
Overlapping party and state positions continue to be held even though
there has been some effort to discourage both that practice and
direct party interference in government affairs. All but six out of
17 party Politburo members held high positions in the government as
of 1994, and 92% of the deputies in the National Assembly are party
members. This is also the case at lower levels, where provincial,
district, and village party officials dominate the administrative
Although the rate of new membership in the Communist Party has
decreased since the 1980s, the party remains the dominant institution
in Vietnamese society.
The most important powers within the Vietnamese Government--as
opposed to the Communist Party--are the executive agencies: the
offices of the president and the prime minister (most of whose
members are also on the party's Central Committee).
In 1992, the collective Council of State--which had served as the
parliament's standing committee and whose chairman acted as
ceremonial head of state--was abolished. It was replaced by an
office of the president with authority over the armed forces and the
power to recommend the dismissal of government officials (subject to
the approval of the National Assembly). The revised constitution also
replaced the cumbersome Council of Ministers with a cabinet headed by
the prime minister.
The Vietnamese President, Le Duc Anh, functions as head of state but
also serves as commander of the armed forces and chairman of the
Council on National Defense and Security. According to the
constitution, these bodies, as well as the heads of ministries and
commissions, are elected by the National Assembly. Prime Minister Vo
Van Kiet heads a cabinet composed of three deputy prime ministers as
well as the directors of the country's 31 ministries and commissions.
Four members of the Prime Minister's cabinet are concurrently members
of the Politburo.
The National Assembly--which under the 1992 constitutional revisions
was granted an increase in its authority and independence--is
designated as the highest representative body of the people and the
only body with legislative powers. Its members are elected every five
years, and it meets twice yearly.
The constitutional amendments of 1992 strengthened the legislative
and oversight powers of the National Assembly, giving it more
authority over defense and security policy and financial matters. The
assembly's standing committee and permanent committees were granted
new powers as well. The constitution also provided for choice in
parliamentary election balloting, which, for the first time,
permitted non-party members to be elected in 1992.
Although the National Assembly theoretically exercises wide lawmaking
and appointive authority, in the past, it has simply given formal
approval to proposals from the executive organs.
The chairman of the National Assembly is Nong Duc Manh, the first
member of an ethnic minority to hold this post and the first to
simultaneously command a position in the Politburo.
Local legislative bodies, called People's Councils, are elected at
provincial, district, and village levels. The councils choose
administrative committees that handle routine business on the local
level and are ultimately responsible to the office of the prime
minister. Their function is more executive than legislative.
General Secretary of the Communist Party--Do Muoi
Prime Minister--Vo Van Kiet
President--Le Duc Anh
National Assembly Chairman--Nong Duc Manh
The embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is at 1233 20th St.
NW, Suite 501, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-861-0737; fax 202-861-
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid
travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for
all countries and include information on immigration practices,
currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime
and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S.
posts in the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at
(202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular
Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem
with standard settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on
obtaining passports and planning a safe trip aboard are available
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing
Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 783-3238.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A
hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories,
immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and
drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled
Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number
CDC-94-8280, price $7.00) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20420, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see
"Principal Officials" listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
register at the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials"
listing in this publication). This may help family members contact
you en route in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge
to anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications
software, and a telephone line.
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the
Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S.
foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background
Notes; Dispatch, the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy;
daily press briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service
posts; etc. DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the Internet:
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly
basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on
the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an
array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the
present. Priced at $80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include
four discs (MSDOS and Macintosh compatible) and are available from
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-
1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S.
Government Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For
general BBS information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(gopher.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202)
482-1986 for more information.
Background Notes Series -- Published by the United States Department
of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public
Communication -- Washington, DC -- Managing Editor: Peter A. Knecht
Vietnam -- Department of State Publication 8955 -- August 1995 --
Editor: Marilyn J. Bremner
This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without
permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402.
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