State of Southeast Asia. The population stood at around 84 million in 2006. and just under three quarters reside in rural areas. The main cities are Ho Chi Minh (about 5,500,000 residents in 2006 in the urban agglomeration) and the capital Hanoi (2,075,000 residents), followed by Haiphong and Da Nang, both with a population of less than one million residents. The birth rate is around 14 ‰, mortality around 7 ‰. Starting in 1986,with the launch of reforms aimed at creating a socialist-oriented market economy, Vietnam has experienced a phase of rapid social and economic progress. In just over a decade, the population below the poverty line has drastically reduced (22 % in 2005); unemployment in urban areas is around just over 5 %. The problems relating to respect for human rights and political freedoms still remain not fully resolved.
The country has opened up to international trade and has been a member of the WTO since November 2006, although it maintains a protection system for some sectors (means of transport, textiles and agri-food). Foreign investments are growing strongly and, in 2005, reached nearly 6 billion dollars. In the last five years, GDP has grown by more than 7 % per year; About 22 % of the primary sector, 40 % of industry and about 38 % of services contribute to its training. In addition, the weight of the sector of national private companies and those with foreign capital is growing.
The main agricultural productions include rice, coffee, pepper and cashews, while in the secondary sector the extractive activities (especially crude oil), the agri-food sector, the textile sector and the packaging sector stand out. The construction sector has also recently been characterized by strong dynamism. Finally, large-scale distribution, divided into numerous shopping centers, and tourism are expanding (almost 3.5 million foreign visitors in 2005).
Ruled since 1976, the year of the reunification of the country, by the Communist Party (single party that held the monopoly of political life), the Vietnam presented itself on the threshold of the new century, the 2000s, still characterized by profound contradictions and crossed by reformers that were unable to result in an expansion of civil liberties. The privatization of some industrial sectors, initiated by the government starting from the second half of the 1980s, had improved the economic conditions of the country as well as the standard of living of those who had been involved in the development process, especially the residents of large urban centers., but it had only marginally touched the backward and poor countryside. There was therefore a deepening of social and regional imbalances,
In 2001 discontent erupted in the provinces of the central highlands which were inhabited by an ethnic, Christian, agricultural minority known as Montagnard. The protest of the population – which invoked freedom of worship, local autonomy and respect for the traditional rights exercised on the land, compromised by the wild deforestation implemented to create extensive coffee plantations – was repressed with arms by the regime, which however failed to stop the agitation. In 2004 new anti-government demonstrations erupted in the region and were again quelled with the use of violence; Indiscriminate arrests and persecutions followed, which were also denounced by international human rights organizations.
The uncompromising line taken towards the Montagnards was countered, again in recent years, by the acceleration in the field of economic reforms implemented by the new party secretary Nong Duc Manh, appointed in April 2001. Expression of the reformist wing – critical of an overly centralized and authoritarian management of power – the new leader identified the fight against poverty and corruption and the gradual introduction of democratic reforms aimed at facilitating as a priority objective of government action. the country’s integration into the international community. New measures were thus launched for the liberalization of the internal market and some investigations were initiated aimed at investigating the correctness of the work of public officials and party members themselves, as a result of which even leading exponents of the nomenclature. The appropriations for the education and health in line with the efforts already made by the authorities for some time to improve the standard of living of the population. In the field of civil rights, however, no significant changes were recorded: the power of the regime remained unchallenged and, on the contrary, the control over possible forms of dissent was accentuated; in June of2004 a new law further restricted the freedom of worship. In the following years Nong Duc Manh continued his battle for the moralization of public life and in April 2006 he was reconfirmed as the party’s general secretary.
As far as foreign policy is concerned, the country tried to consolidate the regional integration process with the stipulation of new economic and trade agreements. In particular, relations with China improved and talks intensified to reach the definition of the still open issues (such as the delimitation of maritime borders and the dispute over the Spratly Archipelago). In November 2005, Beijing granted the country substantial funding for the construction of public works. Relations with Cambodia were more difficult, due to the problems relating to the repatriation of the Montagnards who had taken refuge there since 2001. An agreement was finally reached in January 2005 with the mediation of the United Nations. Relations with Russia remained close, strengthened by new bilateral agreements on both military and economic levels, and those with the United States also intensified, despite the continuing criticism of the regime for its failure to respect civil rights. In addition to the economic agreements, negotiations were entered into with Washington (Nov. 2003) on the issues of regional and global security, interpreted by some international observers as the US attempt to counterbalance Chinese expansion. In November 2004, commercial air routes between the two states were reopened (which had been interrupted since 1975) and in June 2005 Prime Minister Phan Van Khai was the first head of the Vietnamese government to be received in the White House since the end of the war. In May 2006 the two countries signed bilateral agreements of both a financial and commercial nature.