Vietnam, administratively the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is the most eastern country on the Indo-China Peninsula located in South East Asia. With a population of approximately 90.5 million people in 2014, it is ranked 14th most populated nation in the world and 8th most populated Asian country. It is bordered by China in the north, Laos in the north-west, Cambodia in the south-west, and Malaysia in the south-east over the South China Sea. The capital is Hanoi since the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1975.
Vietnam has been part of Imperial China for over a millennium, from 111 BC to 939 AD. The independent state was established in 939 following a Vietnamese triumph in the Battle of the River Bạch Đằng Successive Vietnamese Royal Dynasties prospered as both geographically and politically the nation spread across South East Asia until the Indo-China peninsula became colonized by the French in the 19th century. After a Japanese occupation in the 1940s, the Vietnamese fought against French rule in the First Indochina War and finally expelled the French in 1954, after which Vietnam was politically divided into two rival states, the North and the North of South Vietnam. The conflict between the two sides escalated into the so-called Vietnam War. War ended with a victory for North Vietnam in 1975.
Vietnam was later united under a communist government but remained impoverished and politically isolated. In 1986, the government introduced a series of economic and political reforms that set out Vietnam’s path towards integration into the world economy. It established diplomatic relations with all the nations until 2000. Since 2000, Vietnam’s economic growth has been among the highest in the world and in 2011 it had the highest index of global growth generators among eleven major economies. Due to its successful economic reforms, it joined the World Trade Organisation in 2007. It is also a historic member of the International Organisation of the Francophonie. Vietnam remains one of the last four one-party socialist states in the world to officially join communism.
Tourism in Vietnam
Since the 1990s, Vietnam has developed into an important tourist destination, supported by significant public and private investment, especially in the coastal regions. In 2009 alone, around 3.77 million international tourists visited Vietnam.
Some of Vietnam’s most visited destinations include the former imperial capital Hué, the UNESCO World Heritage sites Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, Hội An and Mỹ Sơn, as well as coastal regions such as Nha Trang, including the caves of Hạ Long Bay and the Marble Mountains. Numerous tourist projects are under construction, such as the tourist complex Bình Dương, which has the largest artificial sea in South East Asia.
On February 14, 2011, Joe Jackson, the father of American pop star Michael Jackson, attended the laying of the foundation stone for the largest entertainment complex in Southeast Asia, a five-star hotel and amusement park called Happyland. The $2 billion development, which is expected to accommodate more than 14 million visitors annually, is situated in the southern part of Long An province, not far from Ho Chi Minh City.
Geography of Vietnam
Vietnam is situated in on the Eastern Indo-China between latitude 8° and 24°N and longitude 102° and 110°E. It covers a total area of about 331,210 km2 (127,881 square miles) and is thus almost as large as Germany. The country’s cumulative land border has a length of 4,639 km (2,883 mi) and the length of its coastline is 3,444 km (2,140 mi). In its narrowest part of the central Quảng province of Bình, the land is only 50 km wide, while in the north it stretches to about 600 km. The country in Vietnam is predominantly hilly and densely forested, with the flat land not exceeding 20%. Mountains make up 40% of the country’s land area, and tropical forests cover about 42%.
The northern part of the country consists mainly of highlands and the delta of the Red River. Phan Xi Păng, located in Lào Cai Province, is the highest mountain in Vietnam with an altitude of 3,143 m. Southern Vietnam is divided into the coastal lowlands, the Annamite Mountains and extensive forests. It is composed of five relatively flat plateaus with basalt ground and represents 16% of the arable land and 22% of the country’s total forest area. The ground in large parts of South Vietnam is relatively poor in nutrients.
The Red River Delta, which is a flat region of approximately triangular shape covering 15,000 km2 (5,792 square miles), is smaller but more developed and densely populated than the Mekong Delta. It was once a catchment area of the Gulf of Tonkin and has been filled up by river-like alluvial deposits over thousands of years. The delta, which covers approximately 40,000 km2 (15,444 square miles), is a lowland plain that at no point is more than 3 meters above sea level. It is traversed by a labyrinth of rivers and canals that carry so much sediment that the delta penetrates 60 to 80 meters into the sea every year.
Ecology and biodiversity
There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Hạ Long Bay and Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park – as well as 6 Biosphere Reserves, including Cần Giờ Mangrove forest, Cát Tiên, Cát Bà, Kiên Giang, the Red River Delta and the western Nghệ An.
Vietnam is located in the eco-zone of Indomalaya. According to the National Report on the Current State of the Environment 2005, Vietnam is one of twenty-five countries with a uniquely high level of biodiversity. It ranks 16th in the world in biodiversity and is home to about 16% of all species in the world. In the country 15 986 plant species have been identified, 10% of which are endemic, while the Vietnamese fauna includes 307 species of nematodes, 200 oligochaeta, 145 acarina, 113 springtails, as well as 7 750 insects, 260 species of reptiles, 120 species of amphibians, approximately 840 birds and 310 types of mammals, while 100 birds and 78 mammals have been identified as endemic.
In addition, Vietnam is a host to 1,438 species of freshwater microalgae, which represent 9.6% of all microalgae varieties, 794 aquatic invertebrates as well as 2,458 types of marine fish. In recent years, 13 genera, 222 species and 30 flora taxa have been re-described in Vietnam. Six new mammal species, including the saola, the giant muntjak and the Tonkin Spotted Monkey, as well as a new bird species, the endangered Edwards pheasant, have also been discovered. In the late 1980s, a small population of the Java rhino was found in the Cát Tiên National Park. Unfortunately, it was reported that the last individual of this species in Vietnam had been killed in 2010.
In terms of agricultural genetic diversity, Vietnam is one of the twelve original breeding centers in the world. The Vietnam National Cultivar Gene Bank holds 12,300 varieties of 115 species. In 2004 alone, the Vietnamese government spent $49.07 million on biodiversity conservation and established 126 protected areas, including 28 national parks.
Demographics of Vietnam
In 2014, Vietnam’s population was about 90.7 million people. Since the 1979 census, which put the total population of reunified Vietnam at 52.7 million, the population had grown significantly. For 2012, the population of the country was estimated at about 90.3 million people. Currently, Vietnam’s total fertility rate is 1.8 (births per woman), largely due to the government’s family planning policy, the two-child policy.
According to the 2009 census, the dominant ethnic group, the Viets or Kinh, accounted for almost 73.6 million people, or 85.8% of the population. The population of the Kinh is predominantly located in the alluvial deltas and coastal plains of the country. Being a largely homogeneous ethnic and social community, the Kinh have considerable political and economic influence at the country. However, the country is also home for 54 different ethnic minority groups, which includes the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Thai and Nùng. Many ethnic minorities – such as the Muong, who are closely related to the Kinh – live in the highlands, which account for two-thirds of Vietnamese territory. Before the Vietnam War, the population of the central highlands consisted almost exclusively of Degar (including more than 40 tribal groups); however, the South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm has adopted a program to resettle the Kinh in indigenous areas. The Hoa ( ethnically Chinese) as well as the Khmer Krom are predominantly lowland inhabitants. When Chinese-Vietnamese relations deteriorated in 1978 and 1979, some 450,000 Hoa left Vietnam.
Religion in Vietnam
According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, in 2010 about 45.3% of Vietnamese belong to indigenous religions, 16.4% to Buddhism, 8.2% to Christianity, 0.4% to other faiths, and 29.6% of the population is non-religious.
According to the report of the Federal Statistical Office of Vietnam of 1 April 2009, 6.8 million (about 7.9% of the total population) are Buddhist, 5.7 million (6.6%) of the population are Catholic, 1.4 million (1.7%) of the population are followers of Hòa Hảo, 0.8 million (0.9%) practice Caodaism and 0.7 million (0.9%) of the population are Protestant. A total of 15,651,467 Vietnamese (18.2%) are formally registered in a religion. According to the 2009 census, although more than 10 million people have found refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddhism, the vast majority of Vietnamese practice some form of ancestor worship. According to a 2007 report, 81% of Vietnamese do not believe in God.
About 8% of the population are Christians, with a total of about six million Roman Catholics and less than one million Protestants. Christianity was first introduced to Vietnam in the 16th and 17th centuries by Portuguese and Dutch merchants and was further spread by French missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries and, to a lesser extent during the Vietnam War, by American Protestant missionaries, especially among the Montagnards in southern Vietnam.
The largest Protestant churches are the Lutheran Church of Vietnam and the Lutheran Church of the Montagnards. Two-thirds of Vietnamese Protestants reportedly belong to ethnic minorities. Although it is a small religious minority, Protestantism is said to be the fastest-growing religion in the country, expanding at a rate of 600 % over the last decade.
The Vietnamese government is generally regarded as suspicious of Roman Catholicism. This distrust has its origins in the 19th century, when some Catholics collaborated with the French colonists in conquering and ruling the country and helped French attempts to install Catholic emperors], as in the Khôi revolt of Lê Văn in 1833. In addition, the Catholic Church has become an enemy of the Vietnamese state because of its strongly anti-communist stance. Since the Vatican Church has been officially banned, only government-controlled Catholic organizations have been permitted. In recent years, however, the Vatican has tried to negotiate the establishment of diplomatic relations with Vietnam.
There are several other minority religions in Vietnam. A significant number of people are followers of Caodaism, an indigenous popular religion that has been structured along the lines of the Catholic Church. Sunni and Cham Bani Islam is mainly practiced by the ethnic Cham minority, although there are also a few ethnic Vietnamese followers in the southwest. There are about 70,000 Muslims in Vietnam, plus about 50,000 Hindus and a small number of Baha’is.
The Vietnamese government rejects claims that it does not allow freedom of religion. The state’s official position on religion is that all citizens are free in their beliefs and that all religions are equal before the law. Nevertheless, only religious organizations approved by the government are permitted; for example, the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, founded by South Vietnam, is prohibited in favor of a communist-recognized corporation.
Economy of Vietnam
Vietnam’s nominal GDP has reached $138 billion in 2012, and its nominal GDP per capita is $1,527. Goldman Sachs in December 2005 estimated that the Vietnamese economy will become the 21st largest in the world by 2025 with a projected nominal GDP of $436 billion and with a nominal GDP per capita of $4,357. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 2008 forecast, Vietnam could be the world’s fastest-growing emerging market by 2025, with a potential growth rate of almost 10% per year in real dollars. In 2012, HSBC predicted that Vietnam’s total GDP by 2050 would exceed that of Norway, Singapore, and Portugal.
For much of its history, Vietnam was a predominantly agricultural civilization based on the cultivation of wet rice. Vietnam also has a bauxite mining industry, an important material for aluminum production. The Vietnamese economy is mainly shaped by the Communist Party of Vietnam in five-year plans drawn up at plenary meetings of the Central Committee and national congresses.
The collectivization of farms, factories, and economic capital is part of this central planning, with millions of people working in government programs. The Vietnamese economy has suffered from inefficient and corrupt government programs, poor quality and underproduction, and restrictions on economic activity. It has also suffered from the post-war trade embargo imposed by the United States and most European countries. These problems were exacerbated by the erosion of the Soviet bloc, which included Vietnam’s main trading partners, in the late 1980s.
In 1986, the Sixth National Congress of the Communist Party introduced socialist-oriented market economy reforms as part of its reform program Đổi Mới. Private property was encouraged in industry, trade, and agriculture. As a result of these reforms, Vietnam achieved annual GDP growth of about 8% between 1990 and 1997, and the economy continued to grow at an annual rate of about 7% from 2000 to 2005, making Vietnam one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Even in the face of the global recession at the end of the 2000s, growth remained strong and held steady at 6.8% in 2010, but Vietnam’s annual inflation rate reached 11.8% in December 2010 according to a World Health Organisation estimate. The Vietnamese currency, the dong, has been devalued on three occasions in the year 2010 alone.
Manufacturing, information technology, and high-tech industries now represent a large and rapidly growing part of the national economy. Although Vietnam is relatively new to the oil industry, it is currently the third-largest oil producer in Southeast Asia with a total production of 318,000 barrels per day (50,600 m3/day) in 2011. In 2010, Vietnam was the eighth largest crude oil producer in the Asia-Pacific region. Like its Chinese neighbors, Vietnam continues to use centrally planned five-year economic plans.
Deep poverty, defined as the percentage of the population living on less than one dollar a day, has decreased significantly in Vietnam, and the relative poverty rate is now lower than in China, India, and the Philippines. This decline in the poverty rate can be attributed to equitable economic policies aimed at improving living standards and preventing increasing inequality; these policies included egalitarian land distribution, investment in the poorest remote areas, and subsidizing education and health care in the initial phase of the program Đổi Mới. According to the IMF, Vietnam’s unemployment rate was 4.46% in 2012.
Science and technology
Vietnamese scholars developed many academic fields during the dynastic era, including the social sciences and humanities. Vietnam has a thousand-year-old legacy of analytical stories, such as the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư de Ngô Sĩ Liên. Monks of Vietnam under the guidance of the abdicated Emperor Trần Nhân Tông established the Zen branch of Trúc Lâm during the 13th century. In Vietnam, arithmetic and geometry have been taught extensively from the 15th century onwards, using the educational book Đại thành toán pháp from Lương Thế Vinh as a basis. Lương Thế Vinh introduced the term zero in Vietnam, while Mạc Hiển Tích used the term số ẩn (in: “unknown/secreted/hidden number”) to refer to negative numbers. Vietnamese academics have also written a number of encyclopedias, including Le Quý’s Vân Đôn đài loại ngữ.
Recently, Vietnamese academics have made many important contributions in various fields of study, especially mathematics. Hoàng Tụy was a pioneer in 20th century of applied mathematics in the sphere of global optimizations, and Ngô Bảo Châu has been awarded in 2010 with the Fields Medal because of his proof of the fundamental lemma of the theory of automorphic models. Vietnam is currently working on a domestic space program and plans to build the $600 million Vietnamese space center by 2018. The country is also making considerable progress in developing robots like the humanoid model TOPIO. In 2010, the Vietnamese government’s total expenditure on science and technology amounted to about 0.45% of GDP.