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Last updated : Nov 2009
Vietnam History
Vietnam History - TravelPuppy.com
For many years, Vietnam formed a portion of the French colony of Indochina, together with Laos and Cambodia. With Vichy French pact in 1941, the Japanese invaded the country during their World War II push through South East Asia. The opposition to the Japanese was headed by the Indochinese Communist Party, organized by Ho Chi Minh in 1930, and its armed faction, the Viet Minh. After the Japanese were defeated in 1945, the Communists proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In 1946, France sent a great number of soldiers to re-gain power. After 8 years of brutal fighting, this long hard fight ended with the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu (1954).

The Geneva Agreement of the same year allowed for the impermanent division of the North and South to be reunited in 1956, according to general elections. The Western powers, well aware that the Communists would easily win any legitimate poll, schemed to preclude it from happening, while a Western-backed government under Ngo Dinh Diem was placed in the south and bolstered as much as possible. The Communists began a rebellion in the south to oust what they believed was a puppet regime. The Americans, who had replaced the French as the leading Western power in Vietnam, answered by sending large of military ‘advisers’. By 1962, they reached 12,000 and the stage was set for all-out war between the southern Communist guerrillas (known as the Viet Cong), the North Vietnam Army and their supporters in China and the Soviet Union on one side, and, the Americans and the ARVN (the South Vietnamese army) on the other side. In 1973, with no political will to continue the war, the Americans departed. Vietnam was reunited in 1975, with the triumph of the Communists and the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The Vietnamese military, the strongest in South-East Asia, has since battled with Chinese troops and launched a full-scale occupation and invasion of Cambodia to defeat the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

Vietnamese soldiers finally left Cambodia in September 1989. Freed of this burden, Vietnam could now concentrate on reconstructing its own wounded economy and introduced their own version of perestroika, known as doi moi. Nevertheless, the economy suffered from the cancellation of aid and subsidised goods from the former USSR and from Eastern Europe, including the ongoing US-organised embargo instituted after the US removal. In 1991, changes among the Communist Party's leadership indicated that the party would pursue a reformist economic programme while leaving senior military men in key positions.

An extremely important and necessary precursor to this was significant progress in political relations with Vietnam’s neighbours. A closer relationship, resulting in full membership, was formed with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The economic gain was clear in as much as 6 of the major 7 foreign investors in Vietnam were ASEAN members. In consequence, old territorial disagreements, a long with the Spratly and Paracel Islands and exploration rights in the Tu Chinh basin, have become manageable, although no formal agreements have been discussed. Relations with Vietnam’s 2 historic enemies, Cambodia and China have also experienced significant development. Relations with a more current enemy, the USA, eased after President Clinton ended the American trade embargo on Vietnam in February 1994. Complete diplomatic relations were restored the following year.

In the last 10 years these changes have resulted in rapid economic growth (see Economy). However, there has been no parallel improvement in the country’s political climate: the Communist Party has no plans to relax its hold on political power for the time being. In April 2001, the party chose a new general in Nong Duc Manh, who subsequently began to crackdown on dissident and ‘unauthorised’ literature. Nong is 1 of the triumvirate that has power in Vietnam, including Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and President Tran Duc Luong. The party is concerned by corrupt senior officials and the rising religious strong belief among the people. In the early 2004, an outbreak of a virulent form of avian flu threatened serious political and economic disaster for all of south-east Asia which include Vietnam; however, at the time of writing, it seems to have been successfully contained.