New Internationalist

Vietnam

Issue 134

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COUNTRY PROFILE

Vietnam

Map of Vietnam

Leader: Prime Minister Pham van Dong

Economy: GNP per capita US$175 (1980*) Mainly agricultural, reserves of coal. iron ore and bauxite.

Monetary unit: Dong

People: 56.2 million. 19% town dwellers Life expectancy: 63 years

Infant mortality: 97 per 1,000 live births

Daily calorie availability as percentage of requirement: 90%

Culture: About 5.5 million belong to minority groups, mainly in mountain areas; the rest are ethnic Vietnamese.

Language: Vietnamese (official)

Previous colonising power: France (Independence: North Vietnam 1954, South Vietnam 1975)

*Estimate by Asia and Pacific 1983

Sources: World View 1984, World Development Report 1983.

LAUGHING crowds saunter round the lake in the middle of Hanoi as firecrackers explode and fireworks light the sky. Homes are decked with peach blossom and sweet rice cakes are eaten. The Vietnamese celebrate Tet - Lunar New Year - in style.

It was during Tet in 1968 that the Vietnamese launched an offensive which was to be a turning point in the war to drive out the Americans. Hanoi in those days was bombed night after night. There were 1.5 million casualties among civilians alone in the war.

Vietnam is reunited and independent now. It took 30 years from Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence in 1945 to achieve a victory that inspires liberation movements throughout the Third World.

But the scars of war persist: the ponds in the rice fields are bomb craters, land has been laid waste by bombs and chemicals. Roads, railways and bridges still need rebuilding. And there are the many human victims - refugees, widows, the disabled, orphans.

The Americans’ attitude since the war ended has been vindictive. With relations with China also bad, Vietnam has been forced into increasing reliance on the Soviet Union and a strong alliance with neighbouring Laos and Kampuchea.

On Christmas Day in 1978, provoked by raids over the border, Vietnam invaded Kampuchea, overthrew Pol Pot and revealed to the world the chilling brutality’ of the Khmer Rouge regime. Vietnam still has troops in Kampuchea: it seems that most Kampucheans support their presence as preferable to the return of the hated Khmer Rouge.

The USA and several Western countries accused Vietnam of aggression and cut off trade and economic relations. Food aid from the EEC was stopped, and American opposition restricted aid from international bodies such as the World Bank and UNICEF, China went further, launching a brief but damaging invasion into northern Vietnam early in 1979.

Vietnam now’ has an army of more than one million, and much industry is geared to military production. Military expenditure is a drain on resources desperately needed for reconstruction.

Agricultural production in the late 1970s, hampered by cold weather, drought, typhoons and attempts to socialise too quickly, was poor. Recent reforms introducing incentives and encouraging private initiative are beginning to have results. Vietnam now produces all the cereals it needs but shortage of protein means that malnutrition still exists.

Jonathan Blundell


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Committed to equality, but North is poorer than South where a middle-class persists.
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Agriculture and industry severely damaged by war; enforced dependence on Soviet Union.
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‘Traditional roles and attitudes survive despite women’s contribution to the war.
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[image, unknown] Government by Communist Party; state ideology is socialism.
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87% primary school enrolment is90%, over 50% go to secondary school.
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Many still held in re-education camps; state control of media.

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63. Greatly improved in 1960 the expectancy was only 43 years.

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