Justin Corfield. The History of Vietnam. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.
The gradual collapse of the Soviet Bloc between 1989 and 1991 led to a major rethinking among the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam. For them, the policy of Doi Moi had led to increasing prosperity. Furthermore, the withdrawal of their troops from Cambodia had lessened the international tensions in the region. The major aim of the Vietnamese was to try to engineer a peace settlement in Cambodia that would allow normalization of relations with the world community.
In July 1988, the first of the Jakarta Informal Meetings was held in the Indonesian capital. The Vietnamese met with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Cambodian factions to try to work out a power sharing system that could be arranged ahead of internationally supervised elections in Cambodia. On September 30, 1988, Truong Ching, longtime Vietnamese Communist ideologue, died; and by December of that year, border contact between Vietnamese and Chinese traders was officially resumed. In January 1989, Dinh Nho Liem, the Vietnamese deputy foreign minister, visited China, the highest-level official contact between the Vietnamese and Chinese governments. He was to return to Beijing in May, just before the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev and the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. This set the scene for the second Jakarta Informal Meeting in February, and two months later Vietnam announced that it would unilaterally withdraw all its forces from Cambodia by September. In late September, and after official celebrations, the Vietnamese soldiers were feted by their Cambodian supporters as they left. Even though some Cambodian nationalists claimed that several Vietnamese military units had remained in the country, few Western commentators believed that they had not been withdrawn. A year later, at a secret meeting held in Chengdu, China, the premiers and Communist Party general secretaries of the SRV and China agreed to normalize ties between the two countries.
Coinciding with Vietnam’s attempts to improve its foreign relations, at home the government continued to crack down on dissent. In February 1989, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh claimed that the local press was being too critical of the government, and, on December 28, the National Assembly passed a much tougher series of press laws. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in November and the subsequent collapse of the East German government, and the overthrow and then shooting of Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania on December 25, 1989, in March 1990, Tran Xuan Bach, a politburo member, claimed that if Vietnam did not allow a greater level of freedom of the press, the Vietnamese government might also be overthrown. Tran Xuan Bach was immediately removed from the government. Three months later the Soviet Union announced that it was reducing its economic aid to Vietnam, although it was to maintain soldiers at Cam Ranh Bay until October 2001. By December 1990, however, the CPV had realized that communism was losing its appeal around the world, and it drew up a draft plan for economic reform in the country, with the hope of improving economic growth rates while retaining the power of the Communist Party.
The Period of Reform
In June 1991, at the Seventh Congress of the CPV, Nguyen Van Linh retired, and Do Muoi was appointed as the new general secretary of the Party. Vo Van Kiet became the new premier and took office on August 8. The appointment of Vo Van Kiet showed that the CPV remained cautious, choosing yet another longtime activist who had joined the Communists in the early 1940s. From a relatively prosperous family from Cantho, South Vietnam, Vo Van Kiet had been active in the communist movement in the south, running the Saigon Municipal Party Committee in the early 1970s and then serving as prime minister for three months in 1988. His first triumph was on October 23, when Vietnam was a signatory to the Paris Peace Agreement, which ended the civil war in Cambodia and transferred Cambodia to the United Nations. The next month relations with China were finally normalized; at the same time the first Export Processing Zone was established at Tan Thuan Dong, near Ho Chi Minh City. By the time that the Soviet Union collapsed in December, Do Muoi, the general secretary of the CPV, was able to claim that Vietnam was following the “correct course,” in mixing capitalist economic thinking with communist state control. By this time tourism in Vietnam was starting to increase; the first Lonely Planet guide book to the country was published in 1991, the Vietnamese government had already begin to mint large numbers of silver commemorative coins in Havana for sale as tourist mementoes.
The reform process in Vietnam continued, with a new constitution promulgated in April 1992. It eliminated the council of state and changed the council of ministers into a cabinet position. Symbolically, it also reduced the importance of Marxism-Leninism as part of the state ideology. By June 1992, the government had legislated for the sale of state-owned enterprises to encourage the “equitization process.” Without economic support from the Soviet Union, Vietnam started to gradually normalize its diplomatic relations with the United States. This was a difficult undertaking for a variety of reasons. There was still anger over the Vietnam War, and the “MIA” lobby in the United States urged their government to pressure the Vietnamese to help with the fullest possible accounting for all U.S. service personnel who were still listed as “Missing in Action” in Vietnam. Also, Vietnamese exiles in the United States were urging the U.S. government to keep up the pressure on the communists.
Although there had been a healing process of sorts in the United States, it was not until November 1982 that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Lin, an Ohio-born architect of Chinese ancestry, was erected in Washington, D.C. Consisting of two walls in a “V” shape, with one wall pointing to the Washington Monument, and the other toward the Lincoln Memorial, it was made from granite imported from India, with the cutting and fabrication done at Barre, Vermont. Dedicated in Washington, D.C., the wall contained the names of all the Americans who died during the war. They are listed on the day they died, with, initially, 58,159 names, although it now has 58,256 names, including those of eight women. The last 18 listed were the soldiers killed in the rescue of the crew of the Mayaguez from Cambodia on May 15, 1975.
By this time, interest in the war had increased and many films were set during this period. The most well known were The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), First Blood (1982), Platoon (1986), Hamburger Hill and Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). Vietnam also formed a major part of the story in Kent State (1981),The Killing Fields (1984), and JFK (1991). By 2007, it was calculated that there were 352 U.S. feature films either directly about, or referring to, the Vietnam War.
Ronald Reagan, the U.S. president from 1981-1989, had declared that the Vietnam War was “in truth a noble cause,” and his successor, George H. W. Bush was also a keen supporter of veterans’ groups. In the 1992 U.S. presidential election, the issue of the Vietnam War resurfaced. The Democratic Party candidate, Bill Clinton, had been a student during the Vietnam War and had opposed it. Rumors spread that while in England on his Rhodes Scholarship, he had been worried about being drafted and contemplated taking out British citizenship. He denied this allegation and a thorough search of British government archives failed to reveal any application having been lodged. George Bush’s World War 11 record was not in dispute, nor was that of Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, Al Gore, who had served in the 20th Engineer Brigade in Vietnam, despite his personal opposition to the war. By contrast, Bush’s vice president, and his vice presidential running mate, Dan Quayle, had avoided serving in Vietnam by joining the Indiana National Guard.
On June 25, 1992, the overseas Vietnamese community cheered the astronaut Eugene Huu-Chau “Gene” Trinh, an American of Vietnamese ancestry who became the second Vietnamese to go into space. Born in 1950 in Saigon, he spent his childhood in Paris, moving with his family to the United States in 1968, and later rising to the position of director of the physical sciences research division at NASA. He was aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle working as a Payload Specialist on the STS-50/United States Microgravity Lab-1. Altogether he spent nearly 14 days in space.
The election of Bill Clinton in November 1992 was to dramatically change relations between Vietnam and the United States. In July 1993, the United States ended its veto on a Vietnamese government plan to pay its arrears to the International Monetary Fund and join the world economic system. In February 1994, the United States finally lifted its economic embargo on the country, with full diplomatic relations established in July 1995, although no ambassadors were exchanged for another two years. Immediately thereafter, Vietnam was able to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the regional group that had led the opposition to Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia throughout the 1980s. Vietnam also signed a treaty of cooperation with the European Union.
On March 6, 1998, the U.S. Army formally recognized helicopter pilot Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, his former gunner Lawrence Colburn, and the crew chief Glenn U. Andreotta (who had been killed in April 1968), awarding all three the Soldier’s Medal for Gallantry for their actions at My Lai in March 1968 when then had protected escaping Vietnamese villagers. The role of the three was also recognized by the Vietnamese government.
The Defeat of the Conservatives
Conservatives in the CPV were worried that the moves to reform had gone too fast and too far. On September 23, 1992, Le Duc Anh had become president of the country. Originally from Hue, he had been a member of the Communist Party since 1938 and had helped plan the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978, commanding the Vietnamese soldiers there until 1985. With a strong military background—he was subsequently minister of defense—some conservatives hoped that they might be able to temper the level of reform and ensure the continued role of the Communist Party. In January 1993, the Fourth Plenum of the Seventh Central Committee of the CPV passed resolutions to try to retain the cultural identity of Vietnam, and, in June 1994, the National Assembly passed labor laws to protect workers as the economy slowly became more capitalist and newspaper accounts of managerial abuses started to be published. In October 1995, these laws were reinforced by a Civil Code enacted by the National Assembly to develop a greater respect for the country’s laws.
The conservatives in the Communist Party had been looking for somebody to champion their views, and Dao Duy Tung emerged in early 1996. Dao Duy Tung had long been the editor-in-chief of the monthly journal Tap Chi Cong San (Communist Review), the political and theoretical organ of the Communist Party, which had been founded in 1956 as Hoc Top, and by this time had a circulation of 55,000. Dao Duy Tung was also director of the Institute for Research on Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh Thought. He had also been in charge of the Propaganda and Training Department of the CPV, and from 1986 had also been in the politburo. The conservatives thought that he could replace Do Muoi who was possibly retiring, and as preparations began for the Eighth Party Congress, they rallied behind him. To serve as a manifesto for the conservatives, a political report was drawn up by Dao Duy Tung and was made public in April. Instead of endorsing it, or even seriously considering it, however, the Party Congress rejected the report and sacked Dao Duy Tung from the Politburo. The Congress also decided not to change the party leadership, the whole occasion being overshadowed by the death of Le Mai, a senior Vietnamese diplomat who had engineered normalization of relations with the United States. Dao Duy Tung also died soon after the end of the Congress.
Change finally came in the Vietnamese leadership when President Le Duc Anh suffered a stroke in November 1996. At that time, the CPV decided on a wholesale change in the leadership of the country the next year. By then Douglas “Pete” Peterson was appointed the first U.S. ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In June 1997, a plenum of the Central Committee of the CPV chose Tran Duc Luong as the country’s new president, and Phan Van Khai as the prime minister. These appointments represented a generational change, as both were born in the 1930s, and both relied heavily on the support of the government rather than the Communist Party or the army.
Tran Duc Luong was from Quang Ngai in central Vietnam and was 17 years old at the partition of Vietnam in 1954. He moved north rather than remain in South Vietnam. Four years later he actually joined the Vietnam Workers’ Party and then trained as a geologist. He then held several minor posts before becoming a member of the National Assembly and was one of the technocrats who rose to important positions during the reform period of Doi Moi. In 1992, he was appointed a deputy prime minister, and in 1996 was appointed to the politburo, and then later became president. The new prime minister, Phan Van Khai, was also a southerner. He was born in Saigon and, according to his official biography, was 13 when he became involved in revolutionary activities, also going to North Vietnam with the Partition of Vietnam in 1954. After studying economics in Moscow, he then worked in the State Planning Committee, and with the signing of the Paris Peace Accord of January 1973, he started working in the Communist-controlled part of South Vietnam as an economic researcher. From 1975–1989, he worked in local government in his native Ho Chi Minh City and then moved to Hanoi where he was also a deputy prime minister before becoming prime minister.
The process of change in the leadership continued with the appointment, in December 1997, of Le Kha Phieu as the new general secretary of the CPV. By contrast to the other two leaders, Le Kha Phieu was from the north. He was born in Thanh Hoa Province and then served in the military, eventually heading the army’s political department. A protégé of Le Duc Anh, he had been elected to the Central Committee of the CPV in 1991, and to the politburo three years later. The army had clearly helped in his appointment as general secretary, wanting a conservative to hold that position to counterbalance the influence of the reformists.
Rapprochement with China
After the fighting along the Vietnamese-Chinese border in February 1979, and the war in Cambodia, the Vietnamese government was eager to normalize its relationship with China. The dismissal of Nguyen Co Thach in 1991 had certainly helped in that goal, and in November 1991, Do Muoi and Vo Van Kiet made an official visit to China. From November 30 to December 4, 1992, the Chinese Premier Li Peng made an official goodwill visit to Vietnam. This visit was followed by the Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Vu Khoan and his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan signing an agreement in Hanoi to resolve outstanding border problems.
Much of this concerned the dispute between Vietnam and China over the Spratly Islands, and the hope, by both countries, that there was offshore oil near these islands. This dispute centered on about a hundred small islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Vietnam, China, and Taiwan (Republic of China) each claimed a right to these islands in their entirety; Malaysia and the Philippines each claimed a right to parts of these islands. Vietnam’s claims were historical, with the islands appearing in Vietnamese territorial charts from the seventeenth century, as well as the fact that the French, in governing Indochina, exercised sovereignty over them. Furthermore at the San Francisco Conference on July 7, 1951, the peace treaty with Japan included reference to two of the archipelagos as belonging to Vietnam. China’s claim was that ancient Chinese pottery was found on these islands and there had also been Chinese fishermen living there when the French mapped them during the 1930s. After a naval clash between the Vietnamese and Chinese navies in 1988, Chinese forces were able to take physical possession of some of the islands and China’s navy has controlled them ever since. With Vietnam risking the ire of the Chinese by continuing its claim, it quickly backed down, although some Vietnamese nationalists were opposed to giving in.
With better relations between the two countries, Le Duc Anh visited China in November 1993, marking the first visit by a Vietnamese head of state since Ho Chi Minh visited in 1959. It was even more significant given Le Duc Anh’s role in the occupation of Cambodia during the 1980s. Chinese President Jiang Zemin then visited Vietnam in November 1994. After these visits there was a large increase in bilateral ties between the two countries and an influx of Chinese tourists to Vietnam.
The Reform Program Continues
In spite of Le Kha Pheu’s appointment, however, reform continued with the opening ceremonies held in August 1997 for the first Vietnamese stock exchange, although it did not start trading until 2000. The steady devaluation of the currency, the dong, from February 1998 helped increase the number of tourists visiting Vietnam. The lifting of currency restrictions also led to many overseas Vietnamese sending money to relatives in Vietnam, with as much as $3 billion arriving in the country annually.
With increasing wealth for many people in the country, it was not long before the local press started to detail allegations of corruption, often by party officials. In August 1998, with Phan Van Khai under criticism for alleged corruption by senior communists in Thai Binh Province, the Vietnamese government announced that all government officials must declare their assets.
On October 1998, Phan Van Khai made an official visit to Beijing, the first since the Chinese invasion of the country in 1979. Two months later, Vietnam hosted its first Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit conference; and in February 1999, Le Kha Phieu visited China to try to improve relations between the two countries. On December 31, 1999, Vietnam signed a border agreement with China and conceded a significant amount of territory The details of the agreement were kept secret until August 2002, but leaks about them led people to accuse Le Kha Phieu of giving in to Chinese demands, leading eventually to Le Kha Phieu himself losing the general secretaryship of the CPV in 2001. The treaty delineating the maritime border between China and Vietnam was not signed until December 2000, with final ratification finally taking place in 2004.
Vietnam’s growing relationship with the United States led to the Vietnamese and U.S. governments agreeing, in July 1999, to the text of the Bilateral Trade Agreement, but two months later the Vietnamese decided not to sign. It was finally signed in July 2000 and became the law on December 10, 2001. In November 2000, Bill Clinton became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Vietnam. Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson had both visited the country as vice presidents. During this landmark visit, which lasted from November 16 until November 19, Clinton was feted by many people in Vietnam. Two years later, in November 2003, a U.S. frigate visited Vietnam, the first U.S. warship since 1975 to do so. On February 28, 2001, Vladimir Putin became the first Russian leader since the collapse of the Soviet Union to visit Vietnam.
When the Ninth Party Congress met in April 2001, Le Kha Phieu was replaced as general secretary by Nong Duc Manh, a member of the Tay ethnic minority from Bac Can province in the far north of Vietnam. He had trained as a forester in the Soviet Union and then held low-level Communist Party posts until 1986, when he was elected to the Party’s Central Committee. Six years later he was appointed chairman of the National Assembly. Nong Duc Manh was born in 1940, and his appointment was symbolic in two ways. Not only was he the first person from an ethnic minority to hold a senior position in the Vietnamese government, but he was also the first who had not begun his political career fighting the French. The Ninth Party Congress also abolished the position of senior advisers held by Do Muoi, Le Duc Anh, and Vo Van Kiet. In March 2002, Phan Van Khai symbolically stated that private enterprise had led to a “glorious victory” for the country in a speech that received widespread attention around the world, although it was slightly overshadowed by the Nam Cam scandal, which led to a highly publicized trial of corrupt public officials.
Religious Tensions and Continued Reform
Since 1975, the Communists in Vietnam had dealt carefully with religious groups. The Buddhists had ceased to be a major political force since their role in the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, and his overthrow obviously greatly reduced the influence of the Roman Catholics. Roman Catholicism had been important in the lives of many overseas Vietnamese, especially those in Australia. Diem’s sister had moved to Sydney and her son, Cardinal François Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, continued to lead Vietnam’s Roman Catholic exiles.
For the Vietnamese government, however, the greater openness and the encouragement of tourism were to lead to proselytizing by missionaries and a resurgence in the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Saigon. A dissident Vietnamese Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly was jailed in 1977–1978 and again from May 1983 until July 1992 for “opposing the Revolution and destroying the people’s unity.” In December 1983, Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, and on his release he continued to campaign against religious persecution, going so far as to send testimony to a U.S. Congressional committee that was investigating allegations of religious persecution in Vietnam. He was arrested soon afterward and, in October 2001, was sentenced to 15 years in jail. This led to protests in the United States, and, in 2004, he was released from prison and held under house arrest in Hue. Undaunted, on September 8, 2006, he took part in the establishment of the Vietnam Progressive Party.
In Vietnam, the government enacted stronger laws in January 2003 to try to prevent religious groups using meetings as a place to voice dissent against the government. In February 2005, Nguyen Van Ly and other dissidents were released from prison after receiving amnesties. A month earlier, Thich Nhat Hanh, a longtime peace activist, had been able to return to Vietnam for the first time since 1967. In that year he was nominated by the U.S. Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize for preaching against the Vietnam War from his monastery in the Dordogne, in southern France.
There were also increasing tensions with minority groups who felt left out of the economic prosperity in the country. The Montagnards of the central highlands and the Khmer Krom around Tay Ninh, near Ho Chi Minh City, both faced repression as they started to form political organizations to press for an increasing role in governing the areas where they formed a majority.
In spite of the religious and ethnic problems, the reform program continued, and from December 5–13, 2003, Vietnam hosted the South East Asian Games at the newly constructed My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi. In March 2004, the Vietnamese government introduced plans to raise the tax base of the country by levying a tax on income, but the next month, the International Monetary Fund terminated its main aid program to Vietnam after it was not allowed to audit the foreign exchange reserves of the state bank. In June, however, for the first time, the Vietnamese government allowed foreign-owned banks to operate in the country. In July Vietnam also agreed to the Berne Convention on copyright protection, which was largely aimed at preventing Vietnamese factories from pirating Western products for export and it even had an immediate effect on the local industry, which had been selling pirated goods to locals and tourists for years.
The major trade problem with the United States centered on the Vietnamese exports of shrimp, which U.S. producers claimed were wrecking the U.S. shrimp industry. With Chinese exporters paying between 55 and 112 percent tariffs, the Vietnamese were able to negotiate a tariff rate of less than 5 percent on most of their exports, although some companies did incur a tariff rate of 26 percent, still far lower than their Chinese competitors.
In March 2005, a Stock Exchange opened in Hanoi, the second in the country. This helped local firms raise share capital more easily and increased the embrace of capitalism by the north. In June, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai visited the United States, the first visit by a Communist Vietnamese premier. From November 18-19, 2006, Vietnam hosted the Annual Summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization at Hanoi and was also admitted to the World Trade Organization. By this time the economic reforms had begun to affect the whole economy; published data showed that the poverty rate in the country had fallen from 58 percent in 1993 to 29 percent in 2002. It was also shown, however, that Vietnam’s position in the Human Development Index had improved only slightly, from 120th in 1995 to 108th in 2005 (of 177 countries). There was also a large number of Vietnamese who managed to find work overseas with the emergence of overseas communities in the Middle East, Taiwan, and South Korea, as well as in Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam where Vietnamese found work as guest workers.
The Growth of Tourism
One of the major changes affecting the Vietnamese economy was not just annual increases of 20 percent in exports, but also the great wealth brought about by tourists visiting Vietnam in ever increasing numbers. This was evident by the number of flights into the country, the large number of new hotels and guest houses appearing throughout the country, and the proliferation of guide books available in the West.
Initially most of the tourists to Vietnam were visiting either Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or Hue. In Hanoi, the initial attractions included the old quarter of the city, parts still largely unchanged since the nineteenth century, and other more modern sites such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Gradually some more intrepid tourists started to visit more remote parts of northern Vietnam, with trips to Dien Bien Phu taking up to three days, owing to the poor state of the roads.
Hue’s attractions were largely the imperial palace, which was restored after having been badly damaged during the Tet Offensive of 1968. It was not long before tours started to include the tombs of the Nguyen Emperors along the Pearl River, and also Danang and Hoi An, where the Japanese bridge became a much-photographed attraction. Gradually as tourism increased in the late 1990s, day trips were offered to the demilitarized zone and Khe Sanh, as well as the massive Vietnamese Communist Cemetery at Truong Son, on the south bank of the Ben Hai River, and the Vinh Moc tunnels where locals just north of the demilitarized zone hid during U.S. shelling. It would certainly be incomplete to mention Hue without some reference to the success of the Lac Thanh Restaurant, run by a deaf couple and endorsed heavily by the Australian-produced Lonely Planet Guide. Providing some of the best meals in Vietnam, the restaurant fills up so quickly that a group of deaf people have taken over the premises next door, catering for people who have been unable to get a place at the other restaurant, calling theirs the Lac Thien Restaurant.
Ho Chi Minh City was the place most transformed by the tourists. Hotels started to appear in Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, and the Gia Long Palace, the site of the fighting in 1963, became the Revolutionary Museum, with plans being drawn up to enlarge it as a tourist attraction, possibly by opening up the tunnel through which Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother escaped. The tank that crashed through the gates of the presidential palace in 1975 was mounted at the entrance to what is now the Reunification Palace, one of the major tourist sites in the city, the U.S. Embassy having been flattened many years earlier. Indeed in the late 1980s, the main Saigon cemetery, the Mac Dinh Chi Cemetery, was also cleared and turned into a public park, with “the land which once belonged to the wealthy being returned to the people” as guides politely tell visitors.
One of the major tourist attractions remains the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, which was politely renamed the War Remnants Museum. The museum has countless exhibits showing many of the atrocities that took place in the war, along with a guillotine used by the French to execute criminals, as well as those convicted of political offenses. Many of the photographs are horrific, including those of deformed babies born in areas where defoliants such as Agent Orange were used. Critics point out obvious omissions such as photographs of people murdered in Hue in 1968, or even any mention of Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation in 1963, one of the most famous events in recent Vietnamese history. As tourism to Vietnam increased, tours from Saigon also started taking in the Cu Chi tunnels, the Cao Dai temples at Tay Ninh, and, away from the Vietnam War sites, boat trips down the Mekong Delta.
After the start of the War on Terror, the number of Western tourists visiting Indonesia declined markedly, with a large increase in tourism to Vietnam. There were 2.3 million tourists visiting the country in 2001, nearly a third of whom were from China; more than 200,000 come annually from three more countries: Japan, Taiwan, and the United States. The population of Vietnam is approximately 85 million, making it the 13th most populous country in the world. The average annual per capita income is now about U.S.$3,025, although 63 percent of the population still gain most of their income from agriculture. Although there has been a proliferation of Western ideas, and many newspapers are published in Vietnam, as well as easy availability of foreign papers, social problems, including drugs and prostitution, and environmental problems from pollution have started to tarnish Vietnam’s image.
On June 27, 2006, Nguyen Minh Triet, born in South Vietnam, was elected president of the country by the National Assembly, receiving 464 votes (94.12 percent). He had been a student in Saigon at the time of the overthrow of Diem in 1963. Triet assumed office immediately, and on the same day, Nguyen Tan Dung, from Ca Mau, the most southern province in Vietnam, became prime minister. As the first Communist leader in Vietnam to have been born after the August Revolution of 1945, he has been eager to promote Vietnam around the world and he became the first Communist Vietnamese leader to visit the Vatican and meet with the pope. In November 2006, President Nguyen Minh Triet and his wife Tran Thu Kim Chi entertained George W. Bush and Laura Bush when the U.S. President and his wife visited Hanoi, and Bush was involved in amicable talks with Nguyen Tan Dung. Vietnam remains one of the few countries in the world where the Communist Party has remained in charge of the government, with the current constitution, promulgated in 1992, stating that it remains the “leading force of state and society,” a change from the 1980 constitution where it was the “sole force.”