The present Socialist Republic of Vietnam was formed in July 1976 from the unification of the former North and South Vietnam. The country, with a total area of 331.690 sq km, borders Gulf of Thailand in the SW, South China Sea in the E and Gulf of Tonkin in the NE. Vietnam has a land border with China to the N and Gambodia in the SW. The capital is Hanoi situated in the N part of the country.
Vietnam claims a 12 mile breadth of territorial sea; a contiguous zone of 24 miles; and an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles. Vietnam employs a straight baseline system along the coast.
French forces re-entered Vietnam after World War II to declare it a free state within the French Union. However the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, under Ho Chi Minh, Had been formed a year earlier and continued to press for full independence. Full scale hostilities followed the break down of talks with France and continued until the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. The cease-fire terms provided for provisional partition of Vietnam into two military zones with the French S of 17o 00΄,00N in South Vietnam and the Democratic Republic N of 17o 00΄,00Ν in North Vietnam.
After 1959, forces from North Vietnam actively assisted insurgent movements in South Vietnam and this escalated into Vietnamese War, with US participating on the side of the anti-communist regime in Ho Chi Minh City (ex Saigon) . A peace agreement was signed in January 1973 providing for a cease-fire in the S and the withdrawal of US forces. The cease-fire was not observed and following the withdrawal of US forces, the forces of the South Vietnamese government were routed and a Provisional Revolutionary Government was in control of South Vietnam by May 1975.
The most recent state constitution approved in April 1992 reaffirmed the central role of the Communist Party, which remains the ultimate source of power. A 450 member National Assembly is elected for a 5 year term. The country is divided into 60 provinces grouped into 7 regions.
In 2005 the population was estimated to be 84 millions.
The official language is Vietnamese. Some French, English, Chinese and Khmer are also spoken.
Much of the country is mountainous, with the flat delta of Mekong River in the S and that of Song Ka (Red River) surrounding Hanoi in the N.
Building materials, chemicals, machinery and foodstuffs are among the main products. Although still high, agriculture has been declining as a share of economic output and production in other sectors has risen.
Vietnam is one of the leading exporters of rice, while other products include coal, fish products, livestock and coffee. Principal imports include oil, steel and fertilizers.
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