Vietnam is not considered a democracy. It is has been run by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CVP), without competitive elections for decades. Freedom of expression and other civil liberites are tightly restricted. The authorities have also increasingly cracked down on citizens’ free use of social media and the internet. The President is elected by the National Assembly, somewhat akin to the legislative body. Elections to the assembly are controlled by the CPV, leaving no room for opposition. President and Party General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng has personalized and consolidated power more than any recent Vietnamese leader. Vietnam specialists have expressed concern that Trọng could create a personalized autocracy, like China’s Xi Jinping.
Vietnam is also one of the only countries in the world where the majority of its citizens hold a favorable view of both President Donald Trump and the United States. This is generally consistent of citizens from single party dominated countries and demonstrates to us the divergences between people and government.
The American-Vietnam War
While today many people of Vietnam hold a favorable view of the United States, the country was highly divided during the Cold War era, leading the United States to intervene with the agenda of stopping the influence of communism. The U.S. and several other international allies took the side of South Vietnam, whereas North Vietnam fought with the aid of the Viet Cong and international allies such as the Khemer Rouge. The war lasted for 19 years and direct U.S. involvement ended in 1973. In July 1976, North and South Vietnam unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Polling in the United States in 1978 found that roughly 72% of Americans believed the war was fundamentally wrong. However, with each passing decade this number declined significantly, suggesting the fading of collective memory of the injustices of the war.
The human cost is difficult to calculate as the war itself stretched on for nearly two decades. The war continues to this day to kill people that have lived with the effects of chemical weapons and those hurt or killed by abandoned landmines. Vietnam estimates 2 millions civilians and roughly 1 million Vietnamese fighters died during the war. The U.S. accounts for just under 60,000 American military deaths. While the war was destructive to Vietnam and its reputation is prolific in most U.S. history courses and pop culture, the death total (including civilian deaths) hardly scratches the surface of deadliest human wars.
Despite the similarities with the Communist Party of China, relations between Vietnam and China have been largely hostile. Though China assisted North Vietnam during the American-Vietnam War, relations strained after reunification and the two countries fought a long war over border disputes. Territorial disagreement has made headlines as of late regarding the South China Sea. As a major shipping lane, both countries are fighting over control of the area. In addition, there is believed to be a wealth of oil and natural gas below the ocean seafloor. There are numerous small uninhabited islands that the countries claim as their own. These islands and the sea itself are known by different names according to Vietnam, China, Philippines, and Indonesia.
In 1995 Vietnam joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), signaling its newfound commitment for regional integration. This intergovernmental body was originally formed in an effort to stop communism, but has expanded into an international effort to promote diplomacy and cohesion among its 10 members.