The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. It became part of French Indochina in 1887. Vietnam declared independence after World War II, but France continued to rule until its 1954 defeat by communist forces under Ho Chi MINH. Under the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was divided into the communist North and anti-communist South. US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the government, but US armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran the South reuniting the country under communist rule. Despite the return of peace, for over a decade the country experienced little economic growth because of conservative leadership policies, the persecution and mass exodus of individuals - many of them successful South Vietnamese merchants - and growing international isolation. However, since the enactment of Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnamese authorities have committed to increased economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries. The communist leaders maintain tight control on political expression but have demonstrated some modest steps toward better protection of human rights. The country continues to experience small-scale protests, the vast majority connected to either land-use issues, calls for increased political space, or the lack of equitable mechanisms for resolving disputes. The small-scale protests in the urban areas are often organized by human rights activists, but many occur in rural areas and involve various ethnic minorities such as the Montagnards of the Central Highlands, Hmong in the Northwest Highlands, and the Khmer Krom in the southern delta region.
Vietnam is a densely populated developing country that has been transitioning from the rigidities of a centrally planned, highly agrarian economy since 1986 to a more industrial and market based economy, raising incomes substantially. In 2016, Vietnam missed its yearly growth target of 6.7% due to environmental issues – drought and salinization - impacting the agricultural sector and low oil prices affecting the extractive sector. However, annual GDP growth was 6.2%, reflecting strengthening domestic demand and strong manufacturing exports.Vietnam has a young population, stable political system, commitment to sustainable growth, relatively low inflation, stable currency, strong FDI inflows, and strong manufacturing sector. In addition, the country is committed to continuing its global economic integration. Vietnam joined the WTO in January 2007 and concluded several free trade agreements in 2015-16, including the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, the Korean Free Trade Agreement, and the Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement.However, to continue its trajectory of strong economic growth, the government acknowledges the need to spark a �second wave’ of reforms, including reforming state-owned-enterprises, reducing red tape, increasing business sector transparency, reducing the level of non-performing loans in the banking sector, and increasing financial sector transparency. Vietnam has demonstrated a commitment to sustainable growth over the last several years, but a recent slowdown in economic growth could test the government’s resolve.In 2016, Vietnam cancelled its civilian nuclear energy development program, citing public concerns about safety and the high cost of the program, and is facing growing pressure on energy infrastructure. Overall, the country’s infrastructure fails to meet the needs of an expanding middle class. As the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) chair, Vietnam will lead the dialogue on key APEC priorities such as inclusive growth, innovation, food security and climate change.