Vietnam After the War

The story of Vietnam after the war can be told from many different perspectives. This article focuses on the perspective of the southerners, who were made to feel that their lives before 1975 were a crime that needed to be punished.

Consolidating Political Control

Soon after the end of the war, the North Vietnamese government took several steps to consolidate its political control over the south:

  • Removing rivals: In 1976, the decision was made that the two Vietnams would be merged into a single state, called the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The North refused to share power with allied groups in the south, especially non-communists.
  • “Re-educating” people: Soldiers and higher-ranking officials in the South Vietnam government, as well as anyone else viewed with suspicion, had to undergo long “re-education” programs. Some of them spent several years in hard-labor camps.
  • Finding the “bad elements”: The government collected personal information to identify people it considered a threat. They had trouble finding jobs and their access to university education was restricted.
  • Monitoring and silencing alternative forms of thinking and belief: The government took control of the media, schools, and religious institutions, which it viewed as threats to socialism.

Building a Socialist Economy

The Vietnamese government introduced a socialist, centrally planned economy in the south to parallel the one in the north. The government cracked down on capitalism and confiscated private property from its owners. After reunification, the government worried that large cities would become sites of social unrest, so it encouraged people to return to their rural pre-war hometowns. Some were relocated against their will to New Economic Zones (NEZs). Many rural families were organized into agricultural collectives. These collectives were required to turn over any surplus to the government for redistribution elsewhere in the country.

These changes led to decreasing productivity. By the late 1970s, Vietnam was experiencing cases of near famine.

Resistance and Escape

By the early 1980s there was a noticeable “southern resistance” to collectivized agriculture. For example, they did not put their full effort into work for the collective.

Other Vietnamese decided to escape. Many left in in rickety boats that landed in neighboring countries where they requested asylum. By the end of 1977, approximately 62,000 Vietnamese “boat people” had fled.

Putting Post-War Vietnam in Context

For any country recovering from a civil war, stabilizing and rebuilding can be overwhelming. Vietnam’s progress was slowed by two additional challenges. The first was economic. The United States had imposed a trade embargo on Vietnam, and it pressured other international bodies to deny assistance to Vietnam.

The second challenge was geopolitical. Two weeks before Vietnam’s reunification, the government in neighboring Cambodia was overthrown by the Khmer Rouge, a murderous communist regime. Skirmishes between the countries broke out.

Doi Moi and the “New” New Vietnam

By the early 1980s, Vietnam’s government realized that communism would not lead to rapid modernization and growth of its economy. Following reformist policies being adopted in China and the Soviet Union, Vietnam’s communists launched market-oriented economic reforms. In 1986, Vietnam introduced a series of market reforms called doi moi (“renovation”). The government abandoned central planning, and the economy was opened up to market forces of supply and demand. It ended collectivization and allowed farmers to sell what they grew. Vietnam became one of the world’s largest rice exporters. New factories began producing items for export. By 2001, Vietnam’s economy was growing rapidly.

The reforms have also raised the status of some southerners, especially those with business skills. Yet, doi moi also led to growing social and economic inequality, corruption (including by members of the ruling Communist Party), and lack of reforms of the political system.

Source: Vietnam After the War
2023 © Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

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