Located in Southeast Asia, Vietnam stretches along the South China Sea from the Tropic of Cancer in the north, halfway to the Equator in the south. It is bordered by Cambodia and Laos to the west and China to the north.
Despite suffering and domination inflicted by foreign armies and regimes over the years, the Vietnamese are, perhaps surprisingly, welcoming of foreigners.
Politically, the Vietnamese constitution approved in 1992 affirms the Communist Party one-party system, delineates government reorganization and increases economic freedom. The most important powers, besides the Communist Party, are the executive agencies of the president, who functions as the head of state and nominal head of the military; and the Prime Minister, the head of the cabinet and ministries.
The constitution provides for a Secretary-general and a 19-member Politburo, and an approximately 150-member Central Committee. The Politburo determines government policy, with the Secretary-general overseeing direction and implementation. Though there is a policy to discourage overlapping party and state positions. But many members of the Central Committee, which meets twice a year, also hold high government positions.
The unicameral, 498-member National Assembly (Quoc Hoi) is the highest representative body and the only official government entity with legislative powers. Most of its members are Communist party members. In recent years, the National Assembly has visibly attempted to increase its independence and exercise its authority over legislation, raising the issues of corruption, waste, and environmental protection.
Every five years, a Party Congress meets behind closed doors to approve members of the Politburo, Central Committee nominees, and to give their approval to Five-Year-Plan policies.
Vietnam is seeking to find its place in the modern world. The government is eager to move towards a more market-oriented economy but still maintains control over several major sectors.
During the 1990s business visitors from the leading economic powers of Asia and the West helped transform Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City into two of the busiest and most expensive centers of activity in Southeast Asia. Vietnam's new market potential continues to attract investment, lured by the prospect of speedy expansion.
The policy of economic liberalization and recent integration into international markets, such as Vietnam's membership in the Asian Free Trade Area and the bilateral U.S.-Vietnam Trade agreement, makes the economic environment more business friendly. The govenment is also investing in upgrading the technology infrastructure and creating high tech zones to make Vietnam more competitive.
The advantages for investors have been repeatedly emphasized: a young, skilled, low-cost labor supply; a potentially demanding consumer market; an urgent need for investment to renovate and rebuild its infrastructure; and an outstanding location in the center of Asia.
Unemployment, which has been on the rise in recent years, is a major challenge for the government. Other inhibitors to economic growth are the disparity between rural and urban incomes, pervasive bureaucracy, official corruption, and a weak legal system.
The coexistence of different religious and value systems in Vietnam - Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and others - is an indicator of the open-mindedness and tolerance of this culture. Today's influx of international businesspeople is affecting many traditional customs especially in business circles, and is bringing some changes in social behavior. There is even more of a melting pot of different cultures and customs than before, and people may seem to pay less attention to the traditions of the past as they strive to compete and succeed in the modern business environment.