The characteristic feature of Vietnamís history is the countryís struggle against foreign occupation and intervention, for a good part of the last 2,000 years.
The invaders were mostly but not exclusively the Han Chinese, who ruled Vietnam over 1,000 years from 111 BC to 938 AD. In mid 19th century, the French began intervening in the countryís affairs on a large scale, and they seized Saigon in early 1859. By 1886, France had conquered the whole country which they governed as a colony and incorporated into French Indochina despite resistance from the Vietnamese.
Communist guerrillas under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh resisted French domination. Ho Chi Minhís declaration of Vietnamese independence after WWII sparked violent confrontations with the French, culminating in the French military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The Geneva Accords of 1954 temporarily divided Vietnam into 2 zones (the Communist north and the anti-Communist, US-supported south). Political and ideological opposition quickly turned to armed struggle, prompting the USA and other countries to commit combat troops in 1965. The Paris Peace Agreements, signed in 1973, provided an immediate cease-fire and signalled the withdrawal of US troops. Saigon eventually capitulated to the Communist forces on 30 April 1975. In July 1976, the nation was reunited, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established.
Important events since the reunification of the country include a border war with China in 1979 and Vietnamís invasion of Cambodia the year before. Vietnam finally withdrew its troops from Cambodia in 1989. The key feature of these events was that the countryís economy deteriorated and by the mid 1980ís had reached a dire position. The breakthrough came at the end of 1986 with the introduction of the doi moi or renovation policy.
Broadly, the aim was to move from a centrally-planned to a market economy whilst still retaining the socialist political structure. The introduction of the new foreign investment law in December 1987, allowing and encouraging foreign investment, was a major step from which all the current excitement in the international business community has stemmed. Parallels have inevitably been drawn with the developments in China during the 1980ís, and certainly Vietnam has drawn on Chinaís experience. Such has been the rapidity and strength of the progress that the near total withdrawal of Soviet aid (1991) and the collapse of the COMECON trading bloc, had remarkably little effect on Vietnamís trade.
There is now far greater openness towards foreign countries in general, and improved relations with other South-east Asian and Western nations. Vietnam became a full member of the Association of South-east Asian Nations ( ASEAN ) at the meeting in Brunei on 28 July 1995, and full diplomatic relations with the United States were re-established on 11 July 1995, some 20 years after the fall of Saigon.