In contrast to the expectations aroused by the reunification of the country, the situation of Vietnam was characterized, even in the Eighties, by serious problems, both internal and external. In fact, strong difficulties hindered economic reconstruction, negatively affecting the integration process between the two areas of the country; the state of crisis was further aggravated by the economic costs of the military presence in Cambodia, by the prolonged state of tension with China (border clashes occurred repeatedly during the 1980s) and by international isolation: in 1979-80 Japan, the ASEAN countries (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and those of the EEC blocked their economic aid (conditioning the recovery of the troops of Hanoi from Cambodia), thus aggravating the effects of the US embargo, decided in 1965 against Hanoi and extended in 1975 to the rest of the country. The Vietnam thus found itself almost entirely dependent on trade with the Soviet Union.
One of the most dramatic consequences of the crisis was the exodus of refugees, which, albeit to a lesser extent than in 1978-79, continued throughout the following decade. Towards the end of the 1980s the Western countries, those of ASEAN and Hong Kong gradually abandoned the previous reception policy: the states affected by the landing of the so-called Boat People introduced a selection procedure aimed at distinguishing political refugees from refugees for economic reasons ; for the latter, a voluntary repatriation program (including forced repatriation from the early 1990s) was agreed with the Vietnamese government, which is expected to end in 1995-96.
In December 1980 the country’s reunification process was concluded with the promulgation of a new constitution, replacing the North Vietnamese one of 1960, provisionally extended to the rest of the country in 1976. In July 1981 the National Assembly elected, according to the provisions of the new text, a collective presidency, while Pham Van Dong was confirmed as president of the Council of Ministers. In March 1982, the 5th Congress of the Communist Party reconfirmed Le Duan as General Secretary.
In the following years, the persistent state of economic crisis led to repeated reshuffles of the government, while in 1985 measures aimed at relaunching private initiative were introduced; Nguyên Van Linh, the new General Secretary of the Communist Party since December 1986, further encouraged the reformist trend and in 1987 the adoption of Doi Moi was officially proclaimed.(“renewal”) in the economic field. The reform, centered on the coexistence of market and economic planning elements, led to a relative decentralization of the production system and the adoption of measures aimed at encouraging foreign investment. In 1991 Do Muoi, already at the helm of the government since 1988, took over from Nguyên Van Linh as Secretary General, being in turn replaced by Vo Van Kiet as President of the Council of Ministers; both, albeit with some differentiations, undertook to continue the policy of reforms.
The innovations in the economic field were recorded by a new constitutional text, adopted in April 1992. It, while reaffirming the leadership role of the Communist Party, introduced some changes in the institutional system: the collective presidency was replaced by a president of the Republic, elected by ‘National Assembly, charged with appointing a Prime Minister (vested with executive power), accountable to Parliament. After the holding of legislative elections, in July 1992, the new National Assembly elected General Le Duc Anh (a member of the Politburo, former Minister of Defense) as President of the Republic, while Vo Van Kiet was confirmed as head of the government.
The changes underway in the international context (especially the rapprochement between China and the USSR) allowed, starting from 1988, the start of a solution to the Cambodian question: the Vietnamese government completed the withdrawal of its troops from Phnom Penh in September 1989 and signed in ‘ October 1991 the peace plan agreed between the various factions involved in the conflict. These developments allowed a progressive improvement of relations with Beijing and their normalization in November 1994; since February 1994 talks had been started between the two states to resolve the territorial disputes that remained open (common borders and claiming sovereignty over the Paracelsus and Spratly islands).
The signing of the peace agreement for Cambodia marked the start of a phase of profound changes in the situation of international relations in the Vietnam: the release of aid by many Asian and European countries was accompanied by the signing of numerous agreements cooperation and the reopening of access to finance from international institutions (a first loan from the International Monetary Fund was agreed starting in 1993). In the same years, relations with the United States also registered a slow improvement; the collaboration achieved by the two countries in the search for US military, missing during the recent conflict, finally led to a rapprochement, which resulted, after the abrogation of the embargo by Washington (February 1994), in the re-establishment of diplomatic relations (August 1995). The improvement of relations at the regional level has, among other things, led to the signing (April 1995) of an agreement between Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand for the development of the Mekong basin and the common exploitation of its resources and, in July 1995, at the entry of Vietnam in ASEAN.