Vietnam, a one-party Communist state, has one of south-east Asia's fastest-growing economies and has set its sights on becoming a developed nation by 2020.
It became a unified country once more in 1975 when the armed forces of the Communist north seized the south.
This followed three decades of bitter wars, in which the Communists fought first against the colonial power France, then against South Vietnam and its US backers. In its latter stages, the conflict held the attention of the world.
The US joined the hostilities in order to stem the "domino effect" of successive countries falling to Communism.
The war produced heavy casualties on both sides, atrocities against civilians, and the indiscriminate destruction and contamination of much of the landscape.
At a glance
- Politics: Vietnam is a one-party Communist state; it became unified in 1975 after three decades of war
- Economy: It is becoming a major manufacturing centre; it is the second biggest supplier of clothes to the US
- International: Long running territorial dispute with China over parts of South China Sea, rich in oil and fish
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
A visit to Vietnam by US President Bill Clinton in November 2000 was presented as the culmination of American efforts to normalise relations with the former enemy.
Vietnam struggled to find its feet after unification and tried at first to organise the agricultural economy along strict collectivist lines.
But elements of market forces and private enterprise were introduced from the late 1980s and a stock exchange opened in 2000.
Foreign investment has grown and the US is Vietnam's main trading partner. In the cities, the consumer market is fuelled by the appetite of a young, middle class for electronic and luxury goods. After 12 years of negotiations the country joined the World Trade Organization in January 2007.
But the disparity in wealth between urban and rural Vietnam is wide and some Communist Party leaders worry that too much economic liberalisation will weaken their power base.
Vietnam has also struggled to restrain its trade and budget deficits. Its inflation rate reached double digits at the start of 2010 and approached 20% by the end of 2011, as food prices doubled, before falling back in 2012.
Despite pursuing economic reform, the ruling Communist Party shows little willingness to give up its monopoly on political power.
Vietnam actively suppresses political dissent and religious freedom. Rights groups have singled out Hanoi's treatment of ethnic minority hill tribe people, collectively known as Montagnards.
The human rights advocacy group Amnesty International says in a 2011 report that ''more than a dozen activists were convicted in faulty trials simply because they had peacefully voiced criticism of government policies''. A new wave of subversion trials began in 2013.