/div>Country, Southeast Asia. Area: 127,882 sq mi (331,212 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 88,577,000. Capital: Hanoi
. The great majority of the population is Vietnamese; minorities include Chinese, Hmong, Thai, Khmer, and Cham. Languages: Vietnamese (official), French, Chinese, English, Khmer. Religions: Buddhism, new religions, traditional beliefs, Christianity. Currency: dong. Vietnam is about 1,025 mi (1,650 km) long, 210–340 mi (340–550 km) wide at its widest parts, and 30 mi (50 km) wide at its narrowest part. Northern Vietnam is mountainous; Fan Si Peak, the country's highest mountain, rises to 10,312 ft (3,143 m). The Red River
is the principal river. Southern Vietnam is dominated by the Mekong River
delta. A long, relatively narrow coastal plain connects the two major river deltas. The densely forested Annamese Cordillera extends through west-central Vietnam. Northern Vietnam is rich in mineral resources, especially anthracite coal and phosphates. Some petroleum deposits exist off the southern coast. Significant food crops include rice, sugarcane, coffee, tea, and bananas. Food processing and fishing are important industries, as are the manufacture of steel and phosphates. Vietnam is a socialist republic with one legislative house; its head of state is the president, and its head of government is the prime minister.
A distinct Vietnamese group began to emerge c. 200 BCE in the independent kingdom of Nam Viet, which was later annexed to China in the 1st century BCE. The Vietnamese were under continuous Chinese control until the 10th century. The southern region was gradually overrun by Vietnamese from the north in the late 15th century. The area was divided into northern and southern dynasties in the early 17th century, and in 1802 these two parts were unified under a single dynasty. Following several years of attempted French colonial expansion in the region, the French captured Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1859 and later the rest of the area, controlling it until World War II (see French Indochina). The Japanese occupied Vietnam in 1940–45 and allowed the Vietnamese to declare independence at the end of the war, a move the French opposed. The First Indochina War ensued and lasted until French forces with U.S. financial backing were defeated by the Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu in 1954; evacuation of French troops followed. After an international conference at Geneva (April–July 1954), Vietnam was partitioned along latitude 17° N, with the northern part under the communist leadership of Ho Chi Minh and the southern part under the U.S.-supported former emperor Bao Dai; the partition was to be temporary, but the reunification elections scheduled for 1956 were never held. An independent South Vietnam (Republic of Vietnam) was declared, while the communists established North Vietnam (Democratic Republic of Vietnam). The activities of North Vietnamese guerrillas and procommunist rebels in South Vietnam led to U.S. intervention and the Vietnam War. A cease-fire agreement was signed in 1973 and U.S. troops withdrawn, but the civil war soon resumed; in 1975 North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam, and the South Vietnamese government collapsed. In 1976 the two Vietnams were united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. From the mid-1980s the government enacted a series of economic reforms and began to open up to Asian and Western nations. In 1995 the U.S. officially normalized relations with Vietnam.