Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV; Cộng hòa Xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam), is a country with a long history and an unusual record of beating off larger invaders - China, France, and even Mongolia in her prime (much of this ass-kicking can be attributed to their diligent study of The Art of War and the hot steamy climate, the latter having screwed up the famous Mongolian longbows). Vietnam has been involved in wars from about 1945 BCE to 1989 CE, although like any small country with important resources (rice, water buffalo, spices, pot-bellied pigs, urm... more rice), it has been through numerous conflicts to retain sovereignty throughout its existence. Despite all the destruction this entails, Vietnam still has enough forest to spring surprises, as when several new large animal species were discovered there in the 1990s.
Of course, Vietnam didn't always play the "little guy beating up big guy" role, as they consistently slapped around the kingdom of Champa (in what is now southern Vietnam) for a couple hundred years, eventually extinguishing it in 1832. It also invaded Cambodia in 1979, overthrew the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge regime, and replaced it with the People's Republic of Kampuchea as a client state. Vietnam finally withdrew from Cambodia in 1989. Unsurprisingly for a country with a long history of beating other countries, the Vietnamese national anthem is one of the most kickass national anthems in the world
These days, Vietnam hasn't been beating up many foreign invaders militarily, but it does have the second fastest growing economy in the world, joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in January 2007, and thus is beating up foreigners economically. Ironically, this just means that foreign invaders are now welcomed in the form of land developers, many of whom are currently chopping up the landscape to make room for pretty hotels and resorts.
The Viet Cong guerillas, formally the National Liberation Front (NLF), were a professional (and serious) army backed up by the well-armed North Vietnamese, who were supported by Communist Russia and China. The US and her allies failed to fully understand what they were up against, and lacked any clear goal.
Even now, the name Vietnam is enough to start arguments in America over whether the USA should have gotten involved, or what tactics should have been used. In fact, the specter of the Vietnam War hangs over the decisions which led to the Iraq War. It almost certainly led to both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan being extremely wary of large-scale foreign military adventures.
Politics makes strange bedfellows
In 1995 the US and Vietnam began to kiss and make up, following the end of the Cold War and Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia. Since then the two nations have had closer ties. One reason is that China has claimed the entirety of the South China Sea as its territorial waters. The Chinese make this claim based on its historical presence in the region, despite the fact that that the sea borders modern Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Singapore. Furthermore, China and Vietnam have had bad blood going back thousands of years. The result is that these countries are looking for some American muscle to deal with the Chinese just in case. Meanwhile the US had been building economic ties with Vietnam and is looking for more allies in the region for leverage against China. In 2009 the US Navy was invited back to Da Nang (the captain of one of the ships having been a Vietnamese refugee as a young child) indicating both nations might be more than happy to bury the hatchet. As some Vietnamese like to point out: "We have been at war with the US once, forty years ago. We have been at war with the Chinese for two thousand years now."
However, like its larger neighbor to the north, the Vietnamese government has been using the South Sea islands dispute to foster nationalism and distract citizens from criticizing its domestic policies. For instance, in May 2014, there were widespread anti-Chinese riots across the country, with tacit government support. The riots resulted in at least 21 dead and 600 arrests, and an exodus of foreign investors. Ironically, out of the 351 factories damaged by rioters, only 14 were actually owned by mainland Chinese firms, the rest largely owned Taiwanese and South Korean firms.
Although the Vietnamese have been influenced by the Chinese over the centuries, they are a completely different people. Vietnam is, along with Cambodia, one of only two countries in the world where the majority of people speak Mon-Khmer languages. These languages are completely unrelated to Chinese, Korean, etc. Vietnamese civilization can be traced back to at least the 500 BCE, when it was known as the kingdom of Van Lang.
- Mon-Khmer languages are also spoken by minorities in China, India, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Malaysia