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The Communist Party still exercises exclusive control over political life, but the question of whether Vietnam will continue its socio-economic development in a climate of peace and stability remains uncertain at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Vietnam occupies approximately 127,243 square miles (329,560 square kilometers), an area roughly equivalent to New Mexico, and is situated between 8 and 24 degrees latitude and 102 and 110 degrees longitude.
It borders China in the north, Laos in the northeast and center, and Cambodia in the southwest.
The largest group is the ethnic Vietnamese ( Kinh ), who comprise over 85 percent of the population.
Other significant ethnic groups include the Cham, Chinese, Hmong, Khmer, Muong, and Tai, though none of these groups has a population over one million.
As the official language, Vietnamese is taught in schools throughout the country.
Since the 1940s, Vietnamese governments have made great progress in raising literacy rates and approximately 90 percent of the adult population is literate.
Some have been positive, such as a general rise in the standard of living, but others have not, such as increased corruption, social inequality, regional tensions, and an HIV-AIDS epidemic.
Many of these groups have their own individual adaptations to their environments.
Their practices include hunting and gathering, slash and burn agriculture, and some irrigated rice agriculture.
These range from languages spoken by large numbers of people, such as Muong (767,000), Khmer (700,000), Nung (700,000), Tai Dam (over 500,000), and Chinese (500,000), to those spoken by only a few hundred people, such as O'Du, spoken by an estimated two hundred people.
Many minority group members are bilingual, though not necessarily with Vietnamese as their second language. The Vietnamese government extensively employs a number of symbols to represent the nation.
As the usage of Viet indicates, the Vietnamese have for centuries had a sense of the distinctiveness of their society and culture.