Can we say Vietnam is a “third world country”?

Can we say Vietnam is a “third world country”?

The term “third world country” originated during the Cold War and categorized countries based on political alignment. The “first world” referred to the capitalist bloc led by the United States and its allies, the “second world” referred to the socialist bloc led by the Soviet Union and its allies, and the “third world” referred to countries that were unaligned or non-aligned.

However, this terminology is now considered outdated and politically incorrect. It oversimplifies and misrepresents countries’ diverse economic, social, and political situations. Instead, it’s more accurate and respectful to use terms like “developed,” “developing,” or “low-income” when discussing a country’s economic status.

Vietnam is generally considered a developing country with significant economic progress in recent years. It’s essential to be mindful of global economic classifications’ evolving nature and use more nuanced language when describing countries.

According to a Quora user, Vietnam is a third-world country under the new, unofficial definition. However, the definition of first, second, and third-world countries is unclear.

Can we say Vietnam is a “third world country”?

“Third World” was initially used in 1952 to describe countries not part of the first or second world. The first world was made up of capitalist, economically developed states, and the second world was made up of communist states. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the meaning of “Third World” changed to refer to economically poor and non-industrialized countries. 

Vietnam has been categorized as a Third World based on economic status and development. Vietnam has a stable political system, a consistent track record of high-performing economic and market growth, and a young and skilled laborers workforce. In 2023, Vietnam’s industrial production index rose 1.5% from the previous year, putting it among the region’s fastest-growing economies and the world. 

Is Vietnam still a third-world nation? Under the old official definition, Vietnam was a second-world country because it belonged to the Communist Bloc. Under the new but unofficial definition, Vietnam is a third-world country. Note that there is no clear definition of first, second, or third world.

That terminology is no longer relevant today
it was a Cold War terminology.
The First World was the USA and its allies.
The Second World was the USSR and its allies.
The Third World was everyone else.
Vietnam, being communist and aligned with

Can we say Vietnam is a “third world country”?

Vietnam is considered to be a second-world country. It has already reached middle-income status in 2010.
The country is going to develop further, taking into account the fact that Apple and Samsung, these tech giants, moved their factories to Vietnam.

Post-Soviet countries, China and Vietnam, are considered second-world countries.
But not everything is that simple; if you compare the railway or subway situation to the first world, it is much better in developing countries.

One should understand that dividing the countries into 1,2,3 world is based on social welfare, education, the quality of Healthcare and education, human rights, and democracy.

So even though, let’s say Vietnam will do great with social insurance and qualified education but won’t change the form of governance to Western-style democracy, it will still be considered the second world. However, you must understand that one regime that may be possible for one nation may not apply to another.
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Is China a first, second, or third-world country?

Well, China is technically a “second world country” (but this ‘Cold War’ term is obsolete after the collapse of the USSR).

More appropriately, China is classified as a ‘developing nation’ or Upper-Middle Income country, an emergent market (as part of BRICS).

The Long Answer?

A common issue is that most may not understand the meaning of first, second, or third-world countries.

Most think 3rd world is a poor country, and the second is between 1st and 3rd, but that is half wrong.

Four Worlds – Definition

This really is an outdated model of the geopolitical world from the time of the Cold War. However, definitions vary, and they have changed with time after the collapse of the USSR.

Accordingly to nations online > First, Second, and Third World –

After World War II, the world split into two large geopolitical blocs and spheres of influence with contrary views on government and the politically correct society:

FIRST – The bloc of democratic-industrial countries within the American influence sphere, the “First World.”

(yes, the Capitalists. Mostly rich, advanced, developed, and unsurprisingly allies of the US-dominated alliance)

SECOND – The Eastern bloc of the communist-socialist states, the “Second World.”

(The “traditional “enemies of the free West” during the Cold War. Less developed than the First World. This term became quite obsolete after the collapse of the USSR)

THIRD – The remaining three-quarters of the world’s population, states not aligned with either bloc, were regarded as the “Third World.”

(Mostly poor, exploited by colonialists for centuries, backward and developing. China and India could have been co-leaders of this group for a while. Today, the Third World is seldom used. Developing Countries, Low or Middle Income or Emerging markets (BRICS) are preferred)

FOURTH – The term “Fourth World,” coined in the early 1970s by Shuswap Chief George Manuel, refers to widely unknown nations (cultural entities) of indigenous peoples, “First Nations” living within or across national state boundaries. e.g., Aborigines, Red Indians, and tribes all over the planet.

So “Second World” is an obsolete term to refer to the former communist-socialist, industrial states (formerly the Eastern bloc, the territory and sphere of influence of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic) today: Russia, Eastern Europe (e.g., Poland) and some of the Turkic States (e.g., Kazakhstan) as well as China.

According to Wikipedia > Third World – Wikipedia

Some European countries were non-aligned, and a few prosperous nations, including Ireland, Austria, Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland, were considered the third world’ (Now, isn’t that weird?). Notice that some countries are now classified differently from above, e.g., South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Philippines, and Finland.

According to Mao – China was part of the Third World. So, there is a political and ideological context that may vary.

Modern Usage

Today, the definitions have less to do with communism vs capitalist blocs, and Second World is, in fact, obsolete. As many Third World countries were economically poor and non-industrialized, referring to poor countries as “Third World countries” became a stereotype. Today, using terms like developed and developing countries is more common.

So, the real question is whether China is developed or developing. Low, middle, or upper-income class country? That is – how advanced or prosperous is China?

Let’s ask Mr Xi Jinping first what he thinks.

Well, thank you, now we have his official statement.

Based on the critical parameter, GDP per capita, China is classified as a DEVELOPING Nation.

Let us look at gross national income (GNI) per capita

China is $10,200 for pr 2018 ($8,690 for 2017) below $US12,055 as defined by the World Bank as a high-income or “developed” country.

But wait! Is China not super rich and powerful? Huge economy with 1.4 billion, a gigantic, vibrant economy with many billionaires, the world’s largest factory and supply chain, the most significant trading nation, and 7 of the world’s busiest ports, with the biggest retail market in the world by 2019, the world’s four largest banks, 3.2 trillion reserves; and so on.

But it still has about 35 million below the poverty line. For most across 622 cities and 40% of the population still living in rural villages, the income per capita remains a fraction of the USA and OECD, and a nation still needs three decades to develop fully. Oh, so that is why China is still ‘developing.’

According to China:

“China’s position on WTO reform has been very clear. China is the largest developing country in the world,”

Even though the Asian superpower has a GDP of $US14.2 trillion, Australia’s GDP is roughly $US1.5 trillion.

Statistically and domestically, the idea of China as a developing country makes sense. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund classify China as a developing country.

Conclusion – China is a developing nation with a low GNI per capita, the largest BRICS market, and a hugely influential Upper-Middle Income country.

Any complaint? Yes…

The US is Challenging. The US is trying ways with new definitions and means to make China re-classify itself as a developed nation for apparent reasons. Americans see China’s friendly first-tier cities and the MIC2025 and ask, “Is this a developing country?”

China and a few countries are also resisting. For China, she is just following the rules that the rich, advanced, and powerful ‘First World’ nations have set in place. So, why change?

The term “Third World” arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO or the Warsaw Pact. Canada, Japan, South Korea, Western European nations, and their allies represented the First World, while the post-Soviet Union countries, China, Cuba, and their allies represented the Second World. This terminology provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on political and economic divisions. 

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the term Third World has decreased in use. It is being replaced with terms such as developing countries, least developed countries, or the Global South. The concept itself has become outdated as it no longer represents the world’s current political or economic state.

Due to the complex history of evolving meanings and contexts, there is no clear or agreed-upon definition of the Third World.

Some countries in the Communist Bloc, such as Cuba, were often regarded as “Third World.” Because many Third World countries were economically poor and non-industrialized, it became a stereotype to refer to poor countries as “Third World countries,”

Can we say Vietnam is a “third world country”?

Originally Answered: Can we say Vietnam is a “Third World Country”?


The First WorldSecond World, and Third World terminology is outdated. It was conceived when the Second World, i.e., Soviet Bloc (USSR, Eastern Europe, etc.) still existed. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Laos introduced a market economy, and the Second World ceased to exist, so this politically minded division is outdated. I also find Third World stigmatizing, which a country like Vietnam doesn’t deserve. Also, this classification was made up of journalists or was at least popularized by journalists, not economists.

Today, a more economy-oriented division prevails:

  • developed countries (US, Western Europe, and perhaps some countries in Eastern Central Europe, Australia, NZ, Japan, Korea, Singapore, HK, and Macau),
  • developing countries (China, Russia, India, Brazil, most countries in Latin America, a few countries in Africa, like South Africa, and most countries in South East Asia),
  • underdeveloped countries (most of them in Africa)

But this classification is less rigid. In this classification, Vietnam is a developing country. This doesn’t mean it’s poor or rich; it is actually on the right track, and given the historical background, political structure, and inefficiencies, Vietnam is probably better off than its two neighbors, Cambodia and Laos.

Is China a 3rd world country?

China was a second-world country until the Sino-Soviet split in the late 1960s. Then it became a third-world country.

Academic definitions:

  1. World = US bitch
  2. World = Soviet bitch
  3. World = nobody’s bitch

Note that after 1991, these definitions were outdated by a new world order.

Is Vietnam a rich or a poor country?

At a GDP per capita of just $2,200, Vietnam cannot be considered rich. Compared to regional countries: Laos’ $2,400, Philippines’ $3,000, Indonesia’s $3,600, Thailand’s $6,000, Malaysia’s $9,500, Taiwan’s $32,000, and Singapore’s $53,000, we can see that Vietnam is still relatively poor. Numbers speak louder than subjective opinions.

A very telling characteristic of a poor country is the gap between the city and rural living standards. In Vietnam, this gap is enormous. If anyone has been to the countryside, one can see the abject poverty of many low-income families.

Many Vietnamese people do not realize this. They look at Saigon, post pictures of high rises, and say: “We are rich, look at how many cars there are here, look at how expensive the houses here; look at the skyscrapers.”

Well, bad news for you. Only 20% of Vietnam’s population lives in the cities. The rest live in rural provinces, and life there is nothing like Saigon or Hanoi.

My girlfriend took these pictures on an excursion to the Mekong Delta last month. People still live like this. Can we consider it rich?

Edit: Here’s a picture captured by myself on my recent trip to the Mekong Delta (Aug 2019)

And this is not an isolated scene. Anyone traveling from Saigon south to the Mekong Delta will see this is a prevalent scene throughout the region.

Even on the outskirts of Saigon, I could see that living conditions were insignificant.

Does that look like how people live in a rich country? In shacks?

So please do not parade some pictures of affluent areas in Saigon or Hanoi and say, “Vietnam is rich.”

Can we say Vietnam is a “third world” or a “4th world” country?

The Fourth World is an outdated term used to describe the most underdeveloped, poverty-stricken, and marginalized regions of the world. Many inhabitants of these nations do not have any political ties and are often hunter-gatherers who live in nomadic communities or are part of tribes.

Now, to use such terminology vis a vis a nation like Vietnam, which makes computer chips (Intel), does not do any justice:

Map of least developed countries (LDCs) that do not represent Vietnam, a member state of the ASEAN group of countries, some of whom are known as Asian tigers.

Well …Vietnam was a third-world country when it got its independence way back in the ’70s after U.S. forces were kicked out of Saigon in 1975.

But now … thanks to the enormous talent and hardworking approach of its great nation … Vietnam is rapidly developing and will soon be destined to become a second-world country.

China is widely perceived as being Third World. Do you agree or not?

China is not a Developed Country.

It’s on the verge of becoming a High-income country, but it’s not developed.

There are five characteristics of a developed nation.

  • Less than 0.1% emigrants (> 10 yrs residents of other countries) or 3 million whichever is lower (Chinas is 1.86% or 26.1 Million)
  • More than 2/5 of the country’s citizens earn more or equal to the GDP Per Capita (PPP, not Nominal) of that City, County, or State of that Country. For example, 42.1% of Indiana residents earn more than $49567 annually, but only 26.7% of Hubeis Liaoning make more than 97777 Yuan.
  • The government requires a minimum of 7.5% GDP for healthcare in the country. China spends 4.35% GDP
  • Surplus of Trade – Minimum of 18% difference between Exports and Imports (China is at 15.2%) [Note Indigenous Exports, not Apple or Tesla; otherwise China is at 42.7%]
  • Dollar Parity should not exceed 1.3 (Chinas is 1.813)
  • Middle Class of 2/3 or higher (Chinas is 47.80%)

So China is getting there.

Yet, sadly, no developed country is not a democracy or a puppet monarchy.

So, China may never be acknowledged as a Developed

But Third World?

No way. Not in 100 million years.

P.S.: A trade surplus of 18% is on the day the country is acknowledged as a developed country, but not always.

Countries like the U.K., which ruled trade, now have very few surpluses or deficits. That does not mean they are not developing entities.

Is Vietnam still a third-world nation?

Under the old official definition, Vietnam was a second-world country because it belonged to the Communist Bloc.

Under the new but unofficial definition, Vietnam is a third-world country.

Note that there is no clear definition of first, second, or third world. The only quantitative definition I can find is about country income level from the World Bank:

  • Low-income countries have a GDP per capita < $1,005
  • Lower middle-income countries have a GDP per capita from $1,006 to $3,995 (Vietnam belongs to this group)
  • Upper middle-income countries have a GDP per capita from $3,996 to $12,235
  • High-income countries have a GDP per capita > $12,235

Nowadays, people assume third-world countries have GDP per capita belonging to the low or lower-middle-income group. Based on that, Vietnam is a third-world country.

It is forecasted that it would take Vietnam 15–20 years to become an upper-middle-income country. So, that would be the time for the government to get out of the third-world nation label.

Why does Vietnam feel like a second-world country?

Because it was.

First/Second/Third World countries categorized states based on their ideological allegiance during the Cold War. Conceptually, the separation is fundamentally political, not financial or economic.

First (blue), second (red), and third (green) world countries.

First-world countries refer to the U.S. and her Capitalist allies (primarily Western Europe, etc.)

Second-world countries refer to the Soviet Union and their Communist/Socialist allies (primarily Eastern Europe, China, etc.)

Third-world countries refer to those that are neutral and do not align with either of the ideologies (primarily Africa, etc.)

With Vietnam becoming a signatory of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) treaty in 1976, it is no longer a second-world country.

While economic prosperity and development coincide with the categorization, they are not appropriate terms to differentiate states on financial performance, be it outdated.

How likely is Vietnam to become a developed country in 10 years?

The GDP per capita for Vietnam this year is less than 3,000 dollars.

Vietnam’s best-ever growth rate in recent decades was less than 9 percent.

The minimum bar for a developed nation is between 12,000 to 25,000 dollars.

Let’s take the lower bar of 12,000 and 10 percent annual growth.

Vietnam will take at least 15 years to reach that figure without accounting for slowing growth or raising the bar due to technological disruption.

20 to 25 years is a better timeline unless Vietnam catches fire economically.

If you are interested, check projections from the 80s or 90s for Indochina and the rest of the developing world.

Many of them are still developing because the rest of the world has sped ahead.

This is not a static problem because moving up the ladder depends on growing faster than those ahead of you.

When will Vietnam become a 1st world nation?


To escape the middle-income trap and achieve first-world status, the following are the absolute prerequisites:

Education: Vietnam’s education is in crisis. While its primary and secondary enrollment ratios are good, there are serious concerns about quality. Vietnam’s universities are moribund and cannot even be compared with South East Asia’s unremarkable universities. Vietnamese science and technology are a failure, as illustrated in the following graph

The track record of Vietnam’s research institutes is as shameful as its universities. 

In 2017, researchers in Vietnam published 76 articles in international journals. By contrast, tiny Singapore, with a population 20 times smaller than Vietnam, published 1,100 articles during the same period. A single university in China, Fudan University in Shanghai, published 504 articles in 2017, almost seven times more than Vietnam! Source Country outputs | Nature Index, Fudan University

Infrastructure and Urbanization: in Vietnam, traffic jams are an all too frequent occurrence. Infrastructure investments are often wasteful and riddled with corruption. It leads to inefficient and costly services. According to the World Bank, exporters pay US$701 to ship a 20-foot container from Vietnam, compared with US$335 from China and US$382 from Singapore. 

See graph

Ambitious plans to build deep water ports in six central provinces have been announced. There’s no economic rationale for these plans. A country of Vietnam’s size needs at most three ports. The United States West Coast (over 1900km long) features three major international ports.

A related challenge concerns urbanization. In some urban areas, land prices in Vietnam are as high as comparable locations in Japan, a crowded island with 20 times the per capita income of Vietnam. That means many Vietnamese will be unable to own a house or even be able to rent decent housing.

 Poorly planned Urbanization is a potential source of social and political instability. People need decent housing, a clean environment, quality healthcare, and education services for their families. All this is sadly beyond the reach of most ordinary Vietnamese. Moreover, because of the immense profit from land speculation, much of Vietnam’s resources are being shifted away from more productive areas.

 Why build a factory and wait ten years to recover your investment when you can double or triple your capital by investing in real estate within a few years?

Can we say Vietnam is a “third world country”?

Competitiveness of Firms: There is a fundamental contradiction in Vietnamese economic policy. Although the private and foreign-invested sectors are the most dynamic, the state sector continues to receive the lion’s share of credit, investment, and other privileges.

 In the 1990s, the government began to consolidate state-owned enterprises into huge conglomerates, following the model of the Japanese keiretsus and the South Korean chaebols. However, instead of becoming internationally competitive in their core businesses and competing in foreign markets as the government expected, these conglomerates sought quick returns in real estate and financial speculation, taking advantage of easy government credit. 

Many, actually all of them, could not compete in the world markets. Some are billions of dollars in the red. Vinashin (shipbuilding), Vinalines (marine transportation), and Vinacomin (coal & mining) are some notorious examples. Let’s take a look at some key industries. Vietnam’s highly protected steel industry deploys hundreds of micro-mills producing low-quality steel at high cost.

Similarly, the cement industry uses old, environmentally unsound technologies in under-scale plants. Productivity in the paper industry is less than 1/5 of that in Japan. The chemical industry makes huge losses in some critical investments (fertilizer, bio-ethanol fuel, synthetic fiber)

The policy environment largely determines a country’s international competitiveness. 

According To the Heritage Foundation’s 2018 report on Global Economic Freedom, Vietnam ranks 141st in the 2018 Index. Its score lags behind ALL regional economies, including Myanmar (135th), Cambodia (101st), and Laos (138th)! What a shame! Source: Vietnam at regional bottom in global economic freedom ranking

Today, the areas in which Vietnam is most competitive — commodities like coffee, rubber, rice, and labor-intensive products like garments and shoes — are typified by skinny margins and low rates of value-added. These are also income-inelastic commodities, meaning people do not buy more when their incomes rise. Vietnam is now very competitive in slow-growth, low-return industries. The challenge is breaking into high-growth, knowledge-intensive, and high-value-added products and services. With an education system and government policies, as already mentioned, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Financial system: Inflation has emerged as an area of concern. Domestic spending has increased rapidly as oil revenues, foreign borrowing, ODA, FDI inflows, and overseas remittances have fueled a vast capital inflow. Accurate supply could not keep up with it (people prefer to make a quick buck through land speculation rather than invest in producing goods, remember?), and the difference must be inflation.

Another area of concern is the reliance on extremely high levels of investment to sustain growth. 

Can we say Vietnam is a “third world country”?

Much of what is categorized as investment is disguised consumption. Corruption and waste in public investment projects and state-owned enterprises redirect capital away from investment and towards personal consumption. Poorly planned public projects generate low rates of return. These projects must stimulate production and exports if they are to be self-liquidating.

 If not, they can become a drag on future growth. The problem with Vietnam is it needs exceptionally high levels of investment, which lead to colossal corruption and waste, to sustain modest growth, as illustrated in the following table (the lower ICOR number vs growth, the better)

State effectiveness: East Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, China) possess the long-term strategic vision and political will to anticipate and respond to development challenges. However, Vietnam has repeatedly failed to respond adequately to problems recognized years in advance. For example, the traffic gridlock that threatens to paralyze Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City was foreseen by city planners decades ago, yet very little has been done to date. The widespread flooding that afflicts both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City during the rainy season was also predicted years ago; the response has been singularly ineffective. Many cities in developing countries have successfully addressed these problems, and Vietnam could learn from them. Yet it didn’t.

Can we say Vietnam is a “third world country”?

 That begs the question: if the Vietnamese government cannot effectively respond to predictable challenges, how will it react to unforeseen crises?

In the World Bank’s latest governance study, countries are evaluated according to 6 criteria: accountability, political stability, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and corruption. Except for political stability, Vietnam scored lower than ALL East and Southeast Asian countries.

So yeah, Vietnam is facing enormous challenges. Improving education and health care, addressing the infrastructure crisis, meeting the challenges of Urbanization and environmental degradation, overhauling the financial system, and improving government effectiveness will require much better leadership than the corrupt and incompetent idiots we have in Hanoi.

Is Vietnam a rich or a poor country?

  • My visit was very short in Vietnam; I had read about the devastation, killing, bombing, and extreme measures to finish this country to the ground.
  • I learned after visiting Vietnam you could kill bodies with bombs, but no one can destroy souls; the more you kill, the more resilient it becomes. No weapon, no bombs, no orange agent, no napalm could kill this nation. Even after 30 to 40 of destruction, VN is rebuilding brick by brick. Hats off to the great Vietnamese.

Why does Vietnam feel like a second-world country?

Vietnam was a second-world country during the Cold War because it was aligned with the USSR.

Today, Present-day Vietnam is a third-world third-world country because it is non-aligned and developing.

How do I take a girl in my hotel room in Vietnam

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