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Located along the banks of the Saigon river the flows out of Cambodia, and a handful of miles from the Mekong River that touches each of the mainland ASEAN states, Ho Chi Minh City is the economic and political hub of southern Vietnam. The broader region is dominated by the Mekong Delta, its fertile farmlands and critical rice producing regions. Formerly part of the Cambodian Khmer kingdoms that once dominated peninsular southeast Asia, Vietnamese monarchies slowly pried control of the Mekong Delta and surrounding areas away from their Khmer competitors in the 16th century; Ho Chi Minh City (as Saigon) grew out of a need to secure Vietnamese interests in the region.

French colonial powers were all too happy to build on these efforts given their holdings elsewhere along the Mekong River in Laos and Cambodia and the rubber, rice and opium plantations set up throughout southern Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City is currently in the midst of a decade-long economic and population boom as the country’s most densely populated city. Its proximity to Vietnam’s agriculture, fishing, mining and expanding offshore energy industry, coupled with its young population, will continue to see Ho Chi Minh City driving Vietnamese economic growth and development…so long as it can evade or survive a likely war with China.

For more on the future of Vietnam, see Chapter 9 in The Accidental Superpower, and Chapter 8 in The Absent Superpower.