State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been operating in Vietnam for a long time. SOEs, together with non-corporate economic institutions — such as the State Bank of Vietnam, the national reserves, and the country's infrastructural system — constitute the state-managed economic system in Vietnam. They comprise all the capital, assets, and natural resources of the country, owned by the nation. The Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is the sole representative of that ownership.
The existing SOE system came into being with the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in 1945. Since then, the country and its SOEs have passed through a series of wars and peace-time construction periods. Most notably, since 1975, the SOE system has consisted of enterprises from the north, enterprises taken over from the pre-1975 Saigon administration (in the south), and a number of nationalized private enterprises. Until now, SOEs have had a dominant share of the Vietnamese economy. According to the statistical review of 1 January 1990, Vietnam at that time had 12,297 SOEs in operation. However, as a result of economic reforms — including the crucial restructuring of SOEs — the number of SOEs was reduced to 6,264 by April 1994.
The reform and restructuring of these SOEs towards market forces, albeit with continued state control, has not only reduced the total number of enterprises, but also considerably strengthened every aspect of the SOEs' performance. At the same time it should be noted that the contribution of the state enterprise sector to Vietnam's gross domestic product (GDP) has increased at a faster rate than the growth of the national economy's GDP growth rate in the five consecutive years between 1990 and 1994. As a result, the share of total GDP contributed by SOEs has increased considerably. Recently, SOEs have been the main driving force for high economic growth. Vietnam's SOEs have been developed primarily in the industrial, construction, trade, and service sectors of the economy.