The word “Third World country” happened during the Cold War but now, after many variations of time, it changed a lot. What does it mean and is Vietnam a Third World country?
What does “Third World Country” mean?
The term “Third World countries” was first used during the Cold War. This term was used to describe countries that were not aligned with the West (NATO) nor with the East, the Communist bloc. This term was first used to categorize countries into three groups based on their politics and economics.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the terminology of the “three worlds” has changed somewhat. Today, the term Third World is used to describe a country that is not developed as much as other countries and faces economic, social, political, environmental and other issues. Many poorer nations adopted the term to describe themselves.
This has led to some confusion as to how the term was originally used. For example, there were several European countries that were not aligned with NATO or the Communist Bloc that are quite prosperous today. Going by the historical definition, nations including Finland, Sweden, Ireland and Switzerland were Third World countries. Based on the definition that is used today, these would not be considered Third World countries. Instead, what many now interpret “Third World” to mean encompasses economically poor and non-industrialized countries, as well as newly industrialized countries.
What are Third World countries?
During the Cold War:
- The United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and Western European nations and allies were categorized as First World countries.
- Second World countries included China, Cuba, the Soviet Union and their allies.
- Third World countries typically had colonial pasts in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania.
Third World Countries in terms of political rights and civil liberties
The most repressive regimes in the world
According to the Freedom House report Freedom in the World 2007, below is a list of 8 countries with the worst records for political rights and civil liberties. Within these countries and territories, state control over daily life is pervasive and wide-ranging, independent organizations and political opposition are banned or suppressed, and fear of retribution for independent thought and action is part of daily life:
Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Also included are two territories, Chechnya (Russian Federation) and Tibet, whose inhabitants suffer intense repression. These states and regions received the Freedom House survey’s lowest rating: 7 for political rights and 7 for civil liberties.
The report also includes nine more countries near the bottom of Freedom House’s list of the most repressive countries:
Belarus, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Zimbabwe. The territory of Western Sahara (most of the territory is controlled by Morocco) is also included in this group.
While these states scored slightly better than the “worst of the worst,” they offer very limited scope for private discussion while severely suppressing opposition political activity, impeding independent organizing, and censoring or punishing criticism of the state.
Third World Countries in Terms of their Gross National Income (GNI)
Simplified the GNI PPP is the average annual income earned by a citizen of a country, a citizen of Timor-Leste can spend $ 1.1 a day to make a living, a citizen of Tanzania $ 2, the average US citizen spends $ 114 daily.
Countries with the least gross national income based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP) per capita in int’l Dollars. Pursuant to IMF — International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, April 2005, these are countries with an average yearly income per capita and year under $ 1000, poorest nations first.
|Rank||Country||Region||GNI per capita|
|4||Democratic Republic of the Congo||Middle Africa||675|
|13||Sierra Leone||Western Africa||901|
Third World Countries in Terms of Poverty
The least developed countries (LDCs) are a group of countries that have been identified by the UN as “least developed”. United Nations used the following three criteria for the identification of the LDCs:
- A low-income estimate of the gross national income (GNI) per capita.
- Their weak human assets
- Their high degree of economic vulnerability.
There are 50 countries listed in the United Nations comparative analysis of poverty, 34 African countries, 10 Asian countries, 5 Pacific Island Nations and one Caribbean nation.
Is Vietnam a Third World Country?
Under the old official definition, Vietnam was a second world country, because it belonged to the Communist Bloc.
Under the new but unofficial definition, is Vietnam a Third World Country?
Note that there is no clear definition of first world, second world or third world now. The only quantitative definition I can find is about country income level from World Bank:
- Low income countries have GDP per capita < $1,005
- Lower middle income countries have GDP per capita from $1,006 to $3,995 (Vietnam belongs to this group)
- Upper middle income countries have GDP per capita from $3,996 to $12,235
- High income countries have GDP per capita > $12,235
Although nowadays, people assume that third world countries have GDP per capita belong to the low or lower middle income group but you should see some factors about this country:
- Electricity use per person: 98th country, but without tremendous difference from 40 to 105.
- % GDP per capita for secondary education: ~16% – which means that it is about at the 60% mark (~120th country) –> this is not as bad as it sounds.
- Literacy rate: 93%, which is good (42nd country), close (±4%) to the 28th and 51th countries
- Internet access: ~30% of the population. The percentage is okay. In absolute numbers, Vietnam is the 18th country.
- Dead children per woman: 76th country, but without considerable (±1%) difference from 40th to 117th.
- Life expectancy: 60th country, but close (±4 years) to 26th and 96th.
Based on that, Vietnam is in a good standing in the comparison with the rest of the world. The terminology “third world” is outdated and discriminatory. It wouldn’t be a “third world country”, it would be a “second world country.”
More detail: Requirements for US citizens to get Vietnam visa