Hanoi has mounted a massive population transfer from northern parts of Vietnam to the conquered south in a move it calls "a widespread nationwide revolutionary movement" to increase agricultural production and to strengthen Communist rule.
The population movement could match and possibly surpass the spontaneous exodus of nearly a million persons from North Vietnam after it was partitioned from the South in 1954.
In one early stage of the shift, 110,000 workers, mainly from the northern provinces have been sent to new economic areas in the southern provinces during a six-week period ending this month. The policy is called "redistribution of labor force and reorganization of production on a national retional scale," according to a recent broadcast from Vietnam radio.
The massive shift of population is accompanied by a transfer of reliable Communist party cadres from the north to the south in an apparent effort to consolidate control and boost labor productivity.
Vietnamese broadcasts suggest that these transfers are going smoothly, with thousands of Vietnamese joining "volunteer brigades" that are moving to the south.
But traditionally, Vietnamese are known to be exceptionally reluctant to leave their homesteads even under most trying circumstances. This leads analysts here to conclude that Communist authorities may be resorting to force or threat of force in carrying out the redistribution.
Such pressure tactics were used earlier in the southern part of the country when the government moved large numbers of city dwellers into the countryside.
An indication of the scale of government plans was provided by Vietnam radio when it announced that about a half million residents of Thai Binh province - a third of its total population - would be moved to the south by the end of the 1980.
About 17,000 farmers have already moved from the densely populated province in the Red River delta to the former South Vietnam during the nine months ending last June.
The Thai Binh population transfer has taken place in the framework of the 1976-1980 economic plan, in which the Vietnamese government plans to send four million people from heavily populated cities and provinces to open new land, expand cultivated areas and build new economic zones.
Vietnam has 50 million people, with nearly 30 million in the north concentrated mainly in the narrow Red River delta, while vast fields of fertile land in southern provinces are sparsely populated.
The population shift has been escalated since Premier Pham Van Dong acknowledged last month that the plan for building new economic areas in 1977 has been "poorly executed." Dong said, according to Vietnam radio, that the plan has fulfilled only a third of its objective in sending out laborers and about half the goal in opening new land.
Recent escapees from the south said many unemployed persons in Saigon now called Ho Chi Minh city and other cities have been reluctant to go to new economic zones despite the encouragement combined with pressure by Communist authorities.
One means of pressure is the rationing of rice, the basic food of the Vietnamese. Jobless persons in over populated areas are allowed to buy a small amount of rice per month, far below the normal consumption of an average Vietnamese, at the official price in government run stores.
"I was allowed to buy 35 pounds a month, while unemployed people got only seven pounds," said Bui Phan Duong, a fisherman who had arrived in the United States three months ago after an escape from the coastal city Vung Tau.
Other refugees said authorities cut the rice ration to those who had been ordered to got to new economic zones but refused to do so. The price of rice in free markets is as high as five or six times the official one.
Parallel to the population movement, Hanoi has undertaken the large scale dispatch of party officials from the north to reinforce Communist rule down to district level in south Vietnam. The southern half of the newly unified country has been dominated by North Vietnamese cadres in key positions since the communist victory in the spring in 1975.