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Vietnam – UK enjoy good strategic partnership relations

On the occasion of the Lunar New Year 2015, British Ambassador to Vietnam, Giles Lever had an interview with a reporter from the Communist Party of Vietnam Online Newspaperto review some of the achievements recorded by the two countries to enhance their strategic partnership.

Reporter: The United Kingdom and Vietnam have experienced more than 40 years of diplomatic ties and over the past years, the cooperation between the two countries has brought about positive results. Do you feel satisfied with the relationship and level of cooperation between the countries, Ambassador?

British Ambassador to Vietnam, Giles Lever: I’m satisfied that the relationship is progressing in the right direction. I worked in the Embassy in Hanoi as a young diplomat in the 1990s. If I compare the bilateral relationship then and now, it has become far broader and far deeper. The Strategic Partnership of 2010 provides a comprehensive basis. We have an annual Strategic Dialogue and a Joint Economic and Trade Committee, both at Vice Minister level. We also have regular bilateral talks between officials from our Defence Ministries, policy planning staff from our Foreign Ministries, and so on. So I think we have done a lot in the last few years to put the right frameworks in place. We have also increased the number of high level visits. The visit by His Excellency Nguyen Phu Trong to the UK in January 2013 symbolised a new era of cooperation, as it was the first ever visit by a General Secretary of the CPV.

But am I satisfied that we have fulfilled the full potential for cooperation? No. For example, although there are some very good British companies present in Vietnam, certain other European countries export a lot more to Vietnam than the UK does. And although more and more Vietnamese students are coming to study in the UK every year, even more are going to universities in other countries. So there is clearly a lot more that we can do to realize benefits for both sides.

British Ambassador to Vietnam Giles Lever who used to work in Hanoi in the 1990s.

Reporter: What is Vietnam’s role in the foreign policies of the United Kingdom?British Ambassador to Vietnam, Giles Lever: The British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, recently gave a major speech on Britain’s approach to Asia, in which he talked about “the importance of building strategic relationships for Britain across the Asia-Pacific region which are fit for the 21st century”. A few years ago, the British government made a strategic decision to invest more effort in developing our relationships with the world’s emerging economies. Within our diplomatic network, we shifted resources away frommature relationships in regions like Europe, and into Embassies and Consulates in the regions and countries which are going to drive global growth in the 21st century – such as East Asia. During this period Vietnam has also been pursuing its own policy of “international integration”, building up relationships with non-traditional partners such as the EU, the US and Australia. So we are in a period of history where both sides have a genuine strategic interest in pursuing a closer partnership, and we need to take advantage of that.

Of course, we don’t look at Vietnam in isolation from its region. South East Asia is becoming more integrated economically and in terms of people-to-people links. ASEAN has the potential to play an increasingly important role as a regional organization on issues like trade and security. The UK has important, long-standing partnerships in the region with countries like Singapore and Malaysia. And we actually export more to ASEAN countries than we do to India or to mainland China. So we try to think in terms of a South East Asia strategy. We have regional networks dealing with science cooperation, economics, climate change and trade. In turn, it is important for us to understand how Vietnam sees ASEAN: how does Vietnam want ASEAN to develop, and what kind of role does Vietnam want ASEAN?

Finally, foreign policy is not just about bilateral links in areas like trade or aid; it also means building effective international partnerships to tackle global challenges. As Vietnam integrates more fully into the international community, we hope to see Vietnam playing an active and constructive role on issues like climate change, or the illegalinternational trade in wildlife. The fact that Vietnam is now actively preparing to contribute to UN Peacekeeping Operations is very welcome, and opens up new dimensions to our relationship.

Reporter:In recent years, the two countries have expanded cooperation across a wide range of sectors. According to you, which sectors should the two countries focus on in order to develop a deeper and a more comprehensive and practical relationship in the future, ambassador?

British Ambassador to Vietnam, Giles Lever:First, we should focus on strengthening our trade and investmentrelationship. There is potential for British companies to do much more in Vietnam in sectors like mass transport/infrastructure; energy (including civil nuclear); pharmaceuticals and healthcare; educational technology and services, as well as financial and professionalservices. We hope that the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement can be signed this year, and that that will see a significant increase in commercial opportunities in both directions. We are also starting to talk to Vietnamese companies about investing in the UK, which would be an exciting new development.

To accomplish this, I think the two countries need to work together in two areas: to raise awareness of Vietnam and the Vietnamese market among British businesses, and to tackle some of the issues that still make Vietnam quite a difficult market for British companies, like excessive regulation.

Second, education. Bilateral cooperation in education is very important, for many different reasons. It builds bridges between our two peoples – whether a Vietnamese student who has attended a British university, or a young person from the UK who has spent time teaching English in Vietnam. It also contributes to Vietnam’s own sustainable development and integration into the international community. The British Council and British educational institutions are working with the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs to help Vietnam plan and implement reforms in education and vocational training, and to improve the teaching of English in state schools.

Third, defence. Just over one year ago, we opened a Defence Section in the Embassy in Hanoi and posted our first-ever resident Defence Attache. Our recent Defence Working Group talks identified maritime security and defence industry cooperation as two key areas of focus over the next 12 months. We have not traditionally had a close relationship in the defence area, but with both countries having a shared interest in regional peace and security, I see a lot of potential to develop this area.

Fourth, science and innovation. This is a new area that I am very excited about. The UK wants to strengthen its international partnerships in science and research, and has launched a global fund to support that. Vietnam is one of the priority countries for the programme, and we are now working closely with the Ministry of Science and Technology to get it off the ground.

A significant part of the relationship in the last 15 years has been British aid to Vietnam. British ministers announced a few years ago that we would end our bilateral aid programme by 2016, because Vietnam is now a middle income country and has had great success in overcoming poverty and meeting the Millenium Development Goals. We are proud to have contributed to that success, but it is now time to move beyond a donor-recipient relationship and focus on other areas, such as those set out above, which will make for a modern, forward-looking partnership.

Reporter:What is your assessment of the 13th Anti-corruption Dialogue between the Government of Vietnam and the donor community and international development partners held in Hanoi on November 26th, 2014, which you participated in?

British Ambassador to Vietnam, Giles Lever: 2014 was the final year of the UK’s 4 years as co-chair of the Anti-Corruption Dialogue (ACD). During that period, I think we accomplished some valuable results. The ACD process has produced a generation of new evidence about corruption in construction, land, extractive industry, education, health, etc. at both national and local levels, drawing on a variety of surveys and diagnostic tools. The ACD has also come up with key recommendations on anti-corruption legislation policy e.g. the Anti-corruption Law, Circular on Asset Declaration, a new Decree on whistle-blowers. Finally, the process has supported the involvement of non-state actors such as civil society, the media and business, who can play a key role in anti-corruption efforts.

However, despite these positive developments, Vietnam’s score in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index has remained unchanged for three years, at 31/100. In 2014,Vietnam ranked 119th out of 175 countries, and 19th out of 28 in the Asia-Pacific. The 2013 Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI), which is a major survey of business sentiment about Vietnam, shows that investors see corruption as a bigger problem in Vietnam than in many other countries in the region, including Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia.

So corruption remains a major challenge for Vietnam. I hope that the Party and Government will redouble their efforts to make public agencies more transparent and accountable, and to promote effective coordination among anti-corruption institutions. Reducing corruption is important to maintain public trust, to support Vietnam’s own sustainable development, and to ensure that Vietnam continues to attract the right kind of investment.

I think that the Party has a leading role to play on this agenda. We have been developing our links with the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, and last year the Academy invited a British parliamentarian and former Minister to deliver workshops on the role of political leadership in fighting corruption. We also want to see both donors and businesses mainstreaming this issue into their engagement with the Vietnamese government, and will continue to support that.

Source: Talkvietnam

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