Viet Nam and Greece have established bilateral cooperative relationships in many fields. On the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of Establishing Diplomatic Ties between Viet Nam and Greece, H.E Ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, Tran Thi Ha Phuong granted an interview to Greek Diplomatic Life magazine:
TTHP: The highlight of Viet Nam’s foreign policy recently has been the strong development of international integration and multilateral diplomacy across all areas. Viet Nam’s multilateral diplomacy has been transformed from ‘active participation’ to ‘proactive integration’. The country has played an active role in strengthening ASEAN’s unity and centrality.
Today, Viet Nam is a reliable partner and responsible member in the international community. It consistently pursues a foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, peace, cooperation and development, in line with the common trend, as well as benefits and aspirations of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world.
For Viet Nam or any other country, relations with neighbouring countries are always a top priority in the foreign policy. The improper management of these relations will exert multi-dimensional impacts on national peace and security. Therefore, it is the consistent policy of Viet Nam to attach great importance to the development of friendship and comprehensive cooperation with neighbouring countries on an equal and mutually beneficial basis.
Viet Nam pays special attention to promoting the special strategic partnership with Laos, the traditional friendship and comprehensive cooperation with Cambodia, the comprehensive partnership with China and the partnerships with other ASEAN countries, and commits itself to work together with its neighbours to contribute to the maintenance of peace, stability and prosperity in the region. Regarding the issues of differences, the policy of Viet Nam is to settle them by peaceful means, taking into account each other’s interests and in conformity with the fundamental principles of International Law. With good will and sincerity, over the past years, Viet Nam has actively participated in negotiations to resolve issues of land and sea borders and has achieved important outcomes.
In general, the foreign policy of Viet Nam is to develop relations with other countries to create a peaceful and stable environment, to enlist favourable international conditions for national development and safeguard national sovereignty, international security. These two goals, rather than being exclusive, are mutually reinforcing. The attainment of both goals ensures that Viet Nam is on the right track in pursuit of this foreign policy.
“With good will and sincerity, over the past years, Viet Nam has actively participated in negotiations to resolve issues of land and sea borders and has achieved important outcomes.”
GDL: During the past four decades, Viet Nam’s expanded external relations have gradually enhanced the image of a successful country in the process of innovation and development. This year is a special time for your country as it is poised to implement several international trade agreements.
What are the expectations for these agreements and will they elevate the position of Viet Nam in the international arena?
TTHP: At the moment, Viet Nam has signed and implemented eight free trade agreements (FTA), including regional agreements within ASEAN and between ASEAN and ASEAN+6 partners (China, Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand) and two bilateral agreements with Japan and Chile.
Vietnam is negotiating seven other FTAs, including Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP – with the USA and 10 other nations), European Union-Viet Nam FTA (EVFTA), Viet Nam – Customs Union Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan (VCUFTA), Viet Nam – Korea FTA (VKFTA), FTA with EFTA Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and FTA between ASEAN and Hong Kong (AHKFTA).
The two agreements that basically were concluded by 2014 and under legal review are VCUFTA and VKFTA. The negotiation of European – Viet Nam FTA, which is our mutual interest, has gained good achievements. In October 2014, the Prime Minister of Viet Nam, Nguyen Tan Dung, and the European Commission President, Manuel Baroso, provided guidance to solve the remaining issues with the aim to conclude negotiations in the upcoming months.
One of the major benefits for participating in such FTAs is that a wide range of new markets become more attractive, as import tax is eliminated. Especially when participating in trade agreements that involve many countries like TPP and EVFTA, Viet Nam has the chance to participate in the regional and global supply chain, which enhances Viet Nam’s position in the world.
Another important effect is that new generation FTAs helps Viet Nam to improve market economy institutions and business environments. In turn, this will facilitate a vital factor – investment, both internal and foreign, creating new a manufacturing capacity and boosting GDP growth.
Lastly, as EVFTA and TPP requires a high standard of good governance and transparency, these new generation FTAs will help Viet Nam to further consolidate the state apparatus through promoting administrative reform and strengthening discipline and responsibility.
“The South China Sea (East Sea) has seen complicated developments recently, directly affecting the security and cooperation environment in the region.”
GDL: Many concerns exist over tensions in the South China Sea (East Sea). Can you give us Viet Nam’s position on this sensitive issue and how can countries prevent an escalation of the situation?
TTHP: Viet Nam believes that every country, large or small, should pay adequate attention to common issues of the region and the world, as well as legitimate interests of other countries in addition to taking care of their own interests. This is a fundamental understanding to promote cooperation mechanisms, build confidence and resolve disputes through peaceful means in conformity with the United Nations Charter and International Law. All countries should further uphold the role of multilateral institutions and join hands for the development of a stable and sustainable regional architecture and institutions.
The South China Sea (East Sea) has seen complicated developments recently, directly affecting the security and cooperation environment in the region. Viet Nam has always advocated resolving disputes in the South China Sea (East Sea) through peaceful means on the basis of International Law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In the coming years, Viet Nam will continue to work with relevant parties to promote dialogue and negotiation with a view to seeking a long-term fundamental solution to the disputes in the South China Sea (East Sea), effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (East Sea) (DOC) and step up negotiations to achieve the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (East Sea) (COC) at an early date. This represents the common interests, aspirations and shared responsibilities of regional countries, as well as the entire international community.
“The economy of Viet Nam has transformed itself from an agrarian to a service economy. More than a third of the gross domestic product is generated by services, which include the hotel and catering industry and transportation. More and more foreign direct investment has been focused on tourism.”
GDL: Greek-Vietnamese bilateral relations have developed significantly over the past decade, with the broadening of the contractual framework for cooperation, the exchange of high-level visits and satisfactory cooperation within international organisations. Can you please assess this relationship and what are the highlights of this bilateral affiliation?
TTHP: Viet Nam and Greece have maintained a traditional friendly relationship. In the past, the Greek people have provided tremendous support in Viet Nam’s war of resistance for independence and reunification.
When I first came here and met with many Greek politicians, as well as citizens, I was very touched by their love and passion for Viet Nam. Many still told stories about protests and demonstrations that happened in the decade of the 60s and 70s to support Viet Nam’s resistance for independence.
Ever since the two countries established diplomatic ties on April 15th 1975, the bilateral relationship has been developing positively and comprehensively in all fields. The two sides have held many high-level delegations exchange. During talks and discussions at all levels, the two sides have informed each other on the current situation of each country, global and regional issues, reaffirmed the importance of facilitating the friendly relationship and multifaceted cooperation on the basis of 40-year diplomatic ties and discussed the direction and measures to be taken to enhance party relationships, political-diplomatic interactions, trade, commerce, culture and educational ties.
In recent years, the two countries continue to closely collaborate and support each other in the United Nations, international forum and within ASEM. Viet Nam appreciated Greece’s role in facilitating the conclusion of the European Union – Viet Nam Free Trade Agreement negotiation, the early ratification of the Partnership Cooperation Agreement, its support to the EU to recognise Viet Nam as a market economy and its positive influence on the European Council to fully implement the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) for Viet Nam.
Cooperation in maritime transport and related industries is the highlight of this bilateral relationship. Greece and Viet Nam are nautical countries. Greece owns approximately one fifth of ships worldwide and ranks number one in total tonnage (16.2% total worldwide maritime tonnage – higher than Japan 15.8%, Germany 9.2% and China 8.6%). Needless to say, promoting cooperation in this field benefits the economies of both countries.
On the occasion of former President Nguyen Minh Triet’s State Visit to Greece in 2008, Viet Nam and Centralmare-top Ship INC company signed an MOU to build a total of eight ships in Viet Nam. The first ship was launched in May 2014 and the remaining will be launched in 2015 and 2016.
At the moment, businesses from both sides are actively engaging in signing MOUs to establish a joint venture that repairs ships in Viet Nam and the potential to cooperate in maritime transport, ship-building, ship repair, logistics service, training and the recruitment of seamen.
“This year, the two countries (Viet Nam and Greece) are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations… Both the Greek Ambassador in Viet Nam and myself have also discussed and agreed to coordinate the deployment of a number of commemorative activities in both countries.”
GDL: The year of 2015 marks the 40th Anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between Viet Nam and Greece. Please tell us more about the upcoming activities to commemorate this significant milestone?
TTHP: This year, the two countries are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations. On this occasion, the leaders of the two countries will exchange greeting letters and the sides have agreed to strengthen the exchange of visits this year.
Despite its focus on solving economic problems in the country, the Greek delegations have always expressed their desire to visit Viet Nam. Both the Greek Ambassador in Viet Nam and myself have also discussed and agreed to coordinate the deployment of a number of commemorative activities in both countries. The Embassy of Viet Nam in Greece will organise a ‘Viet Nam Week in Greece’ from September 4th-15th 2015 with a series of cultural activities, such as a water puppetry show, traditional Vietnamese long dress fashion show, live traditional music performances, etc., in Athens and Thessaloniki.
High ranking delegations from Viet Nam will also visit Greece in September to celebrate this event, such as the Head of the Party Central Committee’s Commission for External Relations, Hoang Binh Quan and Minister of Culture, Sport and Tourism, Hoang Tuan Anh. The Embassy of Viet Nam in Greece will also organise a ‘Gala Dinner’ on the occasion of the National Day of Viet Nam, combined with ethnic dance music, bringing the traditional culture and originality of Viet Nam to the people of Greece. In addition, the Embassy is also planning to introduce traditional handicrafts of Viet Nam to the Greek people at the 80th Thessaloniki International Trade Fair. It is anticipated that the ‘Viet Nam Week’ in Greece will truly bring the Vietnamese culture, with its unique and beautiful traditional performances, closer to the Greek people, thus enhancing the understanding between the two peoples, further deepening the friendly relations between two countries.
“In my opinion, we need to further strengthen cooperation between Viet Nam and Greece, especially in the sectors of economy, trade and investment, on the basis of long-term and mutually beneficial collaboration… Additionally, both countries should strive to finish negotiations on the Maritime Agreement and Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement to promote trade and economic ties on a legal basis.”
GDL: During your tenure in the Hellenic Republic, what is your plan to strengthen and further develop the multifaceted cooperative relationship between Viet Nam and Greece? What are the main priorities?
TTHP: As I said above, Viet Nam and Greece have maintained a long standing friendly relationship. Even though political relations are very good, bilateral trade is modest. Trade turnover has increased in recent times, but it still only accounts for a very small proportion in the total trade turnover of both countries.
In my opinion, we need to further strengthen cooperation between Viet Nam and Greece, especially in the sectors of economy, trade and investment, on the basis of long-term and mutually beneficial collaboration. First and foremost, the two sides need to work on an effective and efficient implementation of existing agreements, such as the Agreement on Cooperation in Culture, Agreement on Cooperation in Tourism, Agreement on Investment Promotion and Protection and the MOU on cooperation between the two Ministries of Foreign Affairs. Additionally, both countries should strive to finish negotiations on the Maritime Agreement and Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement to promote trade and economic ties on a legal basis.
I began my mission here at a time of great difficulties for Greece. However, during the short time that I have been here, taking the time to understand the country, the people and the businesses, I can see a great deal of untapped potential to promote cooperation by utilising the strengths and supplementing to overcome weaknesses of both sides. Greek businesses are interested in developing trade ties with Viet Nam, especially importing agricultural, forestry, fishery, coffee, textiles and electronic products. And Vietnamese businesses are also interested in Greek products such as olive oil, wine, etc.
Thus, in the upcoming period, the Embassy will actively organise trade and investment promotions, tourism, art and cultural exchange activities, with the goal of enhancing mutual understanding between the Vietnamese and Greek people and business communities. These events will also provide opportunities for businesses from both sides to get to know each other, form trade ties and sign commercial contracts.
Last year the Greek-Vietnamese Business Council was formed, last month the standing committee of the Greek-Vietnamese Friendship Association was re-elected and we aim to effectively bring into play the role of the Council and the Association to serve as bridges for the business representatives of both sides.
“Viet Nam appreciated Greece’s role in facilitating the conclusion of the European Union – Viet Nam Free Trade Agreement negotiation, the early ratification of the Partnership Cooperation Agreement, its support to the EU to recognise Viet Nam as a market economy and its positive influence on the European Council to fully implement the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) for Viet Nam.”
GDL: Astonishingly exotic and utterly compelling, Viet Nam is a country of breathtaking natural beauty with an incredible heritage. Can you please tell us more about the significant component of the modern Vietnamese economy – tourism?
TTHP: Located in Southeast Asia, Viet Nam has many favourable conditions for tourism development. Viet Nam has emerged itself as a new tourist destination in Southeast Asia with its beautiful long stretches of idyllic coastline, charming seaside towns, delicious food and mountainous peaks, being listed in magazines worldwide.
The tourism industry in Viet Nam today has become a fast-growing economic sector and occupies an important position in the economic structure of many countries. Viet Nam is known for its famous landscapes and is recognised worldwide for its cultural heritage destinations, such as Ha Long Bay, Phong Nha, Ke Bang, My Son, Hue, and the ancient town of Hoi An, with their rich and diverse natural settings. Besides those, Viet Nam has some very interesting ecological systems of mangrove forests that have not been exploited, such as Cuc Phuong in Ninh Binh and Pu Mat in Nghe An. Furthermore, my country has many beautiful landscapes, such as Phan Thiet in Binh Thuan, Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa, Bai Chay in Ha Long and Vung Tau which are suitable for the development of marine tourism. Therefore, Viet Nam is, and has been, an ideal destination for travellers and international tourists alike.
To further develop these scenic attractions, the Government of Viet Nam has increasingly boosted investment and upgraded infrastructure more comprehensively recently.
The economy of Viet Nam has transformed itself from an agrarian to a service economy. More than a third of the gross domestic product is generated by services, which include the hotel and catering industry and transportation. More and more foreign direct investment has been focused on tourism. After the heavy industry and urban development, most foreign investment has been concentrated in tourism, especially in hotel projects.
“during the short time that I have been here, taking the time to understand the country, the people and the businesses, I can see a great deal of untapped potential to promote cooperation by utilising the strengths and supplementing to overcome weaknesses of both sides.”
The Government of Viet Nam has taken many measures for the promotion of tourism, for example the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports provided incentives for converting normal hotels into luxury ones. Likewise, an aggressive promotion of Viet Nam tourism runs in magazines and on TV channels.
Last year, tourists reached 7,874,312 (an increase of 4% from 2013). Revenue from tourism is expected to reach 18-19 billion USD in 2020.
Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life
Published in May 2015