Interview with H.E. Mr. Thai Xuan Dung (Ambassador of Vietnam)

On Thursday 15th of July H.E. Mr. Thai Xuan Dung (Ambassador of Vietnam) invited representatives of PRAGUE FORUM – Mr. Hans Weber, Dr. Pietro Andrea Podda PhD., Ing. Milos Janu and Christian Grosse for interview and discussion about Czech-Vietnam relations into his embassy.

1. About myself and first impressions in the Czech Republic

After nearly 35 years of working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, experienced positions at the Consular Department, the National Border Commission with two working terms in Germany and Hong Kong (China), I was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in the Czech Republic. In July 2020, I came to Prague to start my tenure as Ambassador with many wishes and expectations to promote the relations between Vietnam and the Czech Republic in many fields.

The first impression I noticed is that Prague is an ancient, beautiful capital with many charms and attractions in terms of history, architecture, culture and cuisine. Prague is famous as a tourist city with many historical museums and magnificent castles. The more I learn, the more I am impressed with the cultural and historical works here, such as the Prague Castle, the legendary Charles bridge connecting the two banks of the Vltava River, churches were built from 11th century around the old Prague square.

Even though we are ten thousands of kilometers far away from Vietnam, but I still feel close and cozy like at home because we have a very strong, sincere and emotional Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic. Initially, they were Vietnamese students and workers who came to Czechoslovakia to study and work under the Agreement between the Governments of the two countries since 1956. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, most of these people settled down and considered here as their second home. The Vietnamese community is enormous increased when the host government allows relatives of Vietnamese people residing in the Czech Republic to enter and reside in the country under the family reunification category. According to official estimates there are now around 70.000 Vietnamese living in the Czech Republic. They are an industrious, tolerant, hard-working, dynamic, creative and especially studious community. Most of the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic has a job, a stable income, and their children are well educated, and many of these people have been very successful in field of business environment.

It can be said that the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic is a community of solidarity, responsibility, complying with local laws and gradually overcoming language barriers, integrating more deeply, widely and sustainably and making practical and effective contributions to Czech economic, cultural and social life; willing to share difficulties with local people and authorities, highly appreciated by local people and authorities, and being recognized as a community that brings many benefits to the Czech Republic. In 2013, the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic was recognized by the Czech government as an ethnic minority community in the Czech Republic.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Vietnamese community across the Czech Republic has shown solidarity and actively supported the local authorities and people to respond to the pandemic from the very beginning, such as donating face masks, medical supplies, cash, providing free meals and drinks for the pandemic prevention and control forces. Most recently, responding to the call of the Central Committee of the Association of Vietnamese in the Czech Republic, the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic promptly donated and supported essential consumer goods and cash for the people of Southern Morava (Czech Republic) who suffered serious damages by a tornado at the end of June 2021.

It can be said that the existence, integration and development of the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic is an important bridge contributing to maintaining, consolidating and developing the traditional friendship relationship between the people of the Vietnam and Czech Republic as well as the two countries.

2. Vietnam after 35 years of Doi Moi (Renovation period)

At the 6th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (1986), Vietnam made a great decision to carry out the renovation “Doi moi”. At that time, Vietnam was a poor, agriculturally backward country, heavily devastated by war, suffering enormous consequences in terms of people, property and ecological environment. In addition, after the war, the US and Western countries imposed an economic embargo on Vietnam for nearly 20 years; the regional and international situation was also complicated, causing many disadvantages for Vietnam; food and basic necessities are in short supply, people’s life is extremely difficult, about three-quarters of the population lives below the poverty line.

Since the implementation of the renovation policy, the economy has started to grow and develop continuously at a relatively high rate during the past 35 years with an average growth rate of about 7% per year. The scale of GDP is constantly expanding, reaching 342.7 billion USD (USD) in 2020, becoming the fourth largest economy in ASEAN. Per capital income increased about 17 times, to 3,512 USD; Vietnam has been out of the group of low-income countries since 2008. From a country suffering from chronic food shortage, Vietnam has not only ensured food security but also become a leading exporter of rice and other agricultural products in the world. Industry has developed quite rapidly, the share of industry and services has continuously increased and now accounts for about 85% of GDP. Total import and export turnover increased sharply, in 2020 reached over 540 billion USD, of which export turnover reached over 280 billion USD. Foreign exchange reserves increased sharply, reaching 100 billion USD in 2020. Foreign investment increased rapidly, registering nearly 395 billion USD by the end of 2020.

Currently, Vietnam’s population is more than 97 million people, including 54 ethnic groups, of which more than 60% live in rural areas. Economic development has contributed to political and social stability, significantly improving people’s lives. The poverty rate decreased from 58% in 1993 to 5.8% in 2016 according to the Government poverty line and below 3% in 2020 according to the multidimensional poverty line (higher criteria than before). Up to now, more than 60% of villages and communes have met new rural standards; most rural communes have car roads to the center, national grid electricity, primary and secondary schools, health stations and telephones.

The fields of education and health also achieved remarkable results such as basically completing illiteracy eradication, universalizing primary education in 2000 and universalizing secondary education in 2010; the number of university and college students increased nearly 17 times in the past 35 years; 95% of adults can read and write; preventive health care has spread widely, many diseases that were common in the past have been successfully controlled; the poor, children under 6 years old and the elderly are provided with free health insurance; The rate of child malnutrition and infant mortality decreased by nearly three times; The average life expectancy of the population increased from 62 years of age in 1990 to 73.7 years of age in 2020.

Cultural life is also significantly improved; Cultural activities develop richly and diversely. Currently, Vietnam has about 70% of the population using the Internet, is one of the countries with the highest rate of information technology development in the world. The United Nations has recognized Vietnam as one of the leading countries in realizing the Millennium Development Goals. In 2019, Vietnam’s human development index (HDI) reached 0.704, belonging to the group of countries with high HDI in the world, especially compared to other countries with the same development level. The Government of Vietnam has issued the National Program on Digital Transformation to 2025, with a Vision to 2030. All these have shown the aspiration and determination to build Vietnam into a digital economic center with and high technology, and at the same time creating a legal basis and resources for the realization of this aspiration.

Vietnam’s legal policies aimed at attracting foreign investment are becoming more and more complete and open, creating favorable conditions for foreign investors with increasingly high and modern technologies. Recently, a new wave of investment by technology giants has appeared in Vietnam, such as Samsung Group (Korea) investing in Vietnam about 20 billion USD, Intel Corporation (USA) about 1.5 billion USD, and most recently Apple (USA) has chosen Vietnam as a place to manufacture its famous products. Vietnam is emerging as an attractive and reliable option for manufacturers and investors looking to diversify their supply chains in Asia.

Regarding foreign affairs, since renovation “Doi Moi”, Vietnam actively integrates deeply and widely into the international community. Thereby, the cooperation relationship between Vietnam and other countries and territories around the world develops in both width and depth, contributing to maintaining a peaceful and stable environment, maintaining sovereignty and territorial integrity, attracting resources for the construction, development and enhancement of the international position of the country. Up to now, Vietnam has established diplomatic relations with 189/193 member countries of the United Nations; established a stable and long-term relationship framework with 30 strategic and comprehensive partners, creating a solid foundation for Vietnam and related countries to raise cooperation levels for the benefit of each country and for peace, cooperation and development in the region and in the world.

With the foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, diversification and multilateralization of international relations, active and proactive international integration, wishing to be a friend, a reliable partner and a responsible member of the international community, Vietnam has become an important link in many regional and global economic linkages with the signing of many important free trade agreements (such as CPTPP, EVFTA…), creating great motivation for integration and development in the fields of security-defense, society, culture, science and technology; has been trusted to give and successfully undertaken many major international responsibilities, especially the host of the Francophonie Summit (1997), ASEAN (1998, 2010, 2020), ASEM (2005), APEC (2006, 2017). ); actively and proactively put forward many ideas and initiatives, contributing to solving common problems of the region and the world such as the 2ndUS-North Korea Summit in Hanoi; has actively participated and contributed at most important regional and international forums, especially ASEAN, ASEM, APEC and the United Nations, G7, G20… highly appreciated by friends and partners; and most recently, Vietnam has very successfully assumed the dual role in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic raging in the world that is the ASEAN Chair in 2020 and a non-permanent members of the UN Security Council for the 2020-2021 term. It can be said that renovation (“Doi Moi”) achieved “great achievements of historical significance”, comprehensively improving people’s lives, and enhancing Vietnam’s position and role in the world. Vietnam is a reliable friend and partner and responsible member of the international community.

3. Bilateral relations between Vietnam and the Czech Republic

The diplomatic relationship between Vietnam and former Czechoslovakiawas established on February 2nd, 1950, is a relationship of traditional friendship and multifaceted cooperation. Over the past 70 years, the relationship between Vietnam and the Czech Republic has been constantly consolidated and developed in all fields: political diplomacy, economy, national security, defense, culture, education and training… and opens up opportunities for cooperation between localities of the two countries. The Czech Republic is a traditional friend of Vietnam and a bridge to help Vietnam access Central and Eastern Europe and Europe. The two sides have maintauined the exchange of hundreds of delegations at all levels, including many high-level delegations, most recently Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s visit to the Czech Republic (April 2019), President Milos Zeman’ visit to Vietnam (June 2017). The two sides maintain regular meetings of the Intergovernmental Committee on Economic Cooperation to implement economic cooperation activities of the two countries, the seventh session is expected to take place in late 2021 or early 2022.

Regarding trade, in the past 21 years from 1999 to 2020, the bilateral trade turnover between the two countries increased 26 times, from $57 million to $1.5 billion. In 2020, two-way trade turnover will reach 1.5 billion USD, of which Czech exports are 72 million USD and import is 1.4 billion USD. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, bilateral trade in 2020 increased by 22% compared to 2019 and in the first 6 months of 2021 continued to increase by 28% compared to the same period of 2020. Vietnam is the 36th largest trading partner among more than 200 Czech partners. In terms of exports alone, Vietnam is the 28th largest exporter to the Czech Republic. Currently, Vietnam is also one of 12 priority markets for Czech trade. I am happy that the bilateral trade between the two countries is growing much faster than the trade between the Czech Republic and the world.

Regarding investment, the Czech Republic has 38 investment projects in Vietnam, ranked 42ndout of 101 countries and territories investing in Vietnam, with a total registered capital of 90 million USD, focusing on the fields of real estate, beer, electrical equipment, building materials…Recently, Czech businesses are very interested in the Vietnamese market with the fields of traffic and supporting industries, production of automobiles and spare parts, electric railway cars, beer and wine, cyber security, etc. defense industry…In addition, Vietnamese businessmen in the Czech Republic is relatively successful, initially having a voice in the host country, having the capacity to reach out to other European countries and also very interested in investing in Vietnam. Currently, this community is making a significant contribution to promoting trade and investment cooperation between Vietnam and the Czech Republic, and thereby promoting economic relations between Vietnam and the European Union.

The implementation of the Vietnam – EU Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) has brought many benefits to Vietnamese – EU businesses and people, including the Czech Republic. The EVFTA and EVIPA (approved by the Czech parliament) are two agreements of strategic importance on economic, trade and investment cooperation not only between Vietnam and the EU, but also between Vietnam and the Czech Republic. 02 Agreements will help Czech and EU businesses to access the market of nearly 100 million people. A young market with 65% of people under 35 years old, is very dynamic, creative and knowledgeable. It can be seen that Vietnam is a potential market, meeting the needs of cooperation in many fields where the Czech side has strengths such as financial services, banking, and telecommunications; automotive, medical, chemical industry…Besides, Vietnam will be the door for Czech enterprises to access ASEAN and East Asian markets… in the near future.

The traditional friendship between the two countries has been further demonstrated through cooperation and mutual support in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Early 2020 when outbreak of pandemic was in the Czech Republic, Vietnam supported the Czech Republic with masks, equipment and medical supplies. Currently, while the 4thoutbreak of pandemic ranging in Vietnam, the Czech Government has donated 250,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, decided to cede to Vietnam 500,000 doses of vaccine and some rapid test kits as well as mobilizing other European countries to support vaccines for Vietnam in August 2021; especially, the solidarity of the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic, joining hands with the local people and authorities in the fight against the pandemic, has contributed to further deepening the traditional friendship between the Governments and peoples of the two countries.

In the coming time, after the Covid-19 pandemic is under control, the implimentation of Bamboo Airways’ direct flight from Hanoi to Prague will meet the expectations of the Governments and peoples of Vietnam the Czech Republic. This will be a push to promote cooperation and development of trade, investment and tourism between the two countries.

4. About the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic in Vietnam

From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, right after detecting the first case in Vietnam in early 2020, the Vietnamese Government quickly established a National Steering Committee for Covid-19 prevention and control[1]. With the spirit and determination of “fighting the pandemic is like fighting the enemy”, with the active response and cooperation of the people, the whole Vietnam’s political system has taken part in the fight. Under the direction and management of the National Steering Committee, Vietnamese authorities have drastically and effectively implemented a series of pandemic prevention and control measures[2] in order to realize the dual goal of successfully controlling the pandemic and maintaining economic growth. By near the end of April 2021, Vietnam has successfully controlled 3 outbreaks of disease, is one of the few countries with positive GDP growth, reaching 2,91% in 2020 and 5,64% in the first 6 months of 2021.

Currently, Vietnam is experiencing the fourth outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic, starting from April 27, 2021. Upholding valuable experiences in successfully controlling three previous outbreaks of the disease, along with the increasing understanding and capacity of medical and testing staff, Vietnam is making its utmost efforts to control the 4thoutbreak of the pandemic, while also ensuring people’s lives and production. However, from June 2021 to now, the appearance of a new Delta variant has made the pandemic situation in Vietnam more complicated and serious with the number of new infections and the number of severe cases increasing rapidly. In addition to implementing stronger, more drastic and stricter measures than the above mentioned measures, including the 5K[3] recommendation and drastic implementation of the vaccine strategy, speeding up the vaccination rate of progress[4], adjust the method and scale of testing; isolation measures, allowing isolation at the place of residence; stratifying treatment facilities in order to minimize, avoid wasting resources, overcrowding in isolation centers, in upper and central-level hospitals[5], and spending tens of thousands of billions of Vietnam Dong to buy vaccines, medical equipment, set up a field hospital and subsidize workers and business owners affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The above measures of the Government of Vietnam continue to be recognized by the international community, saying that Vietnam has been very proactive, drastic and implemented in the right direction the disease prevention work during the fourth outbreak.

In order to completely control the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe that the world’s cooperation and consensus of all countries and international organizations are needed. In a cosmopolitan world, when one person, one place is not safe, then all is not safe. Therefore, in addition to the fight against the great enemy, Vietnam needs and hopes to receive the support of international friends, wants to receive, and wants to be ceded as quickly and as possible, vaccines and biological products, medical equipment, drugs to treat Covid, transferred technology to produce vaccines and drugs to treat Covid in Vietnam. Vietnam is determined to successfully control the pandemic to protect itself as well as demonstrate its responsibility to the international community.

H.E.Mr. Thai Xuan Dung

Ambassador Extraodinary and Plenipotentiary

The S.R of Vietnam to the Czech Republic

[1]The head of the committee is the Deputy Prime Minister, members of which are leaders of the Ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs, Public Security, National Defense, and a number of other relevant ministries. [2]Specifically: quickly detecting, tracing, zoning the epidemic, isolating and stamping out the epidemic, and actively treating people infected with Covid-19 at specialized medical facilities and field hospitals; implement social distancing at different levels depending on the level of infection in each residential area, each specific area, in which the strictest social distancing measure is implemented in accordance with the Directive No. 16/CT-TTg of the Prime Minister (according to that, isolation is carried out on the principle that family is isolated from family, neighborhood is isolated from neighborhood, village is isolated from village and commune), communes/wards are isolated from communes/wards, districts are isolated from districts, cities are isolated from provinces; essential service business establishments, factory workshops must ensure safety against epidemics….); strictly control land and sea borders, international airports and people on entry; prevent illegal entry, carry out a 14-day quarantine of immigrants right after their entry. During the quarantine period, if after 02 times, they have negative RT-PCR test results, they will be sent back to their place of residence for further isolation, medical observation for 14 days and if positive, they will be taken to the hospital for treatment. [3]5K in Vietnamese means: Mask – Disinfection – Distance – Do not gather in large numbers – Medical declaration. [4]Currently, Vietnam has reached an agreement and commitment with partners to have 105/175 million doses of vaccine to immunize 75% of the population; is negotiating to buy another 70 million doses; at the beginning of September 2021, over million doses of vaccines have been received; more than 18,2 million people have been vaccinated; Vaccination rate is improving day by day, so far more than 400,000 injections have been given per day. [5]Quickly classify according to the disease status (very mild, mild, severe, very severe, emergency) of the infected person (F0) so that on that basis, classify them into scientific, reasonable and realisstic treatment classes. For example, mild and very mild cases can be treated at commune or district levels or isolated and monitored at home, severe cases are transferred to higher levels, very severe, emergency services are transferred to central levels.

 

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