Along a dark corridor a line of twelve middle-aged faces stare into the British Embassy. These are the Ambassadors at Hanoi before me. The first face is that of John Fawcett, who was here in 1973 when the United Kingdom and the then Democratic Republic of Vietnam established diplomatic relations.
The custom of keeping the photos former Ambassadors on the Embassy walls – not unique to Hanoi – appears to be fading. No doubt it looks somewhat pompous. But to me the tradition is a nice reminder both of history and of mortality.
I am sad to report that Peter Keegan Williams, who served as Ambassador from 1990 to 1997, is now among those who are no longer alive, having passed away in December. I know that Peter fell in love with Vietnam when he served here and continued to love this extraordinary country after he had left.
He made a major impact. His unusually long posting saw the first real flowering of diplomatic relations, including the opening of the British Council, the beginning of Britain’s aid programme, and the first ever visits to London by a Vietnamese Prime Minister and to Hanoi by a British Foreign Secretary (the second was last year).
He continued to visit Vietnam in support of British business, and was planning another trip for this year.
Since the signature of our Strategic Partnership agreement in 2010, our two governments have made further remarkable progress together in many areas to change the nature of the relationship. I spoke about that at a reception last Thursday to launch our fortieth anniversary celebrations.
That special evening included a colourful Cong Tri fashion show as well as songs from the wonderful British group Black Voices (whose performance at my Residence last year has been described as “a lifetime highlight”).
Guest of honour was Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.
Our programme for this anniversary year is packed and ambitious. I am happy to announce first of all that His Excellency Nguyen Phu Trong will pay the first ever visit to London by a General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam as early as next week.
I hope my predecessors would approve. Carpe diem.