This post is also available in: Vietnamese
Over a cup of Lipton tea (yes, Sir Thomas Lipton was British) during a short break in a seminar at Hanoi University, the students told me about their dreams. English footballers like David Beckham and Wayne Rooney were mentioned, but many also spoke of ambitions to become diplomats. How did you become an ambassador, they asked.
As one compelling young woman said, it is a rare privilege and responsibility to “stand up and represent your whole country”. This was no surprise from a group of mainly international relations undergraduates.
I myself studied sciences at Cambridge University and a completed a theoretical and experimental research degree at University College. That might not seem directly relevant to diplomacy. But as I said during the talk, it informed my thinking.
For example, science emphasises the importance of judging for yourself on the basis of the evidence. Neither a book nor an authority can be a guaranteed source of the truth. Not even a British Ambassador.
Science also helped me to understand the world of systems, and appreciate the value of engagement. The value of multilateral diplomacy, working together on issues such as the global threat of extremism, is one reflection of this.
I hope that we will be able to talk about this with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in London this week.
I count myself fortunate to have been assigned such a privileged position. My path has been unusual, and I also have a business background. I do believe that getting that sort of experience can both be valuable for its own sake and to help you understand what you need. Image and style matter. But you do not want to be a “neutrino”: all spin and no mass. Substance and expertise matter more.
I was as much a student at Hanoi University as any of the 500 younger men and women at the seminar. Thank you all for teaching me, and thank you to Dr Nguyen Dinh Luan for inviting me to your prestigious institution.