This post is also available in: Vietnamese
Outside the iconic No 10 door, on the crisp cold evening of 22 January, I watched the British Prime Minister shake hands with the Head of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the first ever such meeting.
Inside, the atmosphere was gracious, workmanlike and constructive.
The following morning I perched on the Speaker’s balcony in parliament alongside a group of Vietnamese delegates, above a noisy session of questions to the Prime Minister. The volume of gleeful cheering and jeering (to put it politely) rose so that it became hard to hear the debate.
“Disrespectful to the Prime Minister”, as a Vietnamese Minister said to me in the car afterwards – perhaps so. But it did show vividly how openness to criticism and challenge can help make government fully accountable.
As well as the PM, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Lord Mayor of London also all hosted discussions. Each has been in Vietnam within the last 18 months (albeit in the Lord Mayor’s case his predecessor in office). General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong also met His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales – and invited him to visit.
Clarence House, Lancaster House, Carlton Gardens: it seemed at times a tour of historic homes. But major visits can unlock obstacles and open doors, and this one stands out. Positive discussions across an ambitious agenda showed the scale of the opportunity which a bigger relationship can bring.
I take my furry winter hat off to the quietly dedicated officials on both sides who organized the busy programme in snowy London. It was a privilege to be involved, to join the discussions, even at the end of his meeting to hear the PM remembering the bicycles and beauty of Vietnam when he first visited (in a private capacity) many years ago.