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I watch the General Secretary’s plane taxi off to a Heathrow runway. It had taken nearly forty years since the beginning of diplomatic relations to stage that historic handshake. But there was just enough time to return to Whitehall and then get out to Gatwick for the direct flight inaugurated a year ago. I arrived back in Hanoi just in time to welcome Lord Astor at Noi Bai.
It is rare to see a landmark event such as the historic first visit by a Vietnam Communist Party Chief to London at the invitation of the Prime Minister.
That was no small affair: a delegation of more than a hundred party leaders, ministers and officials were involved in a wide-ranging programme enabling several new agreements, binding us closer, interweaving our work with the Government with engagement with the Party.
We have opened the door to an ambitious future.
It is rarer still to see two milestone visits in opposite directions in little more than a week. Lord Astor of Hever, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, has become the first British Defence Minister to set foot on Vietnamese ground.
His schedule included visits to Vietnamese army, navy and air force units as well as formal talks with Vice Minister General Nguyen Chi Vinh. This is all part of our new bilateral defence agenda.
I have made defence and security a major part of my career. I was proud to attend the UK Defence Academy’s Higher Command and Staff Course in 2009, quite simply the most impressive course of education I have experienced.
This has helped me see the value of working with Vietnam on defence issues, and on encouraging respect for international law. That is a difficult agenda because the international legal system is frankly weak. But it may be the best hope we have of preventing international bullying.
As Vietnam’s influence grows, it can also become a stronger influence on “non-conventional” threats such as proliferation of outlawed weapons, or cyber crime, or terrorism, and we should work together to keep the region and the world at peace.