10 diplomatic observations on the year of the dragon

This post is also available in: Vietnamese

1. It is not official diplomatic channels but personal links that lie at the heart of the bilateral relationship. Vietnam became the world’s fastest-growing destination for British tourists, according to a survey. In the opposite direction, we issued a record 13,000 visas to Vietnamese citizens.

2. Nonetheless diplomacy has its place, and Britain started to celebrate forty years of diplomatic relations. Our launch and promotions around the London Olympics, Paralympics and The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee showed that Britain can raise its profile here more.

Photo: Dr Antony Stokes

Photo: Dr Antony Stokes

3. We are seeing a transformation in government relations.  I was advised repeatedly how unrealistic it would be to turn the “fine words” of our strategic partnership agreement into results. Yet our governments have progressed further, to build a different, bigger bilateral relationship. For this I pay tribute to all my ambitious colleagues in both governments.

4. The Foreign Secretary played a key role. His May visit had looked unlikely: the last Foreign Secretary to come to Hanoi was Douglas Hurd in 1994. William Hague rightly described Vietnam’s potential as “colossal”. He has taken strategic decisions to shift Foreign Office resources which have helped us strengthen our engagement.

5. It has been fascinating to see new relationships develop. The policy agenda with the Communist Party is hardly problem-free, for example on human rights. Differences in our political systems make the protocol awkward. But during the first ever such visit to London, the General Secretary enabled new constructive agreements and engagement.

6. It was thankfully a peaceful year, although the South China Sea was in the headlines. We began our own defence agenda, leading to the first visit here by a British Minister of Defence. The world is still short of capacity to deal with global threats like weapons proliferation and cyber crime. Vietnam can build a bigger role, including in peacekeeping.

7. Everything depends on the economy. Vietnam took some serious action. But much depends on further proposed reform, restructuring of state-owned enterprises and tackling bad loans. We started some modest support, with a first public finance management agreement and experimental provincial anti-corruption events. It’s a tough but crucial agenda.

8. One dramatic success was a rapid growth in trade. We have come close to meeting our target of doubling two-way trade a year before our three-year deadline. But this is tempered by a growing trade imbalance. Britain is a world-class exporter of services, but could do much better at exporting products.

9. I spent more than enough time with politicians and officials. Interesting though they are, it was more refreshing to talk with students or alumni groups, more satisfying to open schools, and more exciting to be helping set up the UK-Vietnam University. Young Vietnamese are an antidote to any doubts about Vietnam’s future.

10. The opportunity to write on an official blog has come quickly. I began this one around the Dragon New Year holiday. Perhaps blogging will fall out of trend as quickly as it came. But digital media continued to transform debate, education and in some ways governance. This may well prove to be the most significant advance of all.

Overall it has been a remarkable year, filled with remarkable people.

One Response

  1. Ingo-Steven Wais says:

    Dear Antony,
    what an interesting story to read. Notable to me are your following topics:
    # 2 : 4o years of diplomatic relations has surely made a continuing impact and / incl. benefits to Vietnam as well as Great Britain.
    #3 : ” Seeing a transformation…” means to me also : Seeing more transparency for the people in re. of government policy. This is maybe one of the ground pillars for every working democracy .
    #6 : “…a peaceful year…” This is to me your most notable topic.
    For it ´s just the basic for another decade of peace, trust, human rights and a democratic developement.
    To conclude : So far I didn ´t knew of how peaceful and “remarkable” 12 months amongst “THE DRAGON” can be.
    BW + nice weekend,
    Ingo-Steven Wais, Stuttgart

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