Ambassador of Vietnam to Japan, H.E. Nguyen Quoc Cuong, shares his thoughts on relations between the two countries with VET.
■ How do you view the relationship between Vietnam and Japan over recent years?
The two countries are enjoying a better-than-ever relationship. Top leaders from the two countries meet regularly to discuss measures to further strengthen bilateral relations. Soon after re-assuming office, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chose Vietnam for his first foreign visit, in January 2013, while State President Truong Tan Sang visited Japan in March 2014 and, most recently, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the country in July.
■ What have been the highlights of the bilateral relationship?
One of highlights is the high level of political trust. In his speech before the two Houses of the Japanese Diet in March 2014, State President Sang emphasized that “Political trust is a solid foundation and strong motivation to bring the development of bilateral relations to a new level, towards a better future.” There is no major contradiction or conflict of interest between the two countries. In contrast, the two countries share a lot of common interests.
Based on the political trust and mutual interests, the two countries have established “an extensive strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific”. The important thing is that the extensive strategic partnership is not only expressed in words, but more importantly it has been implemented practically and effectively in all areas, from politics - defense to economics - trade - investment, health, culture, education, and science and technology, both bilaterally and multilaterally.
Japan has become a leading (and most important) economic partner of Vietnam. For many years it has maintained its position as one of its largest trading partners and investors. In 2014 bilateral trade reached $28 billion and is targeted to reach $50 billion by 2020. In terms of investment, Japan had more than 2,500 foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in 49 cities and provinces in Vietnam as of March 2015, with total registered investment of nearly $38 billion.
Many large-scale projects in infrastructure and energy sectors have been implemented effectively. These projects not only have strategic significance for Vietnam’s socio-economic development but are also vivid symbols of the sustainable and long-term development of the bilateral relations.
Moreover, the two countries have built a framework for bilateral economic cooperation to 2020 and vision to 2030. Japan will actively cooperate and assist Vietnam in the implementation of its industrialization strategy, focusing on priority areas: agriculture and seafood processing, agricultural machinery, electronics, the environmental industry and advanced energy efficiency, automobile manufacturing and automotive parts, shipbuilding, and others. The two sides are working together to build industrial parks specializing in the mechanical engineering industry and electronics industry, in Hai Phong and Ba Ria Vung Tau.
The two are also building a Medium and Long-term Joint Vision on high-quality agricultural cooperation focusing on improving productivity and added value, improving distribution systems and cold chains, promoting private investment, and training high quality human resources in agriculture, to raise livelihoods and living standards among people in rural areas.
The action plans between the two countries to implement the abovementioned industrialization strategy and Vision for agricultural cooperation will surely contribute to building and strengthening the production links between enterprises from the two countries and eventually connecting the two economies, promoting the transfer of technology and innovation, and improving the quality of human resources in Vietnam.
Cooperation in the fields of health, education, science and technology, and human resources are constantly being strengthened. After years of preparation, the Hoa Lac Hi-Tech Park officially began construction in June 2015 with the idea of building a city of science and modern technology, a smart and environmentally-sound city. The project to establish the Vietnam-Japan University with high international standards is being actively deployed by the two parties. The number of students from Vietnam in Japan has increased rapidly. There are now more than 30,000 Vietnamese students studying in Japan; the largest number of Vietnamese students in any country around the world. The number of Vietnamese trainees, nurses, and workers in Japan has risen to 35,000 and will continue to increase in the coming years. I just arrived in Japan and after one month as the Vietnamese Ambassador in Japan I paid visits to four prefectures - Kanagawa, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and Nagasaki - and the Governors of those four prefectures shared a common sentiment - that Vietnam’s workers are diligent - and they all expressed an interest in welcoming more Vietnamese trainees and workers. Other cities and prefectures in Japan also wish to do so.
Cultural exchanges between the two countries’ peoples have increasingly expanded, with the Vietnamese Festivals in Japan and the Japanese Festivals in Vietnam being held annually. Japan’s newspapers and televisions have broadcast and reported many news and articles about the country, people and culture of Vietnam, contributing to strengthening the friendship and promoting tourism.
The two countries are also increasingly closely cooperating on international and regional issues. We share a deep concern about the recent complicated developments in the East Sea, which alter the status quo, erode trust, and threaten peace and stability in the region. Both want the disputes resolved by peaceful means, on the basis of international law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, the serious implementation of the Declaration of Conduct (DOC), and the early adoption of the Code of Conduct (COC). Vietnam supports the efforts and initiatives of Japan relating to cooperation with ASEAN, and between Japan and the Mekong Sub-region.
In general, the relationship between the two countries is strengthening and developing strongly across all sectors and the potential to extend this cooperation is huge.
■ Japan is one the largest ODA donors to Vietnam. How would you comment on ODA from Japan to Vietnam in recent years?
For over two decades Japan has been the largest ODA donor to Vietnam. In the period from 1992 to 2011, total ODA from Japan to Vietnam was JPY2,000 billion, or nearly $20 billion, and it accounted for 30 per cent of total aid commitments. During this same period, ODA from France accounted for 6 per cent, Germany 4 per cent, Australia, Denmark and the UK 3 per cent, and the US and South Korea 2 per cent, while 22 per cent came from the World Bank and 9 per cent from the Asian Development Bank.
In three types - soft loans, grant aid, and technical cooperation - ODA from Japan has contributed significantly to Vietnam’s socio-economic development in recent decades through major projects in infrastructure, such as roads, highways, railways, power plants, and ports, in building the market economy, and in developing human resources.
From north to south there are many works and major projects with Japanese ODA that have been implemented effectively, contributing to boosting economic growth and improving international competitiveness and livelihoods and reducing disparities in development levels, protecting the environment, and improving administrative capacity. In Hanoi new projects have been completed recently, such as the T2 terminal at Noi Bai International Airport, Nhat Tan Bridge, and others, which have helped create a new image for the country’s capital.
Thai Nguyen province is another example, as prior to 2012 FDI into the province stood at a modest $100 million, but after the 61-km highway linking Thai Nguyen with Hanoi was constructed using Japanese ODA loans, FDI to Thai Nguyen soared to over $3 billion in 2013 and more than $7 billion in 2014, which created many new jobs and increased revenue to the provincial budget.
Non-refundable aid from Japan has contributed to the construction of important projects in the areas of health, customs, agriculture and rural development, such as Bach Mai Hospital, Hue Central Hospital, and Cho Ray Hospital, and provided clean water in certain provinces.
In addition, through technical cooperation programs, the Japanese Government has supported Vietnam in preparing master plans for the development of sectors such as electricity and transport, as well as feasibility studies, detailed designs, environmental surveys, and the training of scientific and technical staff and management.
Of course, these projects also bring significant benefits to Japan, especially with businesses directly involved in ODA projects, as well as other companies from Japan and elsewhere enjoying the benefits of better infrastructure, the investment environment being more open, and better human resources being available.
We appreciate and thank the Japanese Government and its people for these enormous contributions.
With strong developments in bilateral relations in the past and with the great potential mentioned above, I strongly believe that the strategic partnership will continue to be promoted by both countries’ governments and people towards being more in-depth and effective and with long-term stability in the interests of the two peoples, and for peace, stability and development in the region and the world.