The Guardian 7 September, 2005
Vietnam — for peace and friendship:
60th anniversary, Socialist Vietnam
September 2 was the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which is now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It was a time for celebration across Vietnam and around the world. In Sydney a celebration was held by the Vietnamese Consulate at which the Consul General Mr Nguyen The Phiet gave a speech recalling the achievements and struggles over those 60 years. The following is the text (abridged) of the speech.
On the 2nd September, 1945 our President Ho Chi Minh solemnly declared before the world on behalf of the Vietnamese people that: "Vietnam has the right to be free and independent country and in fact it is so already. The entire Vietnamese people are determined to use all their physical and mental strength, their lives and property in order to safeguard their freedom and independence".
In those days, in the whole country, there was a joyous atmosphere. Everyone was happy after so many years under foreign domination, from the status of being an oppressed and exploited people, we became masters of our own destiny, our own land and prepared to chart out the road to build our own life. But that newly gained freedom did not last long as we had to engage ourselves in the patriotic war for national salvation. That patriotic war took us almost 30 years to complete and to unify our country.
With the unification of the country, a dream came true. The dream of becoming a free nation and free people pursuing our own and independent policies and build our own happy life.
President Ho Chi Minh, the founder of a new Vietnam, during his lifetime, always cherished an aspiration. He said, "I have only a desire, an utmost desire that our country is fully independent, our people are fully free, our compatriots all have enough food and access to education".
After unification, we were left with so many war consequences besides international isolation. During the late ’70s and early ’80s, Vietnam went through a very critical social and economic crisis. Production stagnated, economic growth stood at just 0.4% per annum. Inflation became super-inflation at an annual rate of more than 700%. The poverty rate was high accounting for 70% of the population.
In that situation, we understood that if we continued to pursue our wartime policies and not to take up radical measures to face and overcome these challenges, the political independence and freedom and national unification would become meaningless.
Therefore, beginning in the late ’80s and early ’90s, our government and people were determined to undertake the comprehensive renovation process: The economy, previously managed in a centralised bureaucratic and planned style, was changed into a market transitional economy. We started to build the economy into a multi-sectoral economy. We also started to expand foreign economic relations and began efforts to integrate the national economy into the region and the world economy.
High economic growth rate
With tremendous efforts and determination, after 20 years of economic reforms, looking back, we can proudly say that we have made significant progress. All-round and comprehensive changes have been made. The country got out of the socio-economic crisis. Elements of market economy have been established. The macro-economic environment gradually stabilised. A high economic growth rate was able to be sustained continuously. People’s living standards have been improved.
The political system and national unity have been constantly consolidated and strengthened. Our country’s position in the international arena has been elevated and the path for national development has become clearer.
Also looking back we are very happy that for the past many years we have been able to maintain the economic growth at above 7% p.a. Inflation was pushed back from 700% to single digits in the ’90s and we continue to maintain that rate.
Vietnam has turned itself from a chronic rice importing country with an annual average of two million tonnes into a leading rice exporting country. Besides exporting rice, Vietnam has become one of the leading exporters of coffee, seafood, spices and some other items.
The environment for foreign investment has been greatly improved. By the end of 2004, more than 5000 FDI projects had been effective with a total registered capital of over US$45.5 billion. Foreign investment plays an important role in our national economy, contributing to nearly 15% of GDP, more than 30% of export value and 4.9% of state budget revenue, generating tens of thousand jobs for the local people. Export markets continue to expand into all countries and regions of which USA, Asia and EU are the major segments.
While pushing for the economic development, our government have also paid great attention to addressing social issues, spending more than one third of the total investment capital on poverty reduction, human resource development, education and training, science and technology, health and cultural life. The poverty rate in Vietnam has been reduced considerably from 70% in the ’80s to 20.3% in 1995 and is now 8.3%. Vietnam has been recognised by the United Nations as one of the world’s most successful countries in poverty reduction.
Citizen’s rights as stated under the Constitution, including the right to freedom of belief and legal religious practice, are guaranteed. The number of religious followers and dignitaries as well as religious establishments in Vietnam continues to increase. The legal system has been constantly improved towards the goal of building Vietnam into a country based on the rule of law and a country of the people, for the people and by the people.
The foreign policy of Vietnam has always been that of peace, cooperation and friendship. We are willing to be friend and partner of all countries. That policy has achieved concrete results. To date, Vietnam has established diplomatic ties with more than 170 countries and trade relations with 165 countries and territories in the world. Vietnam now has become an active member of the major regional and world organisations such as UN, ASEAN, ASEM, APEC and Eat Asia Summit. We hope that Vietnam’s entry to the WTO is not far off.
Relations with Australia
Now I would like to dwell on the bilateral relationship between Vietnam and Australia.
Since 1973, when Australia, under the leadership of Prime Minister E G Whitlam, decided to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam, our bilateral relations have turned over a new page and have seen many positive developments. That reflects vividly in the ongoing trends of cooperation in all spheres politically, economically and in trade, investment, developmental, cultural, educational aid and assistance which continue to expand both in scope and in depth between our two countries. Today, Australia is our seventh largest trading partner and is our fourth largest export market.
Many Australian projects have directly assisted Vietnamese endeavour to develop rural structure and to combat poverty. My Thuan Bridge, which was put to commission in 2000, stands out among these projects as a most vivid example of fruitful assistance from Australia to Vietnam and a symbol of friendship between our two countries.
The bilateral cooperation in education and training have contributed practically in a big way to the development of human resources in Vietnam. The bilateral cooperation in security and defence is also very encouraging, especially in the context of the threat posed against our regional, international peace by terrorism and transnational crimes.
Not only expanding rapidly in the billateral framework, cooperation is also developing vigorously in the multilateral framework. As an ASEAN designated country for the ASEAN-Australia relationship, Vietnam has actively been coordinating between ASEAN and Australia to lift that relationship to a higher plane. We have always supported Australia to be involved in a wider and deeper scale in the East Asia integration process.
After more than 30 years of the diplomatic relationship, we have found that this relationship is expanding vigorously and in many areas and this momentum must be maintained in order to take it to a more comprehensive, more stable and long-standing level to meet the aspiration of our peoples.
To describe the present relationship between our two countries, I wish to give you what Mr Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs, said when he announced the diplomatic appointment of Mr Tweddell as new Ambassador in Hanoi and Mr Pal Schelly as Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City recently.
He said, "Australia has a long-standing, warm and diverse relationship with Vietnam. Australia’s bilateral relationship with Vietnam is economically, strategically and politically important. Defence, trade and investment ties are expanding rapidly, as is cooperation on counter-terrorism and other transnational crime, including narcotics trafficking, people smuggling and people trafficking. Australia also values its cooperative and constructive relations with Vietnam in regional for a such as APEC and ASEAN, and welcomes Vietnam’s progress towards accession to the WTO.
"Total two-way trade in goods and services rose almost 15 per cent in 2004, reaching an all time high of $3.7 billion, while Australian investment stood at around $850 million, mainly in the food processing and heavy industry sectors. Development cooperation ties are long-standing and strong, with Vietnam the fourth largest recipient of Australian development assistance.
"People-to-people links between our two countries are strong. Some 200,000 Australians of Vietnamese origin make a significant and positive contribution to Australian society. Between three and four thousand Vietnamese students study in Australia each year — more than in any other country — making education our biggest services export earner with Vietnam. More than 128,000 Australians visited Vietnam last year."
On this occasion on behalf of the Vietnamese government and people I wish to thank leaders and members of NSW Parliament, government of NSW, various city councils, business, humanitarian, philanthropic groups and organisations and all Australian friends who have rendered assistance … to us in our endeavour to build a peaceful and happy land and in our endeavour to build ever growing friendship and cooperation between our two countries and also our endeavour to strengthen peace, stability, friendship, harmony and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific and in our part of the world.