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An op-ed by Nigel Adams MP – UK’s Minister for Asia
UK’s Minister for Asia Nigel Adams. Photo by the UK Parliament.
Today I was hoping to find myself stepping from a plane in Hanoi ahead of my first visit to Vietnam. Instead, with the global fight against COVID-19 ongoing, I will be undertaking a series of virtual meetings from London.
While visiting Vietnam has been a priority since being appointed UK Minister for Asia in February, I already have strong relationships to build on. I have met Vietnam’s Ambassador to the UK, H.E. Tran Ngoc An, several times. I have also spoken with my Ministerial opposite number To Anh Dung.
COVID-19 has of course been prominent in our conversations. Vietnam’s response has been admirable and for it to have recorded no deaths from the pandemic is a great achievement. I have also been impressed by the care afforded to British nationals in Vietnam – whether on holiday or resident - caught up in the pandemic. Most notable was the treatment of “Patient 91”, so gravely ill for several months but now well enough to return to the UK. His recovery is testament to the dedication, determination and skill of Vietnam’s doctors and nurses. On behalf of the UK Government, I thank you.
But out of difficult times come opportunities: health cooperation between the UK and Vietnam is developing fast and our scientists are collaborating to help in the global fight against the disease.
One of my meetings will be with Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) which has been working closely with Vietnamese doctors, while UK pharmaceutical companies have been long-established in Vietnam and are helping us develop a new vaccines campaign aimed at raising public awareness of the importance of immunisation and working with policy makers to ensure that a new Covid-19 vaccine could be deployed equitably, to everybody that needs it.
The UK has committed over £6.5bn ($8bn) in aid and financial support through the UN and other bodies to tackle the pandemic and support the world’s most vulnerable people. We hosted the Coronavirus Global Response International Pledging Conference, resulting in a £6.5bn ($8bn) commitment by world leaders to fight COVID-19. We also led a Global Vaccine Summit that raised more than £7bn ($8.8bn).
In September, our Strategic Partnership will celebrate its 10th anniversary. This is an opportunity to reflect and celebrate our achievements: bilateral trade has tripled from less than £2bn to nearly £6bn; and so has the number of British tourists visiting Vietnam – to over 320,000 in 2019. Vietnam is now the fastest-growing economy in the region and we look forward to refreshing our Agreement this year to discuss a number of shared issues - trade, development, defence, security, health and education.
We believe that Vietnam’s economic dynamism has much to do with the 13 free trade agreements you have signed. The UK remains able to benefit from the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) until the end of 2020. And outside the EU we will ensure a new bilateral UK-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is in place to provide continuity for our businesses. Free trade benefits businesses, reduces costs for consumers, and helps the poorest countries in the world achieve genuine economic independence.
I am passionate about the UK’s role as a force for good on peace, security and development and our two nations will continue to work closer than ever to uphold international rules, in particular through Vietnam’s non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. We believe strongly in the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of Sea, which protects freedom of navigation. We are working with Vietnam on Women, Peace and Security. We will continue to train Vietnamese peacekeepers as they join UN missions in conflict zones and remain committed to universal human rights and freedoms to ensure all our people – irrespective of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity - benefit from and participate in development.
This year Vietnam is chair of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN). The UK has a long and proud history of engaging with this region and we want a bold and ambitious future partnership. The Foreign Secretary’s first major overseas visit earlier this year was to the Asia-Pacific region and I have personally met all the ASEAN member countries’ ambassadors in London. I am convinced that the UK and ASEAN have rich potential for a deeper partnership which is why we put forward our application to be a Dialogue Partner last month.
Later this year the UK, along with Italy, was due to host the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference (COP26). That has been moved to next year but this does not mean we can sit back. Vietnam is one of the countries which would be most damaged by a global temperature rise of 2 degrees. So we look forward to working with you on policies to leave behind coal and tap into your enormous potential for wind and solar power.
In the post-COVID-19 new normal, we have an opportunity to recover together and better. While I cannot be in Vietnam this week, I am looking forward to getting to know you more and fostering the growing relations between our two countries./.
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