Government, Telenor Woo Vietnam Despite Protests

They’re
catching local criticism for it, but officials at both telecoms firm Telenor
and the Norwegian government – which controls Telenor – continued to do their
best on Friday to flatter and impress a top delegation from Vietnam. Telenor has been trying
for years to break into the increasingly attractive Vietnamese market.
    On Friday June 6.2008,
Telenor hosted the president of Vietnam,
Nguyen Mihn Tiet, at its headquarters just west of Oslo. Even Norway‘s crown prince was there, to
oversee the signing of six agreements of cooperation between Norwegian
organizations and Vietnamese companies.
    Telenor has
had a representative office in Vietnam
for three years and wants to cash in on its mobile phone market. “We’re
waiting for the Vietnamese to open up the sector so that we can establish
ourselves there”, Telenor chief executive Jon Fredrik Baksaas told news
bureau NTB. “It will take a long time, but we’re patient”.
    Among those
cutting deals with the Vietnamese were the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association,
Norwegian employers’ association NHO, colleges in Bergen and Ålesund and business school BI.
    Vietnam‘s economy has been growing rapidly
and is seen by western companies as having great potential. The Norwegian firms
clearly want to capitalize on it.
    Norway‘s government seems keen to nurture
the business ties, with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg saying he hoped that
this week’s state visit by Nguyen “can lead to expanded economic
cooperation with Vietnam
and contribute to sustainable growth and reduce poverty”.
    He claimed
in a press statement that there were “special ties” between Norway and Vietnam,
“since many Norwegians have came from Vietnam.”

    Norway
‘s nearly 20,000 residents with
Vietnamese heritage, however, aren’t entirely positive about Norway‘s overtures to Vietnam. Some have held protests
during the state visit, claiming that Vietnam routinely violates human
rights and freedom of religion.
    One refugee
from Vietnam‘s
communist regime harshly criticized the Norwegian government’s warm welcome for
Nguyen, claiming it was like “receiving Mugabe”. Kieu Tran was two
years old when her parents fled Vietnam.
    “Eight
hundred thousand people became boat refugees, and around half died”, said
Tran. “For those of us who fled, it’s incredible that Vietnam‘s
president is being received with pomp and circumstance by the king and the
prime minister”.
    Tran has
worked for years to promote democracy and human rights in Vietnam, and has been arrested several times
when traveling back to Vietnam
to visit activists.
    Norwegian
officials defend their attempts to do business with Vietnam. The strategy, said
development minister Erik Solheim, is to move from being traditional aid donors
to more professional cooperation in areas where Norway has expertise, he told
Aftenposten.no.
    “We
know from other countries in East Asia that strong economic growth contributes
to political reforms”, Solheim said, adding that Norway will also try to promote human rights in Vietnam.

 

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