Viet Nam News spoke to Swedish Ambassador Staffan Herrstrom on the occasion of his country’s National Day today.
“The Embassy has assisted in the development of the Bai Bang pulp and paper mill, one of Sweden’s largest global co-operation projects to date, the Children’s Hospital in Ha Noi and the Swedish-Vietnamese hospital in Uong Bi, symbolising the friendship between our countries and peoples”, says the outgoing Swedish Ambassador to Vietnam”, Staffan Herrstrom. The Swedish Embassy in Hanoi is closing down later this year, and the ambassador is moving to a similar possition in Poland.
The Ambassador continiues:
“Sweden has long collaborated with Viet Nam on the frontline of development, involved in training 5,000 new journalists in the media sector since 1993 while assisting with the introduction of live radio transmissions and online newspapers. Viet Nam has also received Swedish assistance in fighting corruption and addressing human rights issues such as legal aid, gender-based violence, discrimination against homosexuals and utilising the Chia Se programme.
I would like to stress the importance of the Swedish-Vietnamese relationship which I firmly believe will continue to develop whether Sweden has an Embassy in Viet Nam or not.”
How does Sweden plan to maintain its bilateral diplomatic relations with Viet Nam, especially in terms of collaborative projects such as the Justice Partnership Programme set to run until 2015, following the closure of its Embassy at the end of this year?
Sweden was the first western country to establish diplomatic ties with Viet Nam in January 1969, ties that will continue to be developed through our Embassy in Bangkok, where our Ambassador to Viet Nam will be located and where we will have staff focussing specifically on Viet Nam.
In honour of our agreements, our development co-operation programme will continue until the end of 2013, to be overseen by some of our staff who are set to remain in the country during 2012 and 2013.
One of the main objectives of our existing strategy is to create ties that go beyond bilateral development co-operation. We have seen huge interest from both Vietnamese and Swedish firms in continuing to work together as equal partners.
We will continue to offer our support for the JPP programme, assisting civil society organisations working for judicial reform, through the Embassy of Denmark. The programme has already helped strengthen the dialogue between state and non-state actors, gender mainstreaming in the legal sector, the application of gender perspective and the implementation of laws.
Are there any plans for boosting the modest trade between Sweden and Viet Nam?
Certainly. Two-way trade has already grown by more than 80 per cent since 2005 (up to around US$500 million), and there is clear potential for more. Several Swedish companies are becoming increasingly interested in Viet Nam because of its competitive production costs, around 80 already being active here (with hundreds more involved in various kinds of trade). Continued improvement of the business climate will play an important role in the acceleration of growth.
By its WTO accession in 2007, Viet Nam has revealed clear interest in opening trade. A free trade agreement with the EU will no doubt benefit both Viet Nam and Sweden.
The needs of Viet Nam in many cases correspond with the competence available in Sweden in terms of “green solutions” related to energy, biogas, waste management, water treatment, traffic, telecoms and the internet. We will continue making every effort in linking Vietnamese demand with Swedish supply.
Are there any plans for cultural exchange programmes between Sweden and Viet Nam in future?
Swedish musicians have long been exploring Vietnamese traditional music while young students have been utilising video installations in describing their lives in a modern and changing world.
Cultural co-operation reached new heights during the staging of the opera Carmen, which addressed the issue of gender-based violence, combining a Swedish opera director and set designer with Vietnamese opera singers. The European Film week, including screenings of Sweden’s Jalla, Jalla, touched upon cultural collisions and forced marriages, subjects well received by a young Vietnamese audience, creating a dynamic and exciting scope for the future of Swedish-Vietnamese filmmaking.
What are your plans during the remainder of your stay in Ha Noi?
First of all I plan to award prizes at our Children’s writing contest on June 7 for which we have received a multitude of engaging and moving contributions from children, addressing issues like poverty, alcohol abuse and domestic violence. The contest is one of many ways to give children a voice and highlight their rights. I hope it will stimulate further efforts to empower Vietnamese children.
Secondly, I will be engaged in a “green road show” during June, travelling through several cities, where Swedish companies, universities and municipalities will be demonstrating green solutions to areas such as waste, energy and biogas.
We recently established a centre, CENTEC, tasked to promote partnerships in green development during the three remaining years of development co-operation.
Since I am moving to Poland as the new Swedish Ambassador in Warsaw soon, I hope to say goodbye to as many friends and partners as possible with whom I hope to stay in touch.
I hope that I also get the chance to savour some of Ha Noi’s lovely tourist attractions, do some more cycling through the old quarter and jog around West Lake if it’s not too hot. Needless to say I will miss Ha Noi terribly when I leave at the end of June