Vietnam-New Zealand diplomatic ties: Ever-bolstering Relations

Update: 16:26 | 18/06/2020
New Zealand is a country at the “bottom of the world”, with a population of just under 5 million, while the population of Vietnam is roughly 100 million. The two countries stand thousands of miles apart, with no cultural similarity. So how did we manage to establish a Comprehensive Partnership, and aim towards a Strategic Partnership?
Prime Ministers of Vietnam, New Zealand meet in Bangkok
Elevating Vietnam – New Zealand relations
ever bolstering relations
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern receives Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and his spouse in March 2018.

After liberating the South and reunifying the country, Vietnam officially established diplomatic relations with New Zealand on June 19, 1975. Over the past 45 years, our countries have witnessed robust developments in relations within the framework of the current Comprehensive Partnership, and are heading towards a Strategic Partnership.

Journeys across vast distances

In 1995, exactly 25 years ago, I was fortunate enough to go on a business trip to this distant country. I left for Noi Bai airport at 4 am, and it was not until 2 days later, at 9 pm, that I was able to check into a hotel in Queenstown.

However, despite the massive geographic distance, leaders and people of both countries have tirelessly strived to further strengthen our nations’ ties. Very early on in 1993, when Vietnam was still placed under isolation and embargo by the U.S. and other Western countries, Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet paid an official visit to New Zealand. This was the first-ever visit of a head of government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the faraway land of New Zealand.

The journey itself became a breakthrough in the two countries’ relations, offering New Zealanders an opportunity to better understand Vietnam, a nation that has triumphed over gargantuan imperials, such as America and France and became a symbol for oppressed nations and the wider national liberation movement. Numerous friends of mine in the Vietnam-New Zealand Friendship Association can still recall this trip. They would recount to me that back then, there has yet been any Vietnamese embassy in New Zealand, and New Zealanders had little knowledge of our country. Even its Parliament would still use the three-stripe flag for diplomatic events.

PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc meets with New Zealand’s milk firms

PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc meets with New Zealand’s milk firms

All Prime Ministers of New Zealand have been to Vietnam. Prime Minister Helen Clark once told me that she has visited Vietnam for a total of 7 times. When I met with her during a diplomatic conference in New Zealand, I approached her to request a one-on-one meeting. She treated me as though a long-time friend: “Why not over dinner? And with Vietnamese food, too.”

General Secretary Do Muoi paid an official visit to New Zealand in as early as 1995. General Secretary Nong Duc Manh paid an official visit to New Zealand in 2009. During this visit, the two countries signed a Statement to establish a Comprehensive Partnership. Prime Ministers Phan Van Khai and Nguyen Tan Dung have both paid multiple official visits to New Zealand. The most recent official visit was that of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in March 2018, during which the two countries issued a joint statement on advancing our relations towards a Strategic Partnership.

While New Zealand did send troops to Vietnam during the Vietnam war, analysts suggest that this war has brought about significant changes in New Zealand’s foreign policy towards greater independence. This has also, perhaps, culminated in the sympathy of leaders and people of New Zealand towards the nation of Vietnam, who have since demonstrated both the aspiration and efforts to strengthen the friendship and bonds between our two countries.

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Vietnamese Ambassador to New Zealand Ta Van Thong presented Credential to Dame Patsy Reddy, Governor-General of New Zealand in June 2018.

Two complimentary economies

For many years, New Zealand has been among Vietnam’s most significant trading partners. Since establishing the Comprehensive Partnership in 2009 and signing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) in 2010, economic relations between the two countries have witnessed tremendous growth. According to Statistics New Zealand, bilateral trade turnover in 2019 (for both goods and services) reached 2.04 billion NZD, a year-on increase of 13%.

Vietnam is New Zealand’s 16th largest trading partner. Our top export merchandises to New Zealand include machineries, electronics, footwear, garments and furniture. On the other hand, New Zealand’s leading export goods to Vietnam comprise dairy products, fruits, wood and woodwork products, and processed food. Vietnam and New Zealand can be considered complementary economies.

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Furthermore, New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries is also working with Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on the development of a quality management system to acquire the ISO 17025 Accreditation on pest diagnosis.

As both countries are members of numerous similar free trade agreements such as the AANZFTA, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and possibly the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the time to come, the two sides can utilize each other’s advantages to promote economic growth, connect supply chains within free trade agreements, and export to other markets.

At present, New Zealand’s businesses are considering Vietnam as an alternative supplier of goods. Since New Zealand consists of mostly small and medium enterprises, outsourcing production has been a common practice. New Zealand’s market, albeit small, has always upheld a strict demand for high quality. Thus, should Vietnamese businesses manage to meet New Zealand’s standards, they will be able to affirm their credibility and brand upon exporting to other markets.

The 7th meeting of the Vietnam – New Zealand Joint Committee and Economic and Trade Cooperation is expected to take place this year. This is an important mechanism for both sides to discuss measures to further enhance economic and trade relations in areas of potential, including trade, air services, tourism, education and training, etc.

Connected via ‘bridges’

People-to-people exchange, particularly cooperation in education, tourism and cultural exchange, are also highly prioritized in strengthening our two countries’ relations. Vietnamese students have long opted for New Zealand as a study destination. Some people came to New Zealand to study following the liberation of the South, and have remained in the country since. To date, they still contribute significantly to enhancing relations between the peoples of our countries.

New Zealand continues to grant 30 annual Master and PhD scholarships to Vietnam. Vietnam is also New Zealand’s top education export market. The Government of New Zealand also consistently emphasizes its priority for cooperation in education with our country. At present, there are over 3,000 Vietnamese students studying in New Zealand, over 80% of which are self-funded. Universities in New Zealand have long affirmed their credibility, with 8 universities ranked among the top 2% of leading universities around the world.

Stranded Vietnamese citizens set to fly home from Australia, New Zealand amid COVID-19

Stranded Vietnamese citizens set to fly home from Australia, New Zealand amid COVID-19

The English Language Training for Officials programme (ELTO) is a prime example of the two countries’ collaboration in training. Since 1991, Vietnamese officials, usually in batches of 20 to 30, have constantly been offered opportunities to learn English within the ELTO programme financed by the New Zealand Government. More interestingly, over time officials who are married, or parents and children also begin to receive training via this programme, creating an entire network of Vietnamese officials closely associated with New Zealand, who would often be playfully called part of the “kiwi mafia” in Vietnam.

Tourism constitutes a field of cooperation of great potential. Vietnam has become a familiar and favourite destination to visit for New Zealanders. Whenever I meet with my New Zealand friends, they would mention that they have visited Vietnam, or that while they have not been to Vietnam, their children and grandchildren have, and they will certainly follow suit. Everyone I ask would praise Vietnam for our picturesque sceneries, warm hospitability and fine cuisine. Meanwhile, even with merely a population of 5 million, the land of the “long white clouds” and of majestic natural sights ranks among the most popular tourist destinations in the world, welcoming over 4 million entries annually. Today, more and more Vietnamese are taking a greater interest in visiting the land of the earliest dawn in the world.

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Ta Van Thong