Editor’s note: Heather Wheeler, UK Minister for Asia and the Pacific, is scheduled to visit Vietnam from January 16 to 18 on the occassion of 10 years of the strategic partnership between the two countries. She wrote this piece for Tuoi Tre News.
The changing of decades has the effect of making us reflect upon the past, whereas the Lunar New Year is often a time to think about the future. So today, I am going to attempt to do both.
The last 10 years have been a time of huge political, societal, economic and technological change. Much of it has been positive. At the start of the last decade, smartphones were cutting-edge technology available to only a few. Now it is estimated that over 40% of the people on earth have one, many of them made in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s economy has more than doubled in the last 10 years. Vietnam’s cities have been transformed. The number of foreign tourists visiting and experiencing the skyscrapers in Ho Chi Minh City, the culture and beaches of Central Vietnam and the unique nature and city life of Ha Long Bay and Hanoi has also doubled. And Vietnam’s role in the world has continued to grow, with its voice increasingly heard in ASEAN and in global institutions.
In 2010, the UK and Vietnam signed our Strategic Partnership. This has grown immensely in depth and breadth. Bilateral trade has more than doubled. So has the number of British tourists that visit Vietnam – over 320,000 in 2019. We have initiated and grown relationships covering defence cooperation, science and technology, health and education.
However, while the past decade has brought great and often positive change, we also face new and serious challenges. Technology is a disruptive phenomenon. The nature of work and employment has changed with profound implications for the global economy and skills base we need to equip our people with to meet the challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Growth is good. But too much of the growth has not been sustainable and our natural environment is under stress like never before. If we do not take radical action in the next 10 years to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, our climate will be changed forever with serious consequences for all, especially here in Vietnam. If we do not take more action to protect our biodiversity, our precious wildlife will be lost forever. We need to clean the polluted air and stop filling our oceans with plastics. We need green and renewable energy, not the burning of more and more hydrocarbons. And we need much more public transport, as is being built in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and electric vehicles rather than cars and motorbikes fuelled by oil and petrol.
While it is for individual countries to take action, we also need a world that is rules-based and cooperative in order to ensure sufficient global ambition and action. All the big issues can only be solved by cross border cooperation and collective action. The test of the UK – Vietnam partnership is therefore not only what we do together but the impact that our joint work has on the global issues we face and international partnerships we need. In 2020, we have great opportunities to move forward with Vietnam being the Chair of ASEAN, joining the UK on the UN Security Council, and with the UK hosting the UN global climate change summit – COP26.
Therefore, when it is time to look back on the 2020s, I hope we see that the UK and Vietnam had been able to work with each other and with others to ensure that there was greater peace, stability and adherence to international law. I want us to feel confident that the climate crisis was on its way to being mitigated. I would like to be secure that the forces of trade protectionism had been fought off. And that our cooperation on education had equipped new generations of our people to thrive in the global marketplace with bilateral trade and investment having continued to drive growth and development.
The future can be bright. Let us work together in a sense of optimism about the sustainable growth, prosperity and opportunities that can be achieved.