Friday , July 12 2024

Sweden-Việt Nam at 55 – a strong friendship with prospects of being even stronger

The Swedish Ambassador to Việt Nam Ann Måwe

On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of Việt Nam – Sweden diplomatic relations (January 11, 1969 – 2024), Swedish Ambassador to Việt Nam Ann Måwe highlighted the broad potential for mutual collaboration and partnership, driven by openness, innovation and sustainability.

At the height of the war, on 11 January 1969, Sweden became the first western country to establish diplomatic relations with Việt Nam – relations that have evolved and developed ever since. Characterised by comprehensiveness, trust and friendship, the relations remain strong to this date even 55 years later.

As the Ambassador of Sweden, it gives me great pleasure today to reflect on the history of our relations and the deep and enduring partnership that still exists between our two nations.

Sweden’s support for Việt Nam is rooted in the solidarity movements that emerged during the war. After the war, Sweden continued to stand by Việt Nam and provided significant support for the reconstruction and development of the war-torn country. The National Paediatric Hospital, Uông Bí Hospital, and the Bãi Bằng Paper Mill were huge and long-standing signature projects from this era. All of them are still in operation today, more than 40 years later. Bãi Bằng Paper Mill, which faced several challenges initially, has now become one of the largest producers of high-quality paper in Việt Nam and also exports its products.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s the support developed to broad programmes including in infrastructure, health sector development, education and research, poverty alleviation, agriculture advancement, media development, legal, economic and judicial reforms, gender equality, and projects targeting environment and climate policies and management. Over a period of 46 years, the development cooperation between Sweden and Việt Nam amounted to a total contribution of over US$3.4 billion, which greatly contributed to Việt Nam’s socioeconomic development. The final evaluation of the bilateral development concluded that Swedish aid played a crucial role in lifting millions of Vietnamese people out of poverty and contributed to the emergence of the dynamic lower-middle-income country it is today.

While our bilateral development cooperation programme concluded a decade ago, various regional and global programmes continue to benefit Việt Nam in areas such as media development, forest management, climate mitigation, responsible business practices and workplace dialogue.

Trade and investments

A relationship that began through aid and development cooperation has, not least during the last decade, evolved into a robust partnership based mainly on trade and investment, political dialogue, people-to-people relations, and mutual understanding and sharing of expertise between two equal partners.

Following the Đổi Mới economic reforms and Việt Nam’s subsequent efforts to develop and integrate into the international economy, the economic output during the recent decades has led the country to move up the world’s value chain and innovation indexes. Today, following the country’s high ambitions with regards to innovation and sustainability, there is also immense potential for more comprehensive trade and investments between Việt Nam and Sweden.

Sweden stands among the top 10 EU trading partners to Việt Nam, with our trade relations further strengthened by the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), in force since 2020. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, our trade ties have remained undeterred and continued to grow in recent years.

We witness an increased interest from Swedish companies in investing and expanding business in Việt Nam. Swedish companies, such as Ericsson, ABB, Tetra Pak, IKEA, Electrolux, AstraZeneca, Volvo, Hitachi Energy, H&M, SKF, Hestra, Polarium and Oriflame have been operating effectively in Việt Nam for decades. Meanwhile, newer companies are also looking to establish a presence to access Việt Nam’s dynamic market.

Some recent examples showcase the depth of our cooperation:

Firstly, we actively collaborate with Việt Nam in its necessary green energy transition, not least focusing on modernising smart grids and transmission systems to harness the country’s vast renewable energy capabilities.

Secondly, in 2023 the Swedish Development Finance Institution Swedfund signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation, striding towards revolutionising air traffic management, elevating safety, diminishing environmental impact, and augmenting operational efficacy.

Thirdly, Swedish companies are expanding their operations, such as Hestra Gloves’ recent $9 million investment in their facility in Hải Phòng, and Tetra Pak’s pioneering “Bloom” initiative in their factory in Bình Dương – a trailblazing innovation hub for the food and beverage sector.

Fourthly, we welcome plans by FPT Software to establish an office in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, during this year.

And last but surely not least, in March this year, a Nordic High-Level Business delegation will be converging in Hà Nội for a three-day conference to explore the vibrant Vietnamese market and its opportunities. It will be the largest Nordic Business delegation of its type to Việt Nam, further signifying the promising opportunities and potential for growth in our bilateral trade and investments.

I am optimistic about the potential for our commercial ties to deepen further, and I see that Sweden and Việt Nam have a lot to gain on by working even closer together when it comes to innovation and sustainability in partnership with the two countries’ thriving and dynamic private sectors.

Cultural exchange and people-to-people connections

Trade and investments are strengthened alongside a continued focus on cultural and people-to-people exchanges – both playing a vital role in strengthening the friendship between Sweden and Việt Nam. Countless experts, doctors, nurses, engineers, government officials, artists and young researchers have travelled between the two countries, fostering cooperation and maintaining lasting friendships. Collaborations between cities and municipalities such as those between Borås and Đà Nẵng, and Piteå and An Giang, serve as models for how the two countries and their peoples can work together to address contemporary challenges in urban planning, sustainability and the environment.

Over the last decades, thousands of Vietnamese students and researchers have travelled to Sweden to study for a semester or for years – some even staying to work and contribute to the Swedish economy. Vietnamese alumni coming home from studies in Sweden leave a bit of their heart in our country and become an engine for the bilateral partnership. They hold keys for unlocking and building even closer people-to-people relations.

Closer people-to-people relations are also facilitated through increased tourism in both directions. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, over 50,000 Swedish tourists discovered the wonders of Việt Nam, and we now see a renewed enthusiasm among Swedish travellers reaching almost 30,000 again in 2023. We equally hope to see more Vietnamese visitors experiencing what Sweden has to offer. Cultural exposure through travel strengthens people-to-people bonds and fosters greater mutual appreciation between our societies.

Cultural collaboration is a long-cherished aspect of our relations, from Swedish literature and music finding readers and listeners in Việt Nam to university musical collaborations showcasing the vibrant cultural exchanges nurtured through educational cooperation. The vibrant creativity of both Vietnamese and Swedish artists enriches our societies and highlights the diversity we share.

Continued political dialogue and high-level exchanges

We also look back at many years with important high-level exchanges further deepening our political dialogue on all matters including domestic, regional and global developments, the importance of a rules-based international order and human rights.

In May 2023, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Lê Thị Thu Hằng visited Sweden for the EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum hosted by the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, during which she also had substantial bilateral meetings with Swedish counterparts. In October, we were happy that Politburo member Trương Thị Mai chose to travel to Sweden for a three-day visit. And in December, on the sidelines of the COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai, the two Prime Ministers Phạm Minh Chính and Ulf Kristersson met to discuss areas where we could work even closer together – with 2024 being a pivotal year for our longstanding partnership.

During 2024, we expect an increased number of high-level visits and exchanges in both directions in celebration of the 55th anniversary of our diplomatic relations as well as with the view to further enhance our bilateral ties.

2024 and onwards – openness, innovation and sustainability

Sweden’s pioneering expertise in green technology and sustainable solutions is in line with Việt Nam’s ambitions and strategy for green growth and sustainability.

Sweden, being a leading country in innovation, consistently ranks at the top in the Global Innovation Index (GII). Meanwhile, Việt Nam has made significant progress, jumping two places to reach the 46th position in the GII 2023. Việt Nam is one of the few middle-income economies that have experienced rapid advancement in the GII rankings over the past decade.

In terms of sustainability, at the COP26 summit, Việt Nam’s Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính made a bold commitment for the country to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050. In line with this commitment, Việt Nam has thoroughly examined its strategies and policies and updated them to align with the net-zero goal. Sweden ranked second in the UN Sustainable Development Report (formerly known as the SDG Index & Dashboards) and topped the Global Sustainable Competitiveness rankings. We are eager to work closely with Việt Nam, leveraging our expertise to complement its strengths and enhance its competitiveness. The Swedish green model emphasises the quadruple helix model of close cooperation between government, private sector, academia and civil society.

We stand ready to continue sharing expertise and cooperating through all channels to achieve the green transition, bilaterally and as part of the EU.

In conclusion, the friendship between Sweden and Việt Nam has stood the test of time and continues to grow stronger. From the solidarity movements during the wartime to the present-day collaborations in trade and investments, education and culture, and strong people-to-people relations, the relationship between the two countries has deepened.

Sweden’s significant financial support, expertise in green technology and sustainable solutions, and commitment to innovation can continuously contribute to Việt Nam’s development and economic growth.

Looking ahead, I want to see our two countries catalyse the broad potential for further collaboration and partnership, driven by openness, innovation and sustainability.

As Tết approaches, the melodies of ABBA’s Happy New Year will soon fill the air in Hà Nội, serving as a beautiful testament to the longstanding interaction between Sweden and Việt Nam and its peoples. Through continued cooperation on all levels, we can achieve mutual prosperity and create a better future for our peoples.

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