Vietnam: The hidden charm

Ambassador Bui Quoc Trung

His Excellency Bui Quoc Trung Ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, is a quiet unassuming diplomat who has spent a considerable portion of his career working behind the scenes in his country’s economic revival. As Director General of Planning and Investment he has helped steer changes that are revitalizing Vietnam’s economy. Before moving to Kuwait to head the mission here, he was Consular of Economic Affairs at his country’s embassy in Washington and prior to that worked at their mission in Australia.

With in-depth knowledge and broad experience in the field of planning and investment, it was no surprise that the ambassador could elaborately detail the economic growth and development of his country and its growing bilateral relations with Kuwait. From a subsistence agricultural economy for much of its history to a plantation economy in the mid- 19th century during the time of French colonization, to a planned socialistic economy during and after the Vietnam War, the country has witnessed various economic upheavals in the past. In 1986, with the aim of transforming the country’s beleaguered economy into a modern market economy, the government initiated a series of political and economic reforms. The results of these economic changes are gradually beginning to manifest itself in continued development of the country and general prosperity of its people.

“Despite geographic distance and different geo-political leanings, Vietnam and Kuwait have enjoyed friendly relations and developed multifaceted cooperation since both countries established diplomatic relations in 1976. Over the span of more than three and half decades the two countries have cemented their bilateral relations through high-level visits and cooperation frameworks in economics, trade and investment, as well as information and cultural exchanges,” said the ambassador.

He added, “My posting to Kuwait in April 2011 was the start of a new experience for me; it was an opportunity for me to interact with people of a different region and a different culture. In the nearly 20 months that I have been here, I have begun to understand the country and people better. As an embassy representing a very small community of less than 350 people, our local interactions are limited, nevertheless, on those occasions when I have had Vietnam the hidden charm Staff Report H.E. Bui Quoc Trung the pleasure of meeting with Kuwaitis, I have found them very friendly, respecting and accommodating.” “Bilateral diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Kuwait were cemented with the opening of respective embassies in Hanoi and Kuwait, this was further augmented with the opening of a Kuwait Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.

However, even before the opening of our embassies there were several high level visits between the two countries. In May, 1995, H.E. Le Duc Anh, the President of Vietnam, visited Kuwait and following the opening in October, 2003 of our embassy in Kuwait, the then Prime Minister, H.H. Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammed Al Ahmad Al Sabah paid an official visit to Vietnam in 2007. This was reciprocated in March, 2009 when the Vietnamese Prime Minister, H.E. Nguyen Tan Dung arrived in Kuwait at the head of a high-level delegation. In October of this year, our country was represented at the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) Summit held in Kuwait, by H.E. Pham Binh Minh, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”

“Three years after the establishment of diplomatic ties, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) extended a development loan to Vietnam. Since then KFAED has been a continuous and reliable provider of favorable loans to Vietnam for the country’s infrastructure developments in remote and rural areas. Eleven loans of a total of nearly $130 million have helped stimulate growth in different sectors and areas, as well as contributed to effectively reduce poverty in the country.”

“In April, 2008, PetroVietnam, the country’s major oil and gas group signed a joint venture contract with its Kuwaiti partner, Kuwait Petroleum International, and Idemitsu and Mitsui Chemicals, the Japanese partner, to establish Nghi Son Oil Refinery and Petrochemical Complex. With a total investment of $6.2 billion, of which Kuwait’s share accounted for 35.1 percent and a long-term commitment to supply crude oil to the refinery, the Complex is one of the largest joint venture projects in the country.” Though Vietnam is a relative newcomer to the oil industry, it is currently the third-largest oil producer in Southeast Asia, with a total output of 318,000 barrels per day in 2011.

Vietnam’s emergence as a major player in oil resources in South Asia has led to significant international investments, especially in its oil exploration, drilling and refining sectors. Since 2000, ample energy resources, foreign investments and positive economic reforms have led to Vietnam enjoying one of the highest economic growths in the world. The country also has the highest Global Growth Generators (3G) Index. The 3G index, which is seen by many economists as being more representative than BRICKS, include 11 countries whose economies have been identified as potential sources of generating global growth in coming decades. Vietnam, which tops the list with a 3G index of 0.86, followed by China with 0.81 and India with 0.71, is forecast to have an average growth rate of 6.4 percent in the five decades from 2010 to 2050. In 2012, the country had a nominal GDP of over US$135billion with manufacturing, information technology and high-tech industries now forming a large and fast-growing part of the national economy. “The relatively small number of Vietnamese nationals in Kuwait, working mainly in the oil and construction industry, is not indicative of the growing trade volume between the two countries. In 2011, the bilateral trade between Vietnam and Kuwait was to the tune of $800 million, a 46 percent increase on the preceding year.”

Due to forward looking policies in land reforms, Vietnam is today a major exporter of farm products; it is the largest producer in the world of cashew nuts and pepper, as well as the second largest producer of rice. “The embassy is looking to create favorable conditions for importing Vietnamese goods to Kuwait, principally rice, coffee, tea, pepper, cashew, timber, rubber products and textiles. Meanwhile, Vietnam continues to welcome Kuwaiti businesses and facilitates investments in the country.” Elaborating that cultural exchanges were key to building better relations on the people to people level the ambassador reiterated that embassies of both countries were working to promote bilateral cultural exchanges and looked forward to holding events of this nature in each other’s countries in the near future. There have been similar exchanges of sports bodies and athletes of the two countries.

Tourism is another growing industry where Vietnam is looking for Kuwaiti investments, as well as tourists. There are several popular festivals and destinations in Vietnam, including Hanoi, Saigon, the former imperial capital of Hué, the World Heritage Sites of Hoi An and My Son, the caves of Ha Long Bay and the Marble Mountains, which continue to attract significant number of tourists each year.

“With the aim of promoting tourism to the country, numerous tourist projects are currently under construction, such as the Binh Duong tourist complex, which includes the largest artificial sea in Southeast Asia. In April of this year, the embassy took the initiative of taking a delegation of journalists and tourism companies to visit and explore the hidden charms of Vietnam. This was followed in July by a seminar at the embassy during which the country’s enormous touristic potential was revealed. I am sure that in years to come Vietnam Kuwait relations will continue to grow and strengthen under the wise leadership of both countries,” added the ambassador in conclusion.

-Staff Report