Middle East closer than we realise

[b]In Hanoi, the day ends as the sun rises to noon in Minsk. The Vietnamese President’s plane lands at the National Airport after a ten hour journey. The distance is far but Vietnam seems closer, perhaps because Belarusians know well the history of this country [/b]Several years ago, I visited Indochina. I also spoke to Vietnamese businessmen who accompanied their President during his recent official visit to Belarus. Accordingly, I can assert with some authority that our ideas about Vietnam — formed over recent decades — need serious revision. It is now a modern, dynamically developing country and a promising partner for Belarus.
In Hanoi, the day ends as the sun rises to noon in Minsk. The Vietnamese President’s plane lands at the National Airport after a ten hour journey. The distance is far but Vietnam seems closer, perhaps because Belarusians know well the history of this country

Several years ago, I visited Indochina. I also spoke to Vietnamese businessmen who accompanied their President during his recent official visit to Belarus. Accordingly, I can assert with some authority that our ideas about Vietnam — formed over recent decades — need serious revision. It is now a modern, dynamically developing country and a promising partner for Belarus.
Vietnam has its own High-Tech Park — Hoa Lac — with which we have signed a co-operative agreement. Our Belarusian and Vietnamese ‘silicon valleys’ have the potential to fulfil mutual interests, as the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology for Vietnam, Nguyen Van Lang, notes. As Hoa Lac’s director, he came to Minsk as part of the Vietnamese President’s delegation and visited our High-Tech Park. The Belarusian HTP Director, Valery Tsepkalo, explained the special taxation privileges granted to residents, the results of activity and prospects for development, as well as grand plans for future expansion. After the meeting, Mr. Tsepkalo noted that he will be visiting Vietnam soon. Useful contacts could well be established between our IT zones.
Hoa Lac has been operational longer than Minsk’s High-Tech Park — having opened in October 1998. Being an important Vietnamese state project, it receives particular support. Situated in the west of the capital province of Hanoi, it hosts research into high technologies and is a business incubator for new enterprises. It even has a centre training technical personnel. The site covers about 1,300 hectares, including a 850 hectare industrial zone of software, biotechnologies, microelectronics and nanotechnologies.
Not long ago, the media announced a curious fact: the fourth generation iPhone had appeared in Hanoi a month earlier than its official launch in the USA. Vietnam is cultivating an image as a country at the cutting edge of innovation. Old stereotypes are obsolete. Of course, its citizens revere the memory of those who died during the Vietnam War (they call it ‘American’) but little stands in Hanoi to remind us of those times, except a few monuments.
President Nguyen Minh Triet asserts that Vietnam is keen to become a contemporary industrial state by 2020: its major goal. Of course, it’s not yet a wealthy country, being ranked 166th worldwide in terms of GDP per capita (out of 192 states registered with the UN). Its ranking might have been higher were it not for the numerous wars suffered by the Vietnamese nation in the 20th century. Japan, France, the USA and China each brought their troops to Vietnam. Of course, Vietnam is now focusing on its development — a trend clearly seen by anyone who has been there.
Mr. Lukashenko has visited Hanoi twice: in 1997 and 2008. He admits that he is astonished by the great progress made by the Vietnamese in these 11 years. Hanoi residents have now shifted from riding bicycles to motorcycles; it’s almost as dangerous to cross the streets in the city as it is to swim in the crocodile infested Mekong River. It’s a pity that our Motovelo has probably lost out on this huge market.
Fortunately, some of our other major industrial enterprises are gaining a foothold and are even expanding their position in Vietnam. Our position was once so strong that Belarusian tractors are even portrayed on one of the national currency banknotes. ‘Belarus’ tractors are still operational in the fertile Vietnamese fields, where crops are harvested several times a year. New models are also operational, since supplies continue. The Minsk Automobile Works has developed most actively in the South-Asian vector, with truck assembly production operational in Vietnam. Over the next two years, the plant will supply 1,600 truck sets — worth dozens of millions of US dollars.
The Vietnamese Constitution still encompasses the leading role of the Communist Party. Its Secretary-General, rather than the President, actually occupies first place in the country. However, in Hanoi, the hammer and sickle sits harmoniously alongside globally famous brands such as Toyota, Samsung and Coca-Cola. The Vietnamese renovation of Doi Moi began at approximately the same time as Soviet perestroika, yet yielded different results. In this respect, Vietnam may be compared with its great northern neighbour of China, whose economy has been steadily growing for some time. Often called the ‘South Asian dragon’, even the USA understands that it’s better to make friends with Vietnam rather than fight. A few years ago, the Vietnamese welcomed George Bush, which inspired US transnational corporations to begin investments into the local economy.
Belarus views Vietnam, with its 90m population, as a very promising economic partner. Simultaneously, it could be a platform for entering other South-East Asian markets. It’s evident that this region has best overcome the crisis. Last year, the global economy fell by 1 percent while the GDP of the Asian states increased by 5 percent. Our turnover with Vietnam is illustrative, having remained at a pre-crisis level, amounting to around $120m per year. In Minsk, our two presidents discussed how best to raise trade further — to fully meet potential.
Belarus has old friends in Vietnam, since the first representatives of this country arrived in Minsk to study in 1962. Over 3,000 people have trained at our universities in total, creating a bright advertisement for our educational system and, more importantly, aiding relations. Many now occupy high posts and speak to their Belarusian partners in a common language. The Vietnamese still recall the assistance which the USSR — and our republic in particular — provided during those days of American aggression. “We’re connected by close friendship,” notes Mr. Lukashenko. “We should further advance our relations, relying on these solid foundations.”
What can Vietnam offer us? We know of its reputation for producing Adidas trainers and Nike tracksuits but its major export is now oil. Minsk believes it could establish collaboration in this sphere, as in Venezuela. “We’re ready to support oil prospecting projects in Vietnam and in third countries,” asserts the President of Vietnam, adding that ‘we support initiatives for the joint manufacture of potash fertilisers using Vietnamese raw materials’.
The Vietnamese President arrived in Minsk jointly with a large group of around a hundred businessmen, who met Belarusian colleagues at the National Library. After several hours of negotiations, a range of major contracts were signed, relating to potash fertilisers, cars, tractors and dried milk. These are worth over $100m and $1bn of turnover is planned within coming years.
Ta Duk Duong, the general director of a large agricultural manufacturing plant, was among the delegation. In Minsk, he hoped to agree purchases of fertilisers at a good price and find buyers for his products: rice, nuts and pepper. He explains that his company has been operational on the Asian market for many years and is now aiming for Europe. He sees Belarus as a gateway to this continent and stresses that their European tour includes three countries — Belarus, Switzerland and Finland. The Vietnamese view Belarus as a developed European industrial state.
In Minsk, President Minh Triet and other Vietnamese officials spoke a great deal about the economic liberalisation of their country, noting the improving business climate and rich possibilities for investment. Belarusians tackled almost identical issues in their speeches.
Tourist posters rightly compare modern Vietnam with globally famous resorts like Thailand and Indonesian Bali. Their closeness to the equator guarantees good weather, while friendly people welcome tourists warmly. Importantly, the country offers many sights to enjoy. In recent years, politicians and ordinary people alike have discovered this wonderful land. Belarusian tourist agencies are already offering flights to Vietnam. Of course, the route is long but, in our modern world, distance is no real obstacle. The experience is worth every minute of travel.
Belarus’ Deputy Economy Minister, Andrei Tur, asserts that the business forum has proven useful. Our Vietnamese colleagues obtained full, accurate information on investment conditions in Belarus. “Our focus is now export diversification, since we shouldn’t rely on a single buyer. Opening assembly facilities — especially those of automotive machinery — is another serious area,” he explains. “We’re interested in such fields as the hotel business — especially thinking of the forthcoming 2014 IIHF World Championship. Vietnam boasts huge experience in this field.”
No doubt, the Vietnamese President’s visit will inspire bilateral co-operation in a multitude of areas.

By Igor Kolchenko
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