After the end of the Cold War, Vietnam has achieved one of the highest rates of economic growth in the world, yet it has also had to deal with significant foreign policy challenges.
H.E. Nguyen Phuong Nga, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, permanent representative of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to the United Nations discussed the challenges facing the nation at a lecture Tuesday.
Nga began by highlighting the remarkable economic transformation Vietnam has achieved in recent history.
“There was a time when we had three-digit inflation — now inflation is in the single digits,” she said. “The multisector economy has been encouraged to develop, thus increasing our quality of life. We are also lucky to be in the Asia-Pacific region, a dynamic region, with high growth and increased trend of trade and integration.”
While many Americans may consider Vietnam an enemy country, Nga sought to challenge these perceptions and encouraged citizens to maintain an open mind.
“In the past, for many people, Vietnam was a war — we do not want people to see us like that anymore,” she said. “We are a peaceful country with a dynamic and sustainable economy that makes active contributions to peace, development in the region and the world.”
Nga also summarized the current status of the relationship between Vietnam and the United States.
“[The] U.S. is Vietnam’s second largest trading partner and our two countries have a lot of shared interests,” she said.
When asked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed free trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries and the United States — Nga spoke favorably of the accord.
“TPP is very important for Vietnam and is a revolutionary step in international trade,” she said.
While Vietnam has already ratified the agreement, the TPP has been opposed by both Democrats and Republicans as an agreement which could ship American jobs overseas. The Obama administration has not been able to pass the agreement through Congress, and President-elect Trump has steadfastly opposed the partnership.
However, Nga explained the Vietnamese rationale for supporting the new partnership.
“We want to put ourselves in a competitive environment,” she said. “We have to seize the opportunity and strive to be better. We understand that there will be a lot of challenges for us. For example, convincing our citizens that opening our markets to foreign competition is a good idea. Maybe we are too brave.”
Aside from trade, Nga said Vietnam seeks to balance Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“It is of vital importance that peace and stability be maintained in the South China Sea,” she said. “It is essential that countries refrain from the threat or the use of force, settle disputes by peaceful means in accordance with of international law … and fully respect legal and diplomatic processes, to ensure the full implementation of the Declaration of the conduct of parties concerned and work for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct.”
Responding to a question about her opinion of President-elect Trump, the ambassador said she was not in a position to comment on the politician, as a diplomatic official. However, she stressed that Trump’s policies will have an effect on Vietnam.
“We sincerely hope that the relations between our two countries improve and we have good reasons to be optimistic about our future,” she said. “The policies of the U.S. will have far reaching implications around the world, including the bilateral relations”
Nga continued to discuss the issue of climate change, as it relates to her country.
“Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of global warming,” she said. “When sea levels rise, it causes salinization. This severely affects our crops, water usage, and food security not only of Vietnam but also the region as Vietnam is now one of the largest rice exporters”
Nga asserted that the environment should not be sacrificed to further economic development.
“We will have to draw our lessons from the experiences of China to avoid that [pollution],” she said. “There are also painful lessons which we will need to learn from in our own experience.”
While the U.S. government has criticized Vietnam’s human rights record, Nga argued that each country has different laws and attitudes towards human rights, but acknowledged that there is room for improvement in the country.
Nga also added that the education system in Vietnam also demands serious improvement.
“We are trying to learn from [the United States],” she said. “We have people who do well on tests and in competitions, but we need people to also be good in creating innovative solutions that address real world problems.”
Nga ended her lecture by discussing her role as a woman leading and representing Vietnam on the international stage.
“I think that the secret is never to think that you are a woman. You should never think that you are doing a job as a woman, but instead should be doing a job because you want to. The equality is in your own mindset,” Nga said.
She credited her accomplishments to her abilities, rather than her gender. Nga also emphasized that women must overcome the current patriarchal society favoring men in the workforce.
“I have been promoted and given difficult tasks not because I am a woman, but because I am able to do it,” she said. “I am lucky to have the support of my colleagues, my boss, the leaders of the Ministry and my family. I have been given a chance and shown my capability. You need to have the determination and good intentions. The difficult reality is that for women, they have to put in much more effort [in comparison with men] so that they can win the confidence of men.”