Viet Nam News
Irish President Michael D. Higgins tells Vietnam News Agency’s Phạm Diễm Quỳnh on the eve of his state visit to Việt Nam that the two countries have in common their past independence struggles as well as the current challenge of forging an equitable growth model.
How do you view the relationship between Việt Nam and Ireland?
The relationship between Việt Nam and Ireland is a very warm one. I remember that when I went to Việt Nam for the first time in December 1997, I was very impressed by the warmth of the people. And I think that in recent years, there have been very valuable developments in bilateral relations, in commerce and economics.
The people of Ireland and people of Việt Nam understand that they share something – the struggle for independence. We in Ireland are impressed by the fact that the people of Việt Nam had to defeat not one but several imperialist aggressors.
And I have also been interested as a sociologist in the changes that are taking place in Việt Nam in its present stage of independence. I was reading this week about the response to flooding in central Việt Nam, and I thought, "Isn’t it very valuable that you are able to respond quite quickly through having a state that is able to intervene.”
Ireland has been involved in aiding many countries, and in Việt Nam, our aid is aimed at indigenous people. The sheer diversity of Vietnamese society has struck me, over fifty different ethnic groups with over fifteen languages, as far as I can remember.
I think one of the great challenges facing both countries, here in Ireland and in Việt Nam, is to get an economic model that will benefit all the people, when all the citizens have an opportunity to get an education, get housing, etc.
In this context, the reduction of poverty from 70 per cent to less than 23 per cent is a very significant achievement.
Given that Việt Nam and Ireland have many things in common, what can be done to promote bilateral co-operation?
We have celebrated 20 years of diplomatic relations; and we are familiar with what it means to be in the proximity of nations with a particular history.
Our position in Europe, for example, is one that has enabled us to bring a particular perspective to bear on issues that need to be decided, and I think the same opportunities exist for Việt Nam in relation with ASEAN.
I think we are in a situation now in ASEAN and Europe where entirely new models have to be forged. Existing models won’t do. Poverty has been increasing both in the US and in the EU; inequality has been growing in both of these regions and there is very popular interest in moving to new models of inclusion and cohesion.
I think Việt Nam would face the same challenge. While there would be immense pressure placed on Việt Nam to go for rapid transition to a form of industrialization, it may not be sufficiently inclusive. My hope is that Viet Nam will be part of the new dialogue that is necessary to restructure the global economy. Both of our countries, both of our peoples, should work with the UN, the ILO and other parties to ensure basic minimum guaranteed benefits for women and men who work.
Brexit has become a major issue in EU. As an EU member, how does it affect Ireland?
I think it is one of the most immediate issues, without a doubt. Of course, there are many issues within the EU too, including the failure to achieve a common position on the refugee influx and migrants.
Here in Ireland, of course we accept that the decision is the decision of the United Kingdom. It has implications for us. Our trade volume with the United Kingdom is about 1.2 billion per week. In addition we have the Good Friday Agreement. We are also concerned about Irish people working in the United Kingdom.
We have the same capital assets in the UK as the UK has in Ireland. In term of investment, we are responsible for the same number of jobs. Our investments in the United Kingdom have generated about 200,000 jobs and their investment has done the same here.
I know that in ASEAN discussions, the EU is often looked at as an example. We want the EU to be both competitive and cohesive at the same time, to increase economic efficiency and reduce unemployment, particularly among the youth. I think these aspects are what other regions in the world, including South America and Asia, see as attractive features of the EU. We remain very hopeful and very optimistic, and we are still enthusiastic about the European Union. — VNS