Dr Vítězslav Grepl, Ambassador of the Czech Republic, writes to Việt Nam News for the Czech Republic's National Day on October 28.
The Czech Republic lies in the heart of Europe, in the centre of the European continent, between the West and the East and the North and the South. Situated at the crossroads of many trade routes, historical events and cultures, the territory of the Czech Republic has naturally been a place of encounter of people of different nationalities, beliefs, experiences and skills. They all influenced and co-shaped the nation and its people from the very past till the present day. The Czech Republic is nowadays the youngest form of the Czech state, which has now existed for almost twelve hundred years.
What is the Czech Republic, or Czechia for short, today? Well, it is not only a promised land of car-making, shiny crystal, lovely music, quality literature and films, delicious beer, world-class athletes or Nobel Prize winners. It is also a modern country with a high standard of living and quality of life, home to self-confident people, whose economic prosperity, social cohesion and national security are guaranteed by the EU and NATO, and by the Czechs themselves. Czechia is one of the safest countries in the world, a highly-developed export-oriented economy with the lowest unemployment rate in the EU and the second-lowest poverty rate among OECD members, described by many economic analysts as “one of Europe’s most flourishing economies".
The relationship between the Czech and Vietnamese people has been extraordinary in many ways since it started more than seven decades ago. Diplomatic relations between both countries are defined by deep mutual understanding, high respect and trust, as well as by selfless and unconditional support for each other, both in the good and the bad times. The remarkable history and the outstanding state of Czech-Vietnamese ties make me call the current stage of our relations their “Golden Age”.
The best proof of that is the frequency of high-profile political visits in the past several years. It is of the greatest importance for both countries to keep such a frequency up. Thanks to very satisfactory cooperation in many fields like trade, defence, science, education, culture and tourism, the Czech-Vietnamese relations have an outstanding past, an excellent present and with no doubt a very promising future.
Karlstejn Castle. — Courtesy Photo of the Embassy
One of the strongest pillars of Czech-Vietnamese relations is economic cooperation. The volume of bilateral trade exceeded US$1.5 billion last year while Czech companies invested more than $90 million in 30 investment projects in Việt Nam. There is a strong interest on both sides to further increase economic cooperation at government and corporate levels. Strong and steady economic growth and rapid modernisation of its economy have made Việt Nam attractive to Czech investors. The largest Czech car manufacturer, Škoda Auto, has already decided to make Việt Nam its production hub for Southeast Asia and is currently taking steps to enter the Vietnamese market. Hopefully, in the foreseeable future, direct flights operated by Bamboo Airways between the Czech and Vietnamese capitals will resume and will bring post-pandemic business-to-business and people-to-people exchanges to a new level.
It is widely expected that the EU-Việt Nam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) will help boost our bilateral trade and investments. Already, after the first year of the EVFTA implementation, we recorded a significant increase in trade between Việt Nam and the EU, despite all the pandemic difficulties. I am sure that when the full potential of EVFTA is reached in the upcoming years, both Việt Nam and Czechia will profit from the new opportunities arising from this historic agreement.
The defence industry is another important pillar of our economic relations. I am very glad that the Czech Republic can help Việt Nam modernise its armed forces and enhance its defence capabilities. It is of strategic importance that Việt Nam decided to upgrade its air force by ordering 12 new L-39NG subsonic aircraft of Czech provenience and the subsequent training of Vietnamese military pilots.
The last couple of years, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, showed me another remarkable feature of the strength of Czech-Vietnamese relations. One that wasn’t too visible until now. All the Czechs, including me, were really deeply touched by the spontaneous assistance of the Vietnamese government and the Vietnamese people living in both countries, who donated much-needed face masks and medical protection equipment to us in a time when there was a painful lack of them everywhere. And it was also the Vietnamese community in Czechia that immediately started to support the frontline rescue teams - doctors, nurses and policemen – protecting the people from COVID-19.
Prague – the capital of the Czech Republic.
These actions proved beyond any doubt that the Vietnamese community is fully integrated into Czech society. Despite the odds of this pandemic, current developments show us something very important, i.e. how cordial and selfless nation-to-nation and people-to-people Czech-Vietnamese relations are.
Another example of the quality of Czech-Vietnamese ties is the recent donation of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines. Việt Nam is one of only two countries in the world that the Czech government donated vaccines bilaterally to. This really tells you a lot about the special relations Việt Nam and the Czech Republic have. We also provided additional vaccines to our local partners, the Vietnamese-Czech Friendship Associations, to first-generation Vietnamese people who studied in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s, and to the Czech nationals living in Việt Nam. Currently, we are working on supplies of more vaccines as well as medical equipment to Việt Nam. We will also keep donating more vaccines to Việt Nam through the COVAX programme, which Czechia has already done before as Việt Nam is a high priority country for Czechia in terms of quick, equal and fair vaccine distribution. In the case of Việt Nam, it is a vivid manifestation of a deep sense of Czech-Vietnamese solidarity and a selfless act of friendly help. I am positive that the outstanding relations between our countries built over the years will continue to develop for the benefit of the Czech and Vietnamese people and their well-being. Even though geographically distant, Czechia and Việt Nam are closer to each other than ever before. VNS