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Ties with Belgium based on mutual respect

Update: November, 15/2011 - 09:21

Viet Nam News spoke with Bruno Angelet, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium in Viet Nam, to mark the celebration of his country's National Day today.

As the new ambassador of Belgium to Viet Nam, could you brief our readers on your priorities for Viet Nam during your term?

Bruno Angelet, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium in Viet Nam.

Bruno Angelet, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium in Viet Nam.

I will build on the achievements of my former colleagues and ensure continuity in the excellent relations between both governments and countries. Viet Nam, as the world's 13th most populated country, holds a strategic position in Asia. Its young and dynamic population, growing influence in ASEAN and its special relations with Europe provide Viet Nam with particular assets.

Both our countries have intense and fruitful relations, with added value for both in economic, cultural and social affairs. As Viet Nam is developing to become an industrialised country, the new five-year plan, recently adopted by the National Assembly, rightly calls on putting high priority on infrastructure, human resources and development of the health sector. We look forward to supporting the Vietnamese Government's efforts to develop a broader, systemic approach in those and other fields.

Being the sixth trading partner of Viet Nam within the European Union is an excellent result for a small country like Belgium. Our bilateral trade value is close to US$1.2 billion. Belgian companies have been performing well in Viet Nam, delivering quality and expertise. We aim to improve our trade relations even further and I will do the utmost to continue promoting Belgian trade and investment with Viet Nam, as we also try to facilitate Vietnamese exports to Belgium.

In March next year, we will have the official visit of the Crown-Prince of Belgium, Prince Philippe, with his spouse, Princess Mathilde. They will come with an important economic delegation. This will be an excellent opportunity to boost our bilateral economic relations.

How do Belgian people celebrate their National Day? What special events are held this year to mark the day?

Our National Day is actually on July 21. But we celebrate the King's Day on November 15. According to local circumstances, Ambassadors can choose to organise a reception either on July 21 or November 15. In most European countries, our embassies celebrate the National Day. Outside Europe, we prefer to celebrate King's Day. For years now, we have been celebrating King's Day in Viet Nam with the Vietnamese officials and friends.

In Belgium, the National Day on the July 21 is of course an official holiday. A lot of events take place mainly but not only in the capital, Brussels. People organise fairs. The Government organises fireworks and a grand military parade, in the presence of the Royal Family and the diplomatic corps.

Since 1863, we have celebrated the King's Day on November 15 because it is the day of Saint Leopold – the saints day of our two first kings who also were named Leopold.

Belgium's investment in Viet Nam remains modest with 40 Belgium-invested projects worth $103 million as of October 2011. What do you think are the reasons behind that and what should be done to boost investment from Belgium into Viet Nam?

The real volume of Belgian investments in Viet Nam is higher than $103 million as some major Belgian companies also invest through subsidiaries based in Hong Kong or Singapore. The real volume of investments of Belgian companies in Viet Nam is estimated to be higher than $300 million at present. Some important investments in green technology are being prepared through Asian subsidiaries.

Kingdom of Belgium at a glance

Capital: Brussels

Official Languages: Dutch, French, German

Total area: 30,528sq.km

Population: Estimation of 11 million

Currency: Euro

National flag: Three equal vertical bands of black (hoist side), yellow, and red

Belgian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly in the field of high technology, are already active in Viet Nam and plan to further expand their activities here. It's good to underline the success of those Belgian SMEs in Viet Nam. For example, one fourth of Viet Nam's yearly cocoa bean production is being certified and processed by a Belgian SME. Our SMEs export equipment for nuclear medicine to Viet Nam has developed water sanitation facilities in both southern and northern Viet Nam. A consortium of Belgian SMEs will soon start developing a micro satellite with its Vietnamese partners.

The Dinh Vu Deep Seaport in Hai Phong is another of our best flagships. Our companies have developed Dinh Vu over years with their Thai and American partners but today the port and industrial zone are being managed by a Belgian port-development company, together with its Vietnamese partners.

Our companies mainly concentrate their efforts in port development and dredging, in green technology (waste treatment, water sanitation, solar energy), in agribusiness and in the health sector. A great number of Vietnamese textile companies have been equipped with Belgian weaving machines. Belgian companies are already present in other ASEAN countries.

To move beyond our present success here in Viet Nam and bring more investment to your country, companies would, however, need a stronger legal basis, improved infrastructure and higher quality of labour. These are medium and long-term objectives to which your Government is rightfully giving the highest priority.

Belgium provides 40 scholarships for Vietnamese students to study in Belgium. The number, however, is quite modest in comparison with eagerness of Vietnamese students to study in Belgium? Could you explain why the number of scholarships remains limited?

Belgium is currently giving between 70-80 scholarships per year for various types of training. For Masters and PhDs, the Federal Government has 40 scholarships annually since 2004 for Vietnamese students. In addition, our universities grant up to 30 scholarships per year for programmes which are priorities for the Vietnamese Government and universities. The priorities of the scholarships are defined by the Vietnamese Government and are focused on agricultural development, education, health, engineering, governance, economics and financial affairs and environment. Some 1,700 Vietnamese students have obtained a Master's or a PhD in Belgium. Belgian business schools have trained another 1,400 Vietnamese MBA graduate students. The port of Antwerp, Europe's second biggest port, is also providing 10 scholarships per year for short-term technical training of Vietnamese managers from the port sector.

This is a considerable achievement. In May, we have concluded the new bilateral development programme for the coming four years (2011-15). It will increase the budget allocated for capacity building, and human resources development.

The Belgian Government pledged to provide $86.2 million worth of official development assistance for Viet Nam under a four-year co-operation agreement (2011-15) signed between Viet Nam's Ministry of Planning and Investment and the Kingdom of Belgium's Directorate General for Development in May this year. What will the fund focus on?

The Grand Palace in Brussels capital. — File Photos

The Grand Palace in Brussels capital. — File Photos

Development co-operation with Viet Nam covers many aspects. Official development assistance between both governments amounts to $86.2 million, but our co-operation is multi-layered. Apart from the federal government-to-government co-operation, Belgian ODA is also channelled through Belgian regional governments, through our universities and our NGOs. We have a delegated co-operation through the United Nations. Belgium also provides concessional loans for economic projects including technology transfers through Belgian companies to Viet Nam.

Our new development programme (2011-15), is a result of co-ordination and sharing between donor countries and institutions. We concluded with the Vietnamese Government to focus on three provinces (Ha Tinh, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan), and on three sectors (water sanitation, capacity building and governance). We have already worked with Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan over the last years, and have added Ha Tinh to our co-operation programme this year upon request of the Vietnamese Government.

Vietnamese-Belgian singer Pham Quynh Anh visited and performed in Viet Nam several years ago, helping many Vietnamese people to understand and want to find more about Belgian culture. What do you think should be done to further promote cultural exchanges between the two countries?

Belgium's regions are very actively promoting culture. Wallonie-Bruxelles has a dynamic programme with Viet Nam with a great variety of activities such as dancing and music performances here in Viet Nam, inviting both Belgian artists to Viet Nam and vice versa. A few weeks ago, a successful Vietnamese film festival took place in Belgium. In the future I hope to be able to convince the Flemish region to develop further cultural activities in Viet Nam as well.

I am particularly happy to see that Belgium's most famous cartoon figure, Tintin, has since last week also made his way into the Vietnamese cinema theatres. Tintin is genuinely Belgian but represents simultaneously universal human values. No surprise he has already been a friend of many Vietnamese, young and old. — VNS

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