Ambassador of Switzerland to Việt Nam Ivo Sieber. — Photo courtesy of the embassy
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Việt Nam, Ivo Sieber, Ambassador of Switzerland to Việt Nam, has penned an article commemorating the long-standing, multifaceted relations between the two countries.
The following is the full text of the article:
With the formal establishment of diplomatic relations on October 11, 1971, prospects of how Việt Nam and Switzerland would henceforth cooperate were lifted to a new level. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that not even the most daring visionaries could have predicted the quality and intensity of our relations today.
Early Swiss-Vietnamese relations date back to the second half of the nineteenth century, with Swiss trading companies, such as Diethelm and Biedermann, laying the groundwork for relations beyond business. While most Swiss then living in Việt Nam were engaged in trade, engineering or agriculture, the country also attracted travellers, adventurers, and explorers. Clearly the best known among them is Swiss-born bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. His curiosity and vigour opened new areas of science, healthcare and agriculture for Viet Nam and left a vivid legacy that still prevails today. Not least his discovery of the pest bacillus had lasting impacts beyond Việt Nam.
In 1954, Switzerland hosted the Geneva Conference on Indochina. With its neutral status, Switzerland enabled the first foray by the Democratic Republic of Việt Nam into multilateral diplomacy.
The next key moment, which we commemorate today, happened 50 years ago. In 1971, Switzerland became one of the first Western countries to establish diplomatic relations with Việt Nam. While the Treaty concluded on 11 October 1971 initiated formal diplomatic relations, a first Swiss Embassy was opened at the Metropole Hotel in Hà Nội in 1973. A plaque where the Embassy offices were located serves as testimony, while accounts of former colleagues recall the challenges of operating a diplomatic mission at a time when Việt Nam was still embroiled in the troughs of war.
After 1975, numerous Swiss nationals and well-established Swiss companies, such as Nestlé or Ciba-Geigy, international trading companies, the Federation of Swiss Watch Manufacturers and the Swiss Association of Machinery Manufacturers maintained their presence in Việt Nam, along with diplomatic and humanitarian activities.
The steady commitment and belief in Việt Nam set the basis for bilateral relations to broaden and intensify from 1990 onwards. Việt Nam’s economic reforms and rapid integration into the world economy from 2000 onward further facilitated the strengthening of Vietnamese-Swiss relations, leading to the opening of a Swiss Consulate General in HCM City in 2015. On its side, Việt Nam inaugurated a Consulate in Geneva in 1984 and elevated it to the rank of a Consulate General and UN Mission 10 years later. In 2000, Việt Nam opened an Embassy in Berne; this diplomatic presence was further extended this year with a new honorary consulate covering the cantons of Zurich and Zug. High-level visits in both directions, including during this jubilee year, are another regular feature of the past decades of cooperation.
Over the past 50 years, relations evolved, broadened, and deepened. Cooperation initially strongly focused on humanitarian and development assistance. Over the course of the past three decades, the Swiss government provided more than 600 million Swiss Francs (VNĐ15 trillion) to support Việt Nam’s socio-economic development. The Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation SDC had a permanent presence in Hà Nội since 1991 and was joined four years later by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO. While SDC’s engagement was phased out in 2016, SECO’s programme was stepped up, with the latest four-year programme 2021-2024 launched during the official visit to Hà Nội of Swiss Vice-President Ignazio Cassis.
A plaque denoting the location of the Swiss Embassy offices in the Metropole Hotel in Hà Nội. — Photo courtesy of the embassy
Today, cooperation by private companies from both countries has taken the lead role and is now the main driver of economic development. Việt Nam also benefits from an annual trade surplus of over 2 billion Swiss Francs (VNĐ50 trillion). With over 100 Swiss companies present in Việt Nam and some 20,000 jobs created in Việt Nam, Swiss direct investments in Việt Nam currently amount to around 2 billion Swiss Francs (VNĐ50 trillion). The potential for more Swiss investments is sizable, as Switzerland is ASEAN’s 9th largest foreign investor, but so far only ranks 19th in Việt Nam.
With this positive outlook, both Việt Nam and Switzerland – together with partners of the European Free Trade Association EFTA – are redoubling efforts for the conclusion of a progressive Free Trade Agreement that will boost benefits for all parties. Last month’s meeting between Vietnamese President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc and Swiss President Guy Parmelin on the sidelines of the 76th UN General Assembly underscored this commitment.
Commemorating 50 years of diplomatic relations is an important moment for any two countries. Việt Nam’s and Switzerland’s accomplishments achieved over the past half century underscore the strength of this partnership as well as the trust and commitment for the future. Next month’s inauguration of the Swiss designed “Geneva Conference Room” at the Diplomatic Academy of Việt Nam bestowed by the Swiss government is not only a symbol of this year’s commemoration, but also a promise for the future. Our two countries’ history augurs well, and I am confident that the next 50 years of Vietnamese-Swiss relations will continue to be strong, mutually beneficial, and successful. — VNS