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Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the occasion of his visit to the Vietnamese-German University (VGU) in Binh Duong/Vietnam on 24 January 2024

Zwei Studierende der Deutsch-Vietnamesischen Universität sitzen im Publikum und hören der Rede des Bundespräsidenten zu/ Hai sinh viên trường Đại học Việt Đức lắng nghe bài phát biểu của Tổng thống Đức

Zwei Studierende der Deutsch-Vietnamesischen Universität sitzen im Publikum und hören der Rede des Bundespräsidenten zu/ Hai sinh viên trường Đại học Việt Đức lắng nghe bài phát biểu của Tổng thống Đức, © Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann


This morning we flew from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, a flight of just over two hours, and I feel as if I have missed out on something. I regret that there isn’t enough time to ride on the Reunification Express, that we have therefore not had the chance to see Huế and Da Nang, and have only viewed the Cloud Pass from above. I have been told that the train of reconciliation winds its way 1700 kilometres from North to South Viet Nam, closely flanking the South China Sea. The trip across the country takes a day and a half, passing through changing landscapes, cultures and climate zones. The Reunification Express has linked the country for almost half a century. It is a symbol of Viet Nam’s history. It’s a pity that we don’t have enough time on presidential trips for a one[1]and-a-half-day train journey, but perhaps a few of you have travelled on it before.

Viet Nam today is a fascinating combination of the traditional and the modern. The water puppet theatre still delights the people in the country, the early-morning tai chi exercises performed by the old people by the Turtle Lake are part of the urban fabric of Hanoi, while young Vietnamese people in particular are passionate about everything progressive and related to digitisation, TikTok trends and the YouTube cosmos. Viet Nam is a country for pioneers, for new beginnings.

Thế Dṻng, a Vietnamese poet living in Berlin, has expressed your country’s motto in a nutshell: „Life means constant new creation, continuous in spite of all the pain.“ And I can only agree with him. I have been here several times, and I feel that you can actually stand and watch this country recreating itself.

For us Germans, Viet Nam is an anchor in the region, and we have a keen interest in close exchange. This is reflected in the impressive number of reciprocal visits and meetings within the past year and a half: the Vietnamese Foreign Minister was in Berlin in autumn 2022, the German Chancellor visited Hanoi shortly afterwards, and we are hoping soon to be able to welcome Prime Minister Chính to Germany, perhaps on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations in 2025.

Our two countries are separated by almost 10,000 kilometres. But ours is much more than a long-distance relationship. More than ever at a time of mounting international crises, those who share a commitment to respect international law, free trade and the security of supply chains are moving closer together. They include Germany and Viet Nam, they include the EU and ASEAN.

Germany and Viet Nam are both export nations, and we therefore face similar challenges. Much of what seemed sound ten or twenty years ago is now being called into question. I want to illustrate this with three examples:

Firstly: The role of the World Trade Organization has changed. Viet Nam’s accession to the WTO in January 2007 was celebrated on a large scale here in your country. Today, though, this WTO stands for multilateral institutions which are in a state of crisis because the international community is finding it increasingly difficult to agree on a common denominator on crucial issues of globalisation and a fair balance of interests between its members. I firmly believe that it is good that Viet Nam and Germany, which draw so much benefit from an open global trading system, are driving forward the reform of the WTO and promoting networking, trade and cooperation throughout the world.

The second challenge is undoubtedly the competition between the major powers: the United States and China. It goes without saying that we cannot do without either the United States or China. The crucial factor will be to ensure that the future is not dominated by this conflict between the superpowers, but that it is characterised by fair rules and cooperation on an equal footing. We, as confident partners, as middle powers, as Germany and Viet Nam are sometimes described, can and

must play our part in this. On the one hand, we are the ones who should work to strengthen the joint world order, justice and regulations wherever we can. And on the other hand we should also act wisely in our own interests: we need to strengthen our existing partnerships and establish new ones. We need to avoid one-sided dependencies. We need to diversify our political relations and our supply chains. What we term „de-risking“ doesn’t mean shying away from problems, but putting ourselves on a broader and more secure footing. It means not putting all our eggs in one basket. My impression is that here in Southeast Asia, people have already taken that advice on board.

A third change we are jointly facing is an unsettling trend we are observing in many countries of the world, also in the so-called West; the trend towards protectionism and nations going it alone. In my opinion, we, Viet Nam and Germany, are a good example of the fact that the opposite leads to success. We believe in connectivity rather than isolation. We believe in more cooperation rather than less. And where that is not possible on a global scale, we should focus all the more on doing it at a regional level. The European Union’s free trade agreement with Viet Nam is an encouraging sign. And the ASEAN community is also an example of this regional approach: a self-confident alliance of up[1]and-coming states with the goal of taking responsibility themselves for overcoming economic, regional and security challenges. We have respect for the important principle of ASEAN centrality. And also for the desire not to be co-opted by one side in times of geopolitical polarisation. I myself attach great importance to the ASEAN community. This is my fourth trip to ASEAN countries in the past 18 months – this evening I will travel on to Thailand, another ASEAN country.

Viet Nam plays a particularly vital role within the ASEAN community. Yet Viet Nam is also very active in the United Nations and positions itself clearly on the side of multilateralism and a rules-based international order. We Germans support the international engagement of your emerging country. We regard Viet Nam’s membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council from 2023 to 2025 as an expression of commitment to the development of civil society and respect for human rights. Of course, our political and societal systems are not identical, and alongside that which unites Viet Nam and Germany there are also some things that are different, that still stand in the way of cooperation or that give us cause for concern, for example, in connection with the issue of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. All these issues featured in my talks in Hanoi yesterday, and I believe that the fact that we are able to broach these issues with mutual respect shows how sound our partnership is.

In the field of economic cooperation we share many similar interests: cooperation in the area of infrastructure, on the transformation from an agricultural to an industrial nation, assistance with the environmentally friendly transformation of Viet Nam’s energy supply. In addition to the international Just Energy Transition Partnership, we will provide Viet Nam with bilateral support to fulfil this task.

For us, compliance with joint rules is the benchmark for a reliable partnership and mutual trust. That also goes for security policy.

Like Viet Nam, Germany calls for the application and implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the South China Sea. We actively support a rules-based, reliable order. Yet we would also like to have this support behind us when rules are blatantly violated in other regions of the world – for example, in connection with Russia’s illegal attack on Ukraine. If such a blatant violation of international law were simply to be accepted, indeed, if it were to pay off for the invader, that would be a fatal signal not only for Europe, but for the whole world – also for Asia. That is why my country stands firmly alongside Ukraine, and will continue to do so.

Today I have spoken at length about our partnership – but at the end of the day nothing embodies it more than the people who forge the ties between our countries. The history and the many stories of Vietnamese-German migration are the lifeblood of our partnership. It is these people who give a face to the close relations between Germany and Viet Nam. And have been doing so for almost 50 years now!

It is these relations on which we want to build, and we want to invite even more highly-trained skilled workers to our country. More than 200,000 Việt Kiều already live in Germany. And who knows, maybe some of you also plan to come to Germany one day. If you’re considering that, you are in the right place here at the Vietnamese-German University. It is a beacon project reflecting our close ties. And I thank all those who inject life into this project. You above all, Professor Thiele. You are now officially the President of the VGU, and I am sure that you will perform the tasks this entails with great dedication. I wish you all the very best and every success.

You all know that the Reunification Express was once known as the „backbone of the country“ because of its route from the north to the south along the coast. And also because it connected the two now-united parts of Viet Nam.

I think that today, people are the „backbone of the country“. Particularly young people like you. The future, the country belongs to you!

Thank you very much!

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