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With the unification of Germany, the "Iron Curtain", which had separated Europe for more than 40 years, also fell. Therefore, we would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Central and Eastern Europe for the courage with which they fought for freedom and democracy.
German reunification was without doubt a gift from Europe to Germany and a great achievement of international diplomacy. It was only possible through trustful cooperation with our European neighbors, friends and allies.
Against the background of these experiences, Germany is committed to democratic values, respect for human rights and a rule-based international order. To this end, Germany together with its partners assumes responsibility on a global scale.
More than ever, we are convinced that a strong, united Europe will find forward-looking answers to the pressing questions of our time.
The year 2020 also marks the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Germany and Vietnam. During this time, the cooperation between our two countries has developed continuously. The continuation of the strategic partnership agreed in 2011 with a two-year action plan 2020/2021 provides a basis for future-oriented cooperation. The development of the strategic partnership was also a topic of discussion in the telephone conversation between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on September 13th, 2020.
Strengthening and developing international cooperation, its structures, institutions and mechanisms are high priorities for both Germany and Vietnam. Both countries are committed to the rule-based international order, multilateralism, respect for international law, peaceful settlement of disputes, freedom of the seas and trade. They have assumed special responsibility in 2020. They are members of the United Nations Security Council, Vietnam holds the ASEAN Presidency, and Germany has taken over the EU Council Presidency in the second half of the year.
Germany and Vietnam cooperate in numerous fields. Climate change is a common challenge. Environmental protection and energy supply through increased expansion of renewable energies and increased energy efficiency are priority areas of German development policy commitment in Vietnam. Education and science are further areas of cooperation. Germany supports the reform of the vocational training system in Vietnam. Some 7,500 Vietnamese students are currently studying in Germany. 163 German-Vietnamese university cooperation projects ensure a mutual exchange of knowledge and technology. Around 2,000 Vietnamese students are learning German at 8 PASCH Schools in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City, which are supervised by the Central Office for Schools Abroad. The German Academic Exchange Service with its offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City supports and promotes this cooperation with scholarships and exchange programs. The Goethe Institutes in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City promote a lively and modern intercultural dialogue through innovative programs and events. The Vietnamese-German University is a pioneering beacon project of both countries for the future shaping and deepening of scientific and technological cooperation. On September 23th 2020, the anniversary of the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Vietnam, the trilateral intergovernmental agreement concerning the development and expansion of the Vietnamese-German University was signed. It sets the framework for the legal, organizational and financial security of the university.
The German law on immigration of skilled workers, which came into force in March 2020, opens up new, attractive job opportunities for Vietnamese skilled workers in Germany.
Economic relations play an important role in bilateral cooperation and are continuously intensifying. Germany is Vietnam's most important trading partner in the EU. In 2019 Vietnamese exports to Germany totaled USD 10.9 billion, German exports to Vietnam totaled USD 4.8 billion. Compared to the first half of 2019, Vietnam's exports to Germany increased by another 1.6% in the first half of 2020 despite the Covid-19 pandemic. German investors invested more than USD 2.1 billion in Vietnam last year with a high share of state-of-the-art technology. This represents an increase of 5.8% compared to 2018. A total of 380 German companies have branches in Vietnam. The new "German House" in Ho Chi Minh City is an impressive manifestation of the German presence in Vietnam. The free trade agreement between the EU and Vietnam, which came into force on August 1st 2020, will reinforce these developments.
The anniversary year 2020 will also be remembered in our bilateral relations as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic with its dramatic consequences. Vietnam has supported other countries, including Germany, by supplying face masks, thus sending an encouraging signal of international solidarity in the midst of the global health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects strongly underline the importance of international cooperation. the pandemic can be defeated only together
A wonderful bridge between our two peoples is being built by the people who live in the other country: the community of Germans in Vietnam and the much larger community of Vietnamese in Germany, both of which continue to grow. Through personal contacts and initiatives as well as the existing school and city partnerships, they maintain and promote the extremely important personal encounters.