Interview of H.E. Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau
Interviewer: Lack of Connectivity is one of many issues hindering people to people ties and economic relationship between the two countries. How Vietnam and India can address this problem?
Amb. Chau: Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions. I agree with you that lack of connectivity is one of the many issues which hinder people to people ties. The lack of connectivity also hinders the economic relationship between the two countries, and therefore, the government of both countries is trying to address the problem for the past many years. Both countries decided to uplift bilateral relations to strategic partnerships more than ten years back. We are also thinking of connecting the two countries through a direct flight. Given the opportunity, various airlines in India or Vietnam would like to start a direct flight. The urgent need for a direct airline was proposed three years back when both countries decided to uplift bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic relationship. The issue of a direct airline is still pending. Although VietJet Air started a direct flight a year back, they could not operate due to many reasons such as passenger capacity and time slots. As an Ambassador in New Delhi, I have met many airline representatives and tried to persuade them to operate a direct flight and I am pleased to tell you that Indigo will launch a direct flight between Kolkata and Hanoi starting of October this year. At the same time, VietJet Air is also supposed to start a flight from October end from New Delhi to Ho Chi Minh City. If we can materialize the plan of direct flights then in the long-standing, the issue of direct air connectivity would be addressed.
Besides, we also need to plan road connectivity. At the moment, the project has been on paper for quite some time. The project is a part of the connectivity project of the North East region of India to other ASEAN countries and also linking India via Myanmar and Thailand. I hope one day, the project would pass through Laos to Vietnam. Road connectivity is also vital, but I think it is still a long way. Another area where both countries need to focus on is virtual connectivity. India is advanced in terms of virtual connectivity, and Vietnam has lots of internet users. In conclusion, we should realize that if we are unable to address the question of connectivity into the relationship between the two countries, both countries will face difficulties in growing at a faster and substantial rate.
Interviewer: Indian tourists have frequented the Malayan peninsula over the years, and we are now witnessing a shift of interest towards Vietnam and its neighborhood. What steps could be taken to ease this process? Is there a possibility that we could work towards visa on arrival for tourists?
Amb. Chau: It is an interesting question because I am presently focusing on this matter. The day before yesterday, we launched a platform which helps Indian visitors in visa on arrival formalities. The platform has seven steps for an Indian citizen (living in India or overseas) to check if they are eligible to apply for a visa on arrival, so they do not have to go to the embassy anymore, and this is a significant achievement in streamlining our administrative procedures. Visa is one of the issues. Another issue, which I just mentioned, is the issue of a direct flight.
Moreover, we can address that too. The third issue is the promotion of tourism. In our embassy every two months on the average we organize a tourism workshop, golf tournament for ambassadors, and promotion of Indian weddings in Vietnam. Three months back we had a fabulous wedding where Indian friends came from Mumbai, and this event has tremendously shifted the mindset of Vietnamese people towards Indians in general and also towards Indian weddings in particular. My point here is that we need to uplift, update, and increase the awareness and interest of Vietnamese towards India and vice versa.
You are correct in saying that there is a shift of interest towards Vietnam from the traditional market of Malay peninsula. We do not take this for granted because the movement of visitors is still less than hundred thousand travelers per year whereas our Malaysian friends have more than nearly 800,000 visitors per year and our Thailand friends have 1.5 million visitors per year. Hence, Vietnam is still lagging behind these countries, and therefore, we need to do more on the matter of tourism. The most important aspect is to change the mindset of Indian visitors. In this regard I would also like to add that presently I am focusing on talking to people on various relevant topics, interacting with various newspapers, answering interviews, appearing on the TV and writing articles in newspapers about Vietnam. I want to focus on the tourist areas as many people are curious and want novelty. Vietnam is pretty new to Indian visitors, and Vietnam can be seen as a wedding destination because we have a lot of beautiful places and many successful Indian weddings have been hosted in Vietnam recently, which indicates that Vietnamese people can host these events successfully. We also want to promote Vietnam as the resort’s destination, and also as a shopping destination.
On the other hand, we also want to promote India as a cultural place of interest for the Vietnamese visitors. We have an advantage here because a lot of Vietnamese people would love to visit India, as India has the three sacred sites related to Buddha, and Vietnam is predominantly a Buddhist country. After the New Year, a lot of Vietnamese people travel to India as a pilgrimage. There is a gradual shift of interest towards Vietnam, and similarly, there is a gradual shift of interest towards India.
Interviewer: What should be done to enhance the social and cultural ties between Vietnam and India?
Amb. Chau: I think the most important thing that we need to do is to promote each other in our respective capitals of the country. The mindset towards India in Vietnam is still limited, and we think that India is still a country with much poverty, backward, not very clean and Indians look at Vietnam as a country which is at war and is still divided. Therefore, the mutual understanding of the two countries is essential, and I would like to call on the media and the press to play a critical role, as, without their contribution, the people of the two countries cannot understand each other appropriately. If people of the countries lack a proper understanding of each other, we will not be able to promote people to people relationship in economic and development field. Here, I want to stress that social and cultural ties are easier to promote. There are two significant elements here: one is Buddhism, which was born in India and spread eastwards to Vietnam and is practiced in Vietnam and secondly, today is the international day of yoga, which I enjoyed. The foreign ministers headed the session, and I would like to add that yoga is prevalent in many parts of the world and is particularly popular in Vietnam. In Vietnam, we do not celebrate yoga on one single day, but every day is a day of yoga because it is ingrained in the mindset of the people, their philosophies, and their way of life. Therefore the two elements I just discussed are the two fundamental assets that both countries enjoy in order to be able to enhance further social and cultural ties. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations also helps tremendously to foster and strengthen cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and Vietnam. These cultural and social relationships act as one of the fundamental pillars of the ties between India and Vietnam. It is the legacy that we enjoy from our two thousand years of civilization and culture linkages. We need more advertisement for our respective countries, cultures and take more concrete steps such as exchanges of delegations, exchanges of visits, people to people interactions, and promotion of movies. Currently, movies are one of my top priorities, as some Indian movies are quite popular in Vietnam, but none of the Vietnamese movies and dramas are in vogue in India. I desire to be able to broadcast at least one Vietnamese movie or drama on national TV in India.
Interviewer: Despite having diplomatic relations for more than 75 years, people to people ties have not materialized to the level the two countries would have hoped for, what in your opinion would be the reason behind it? How Vietnam and India can address this problem?
Amb. Chau: when we talk about India in Vietnam, the general public opinion is that they love India, the two countries share the political interest, and India is a good and trusted friend. However, people to people contact is lacking because of the various reasons which I have mentioned earlier. The first is that we do not have direct air-link, sometimes people have to go via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Thailand or China, and the waiting time are too long and complicated, which is discouraging. Secondly, we do not understand each other appropriately. Hence, other neighboring countries in Asia are preferred as tourist destinations by Indian visitors, but it is not the case in Vietnam. So, we need to improve this situation. The Indian foreign policy places importance on diaspora, and the Indian diaspora in Vietnam is limited as compared to other countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. Vietnam only has five thousand Indian people working and living in Vietnam, and similarly, India has very limited Vietnamese diaspora living and working here, less than five hundred people and the majority of them are Buddhists who come here to get the training in Buddhist principles, and after that, they go back and practice Buddhism in Vietnam. These are some crucial reasons that hinder the growth of people to people contacts between the two countries. I acknowledge the vibrant civilian society in India, and they do much good work, including the work related to international relations, we have a similar mechanism, and we call it the people diplomacy. In Vietnam, we have comprehensive foreign policy conducted at three levels: the official diplomacy; the party diplomacy; and people diplomacy. With that, we can address the problem and more importantly, we need to have a sister-ship at the various levels of associations between the two countries.
Interviewer: India and Vietnam have come a long way in their relations, what is the Vietnamese vision for the next decade in this relationship?
Amb. Chau: It is tough to say how the relationship will turn in the next ten years, but what I am hopeful is that we should be able to maintain rapid and substantial growth of the comprehensive strategic partnership, which will reflect a very high level of mutual trust. So, in ten years from now or in the many years to come, the relationship between the two countries will be going to be good, and we will continue to be strategic partners. India has supported Vietnam in the past and also supported during the reconstruction period, and even now, India is standing by the side of Vietnam. Therefore, in the next decade, the relationship will substantially cover all the different five pillars which we believe are essential in making a relationship comprehensive strategic partnership, namely defense and security, economic and trade, science and cooperation, political visits and people to people contacts. We believe that in many years from now India will remain a valued and trusted friend of Vietnam and by that time India will perhaps become the most populous country in the world, second or third-largest economy, positioned globally and will enjoy tremendous international prestige and standing. Vietnam will continue its relationship even more closely with India for the betterment of humanity, especially for the peace stability and development of the region and across the world.
Interviewer: India and Vietnam both are lower riparian states, facing pollution in the rivers Ganga and Mekong. India has launched a massive ‘National Mission for Clean Ganga’ to clean the river Ganga, is there a scope for both the countries to work together in a mission mode on this issue?
Amb. Chau: We welcome this initiative by Prime Minister Modi to clean Ganga, and we think there is an urgent responsibility for not only the authorities in India but also the ordinary people because Ganga is very sacred and is a heritage not only for India but also for the many people across the world. Ganga flows through many sacred and holy cities. It becomes imperative for Ganga to be very clean because Ganga not only contributes to the protection of the environment but also protect sacred sites recognized by UNESCO. The issue is whether we can work closely or together and whether in Vietnam, we can apply the model to clean the Mekong area. I welcome the initiative as cleanliness is essential. I like the radio program by Prime Minister Modi, where he focuses on cleanliness and urge everyone to keep their house and their surroundings clean. The cleanliness of Ganga is in line with his principle and in line with the UN principle to preserve the sacred sites. I believe sharing our experiences regarding the scarcity of water will not only help two countries in question but also help other riparian states along the Mekong. We also have a mechanism of Ganga Mekong cooperation meeting which will take place next month, and we hope that we continue to work with that mechanism.
About H.E. Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau
Born in Myanmar in 1961 and brought up in the Middle East, Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau spent much of his career as a diplomat in Europe. Other than being a diplomat, he is an educator with diverse international experience in multilateral affairs, cultural diplomacy, education and world heritage.
Born into a diplomatic family, Pham Sanh Chau was raised in an international environment, growing up in the Middle East. Throughout his distinguished public service career, Pham Sanh Chau has been deeply committed to building an inclusive, sustainable Learning Society and promoting Gender Equality through intercultural dialogue and international cooperation.