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Viet Nam key partner for France in 21st century, says Chirac

President Jacques Chirac has affirmed Viet Nam is a key partner for France in the 21st century in an exclusive interview granted to Viet Nam News Agency prior to arriving in Ha Noi for an official visit to Viet Nam this week.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: How do you view Franco-Vietnamese friendship and cooperation in recent years, and their outlook for the future?

A: On the eve of my second State visit to Ha Noi, I would like to emphasize the special place Viet Nam occupies in the hearts of the French people. Historically, relations between our two countries have been very close, and it is for us to make them more fertile still, today. Our cooperative activities are confident, dense, and regular, natural even. For more than ten years now, France has supported Viet Nam in its efforts to integrate into the international community and its regional environment. It will continue to do so, both as regards Viet Nam’s dialogue with the European Union and as regards its accession to the World Trade Organization, which we hope will take place before long.

During the past twelve months we have exchanged seven ministerial-level delegations. This is a practical outcome of the success of President Tran Duc Luong’s visit to Paris in October 2002. Our contacts at government level have given rise to several parliamentary visits, six missions in 2003, and to exceptional vigorous cooperation between our towns and cities, departments, and regions. Sixty French territorial authorities are currently active in Viet Nam. The presence in France of a sizable community of Vietnamese origin brings an irreplaceable breath of dynamism and understanding to our relationship. That gives some idea of breadth and depth of the human ties that bind us.

France is concerned to give its full support to Viet Nam’s reforms and to its economic and social development. Today, it is Viet Nam’s leading Western partner. Over the past ten years, trade between us has grown threefold, and our imports fourfold. French firms, both major industrial groups as well as small and medium-sized businesses, are confident in the future of the country and in the pursuit of its reforms, particularly the consolidation of the rule of law. They have invested more than 2.4 billion euros here. The French government has put its weight behind this process, making France the second largest bilateral donor to Viet Nam.

Viet Nam is a key partner for France in the 21st century. I am convinced that it has the potential to become one of the world’s economic powerhouses tomorrow. Together, we are implementing a strategy to enable it, through France, to ease its access to the European market and the French-speaking world, while France will count on Viet Nam to open up a door for it to Asia.

France shares the aspirations of Viet Nam. In partnering its development, it is giving its full support to its urban development policies in the Central region, with the construction of the tramway in Ha Noi, and with the modernization of its public lighting in Ho Chi Minh City.

Conscious of the vital importance of training for the youth of Viet Nam, France has made education a priority of its cooperation policy. France is determined to remain a point of reference for the training of Viet Nam’s elites. We plan to create French university centres in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City as part of the International University of Viet Nam.

We also plan to pursue our efforts to offer places in France to high caliber students. For it is our belief that access to high quality scientific training for the youth of Viet Nam will, in the future, contribute to the development of our cooperation in very high-tech sectors such as satellites and civil nuclear power, areas in which France possesses universally recognized capabilities in both institutional and the industrial terms.

Q: What do you think Viet Nam and France should be doing to raise their profile in promoting relations between Asia and Europe in the political, economic and cultural spheres, and in bringing civilizations closer together?

A: The combined efforts of Viet Nam and France in preparing this 5th Asia-Europe Summit of Heads of State and Government (ASEM) exemplify what these two countries can do together to overcome obstacles and give substance to this vital dialogue between Asia and Europe.

Because they have learned to speak to one another again and reach an understanding, casting aside the burden of the past, and because they are an example of reconciliation, our countries have a special legitimacy in sending a message of peace, of cooperation and fraternity to the world. Dialogue between cultures and civilizations is not an abstract concept for our countries, but an everyday reality.

Viet Nam and France, after all, share an implacable attachment to their identity, to their culture, to their historical heritage, and in particular to the language we have in common; I welcome in that regard Viet Nam’s attachment to Francophony. The strengthening of regional cooperation programmes even outside Asia, in particular the development projects in the health sector which we are launching for West Africa, are evidence of the way in which we are reaching out in common to the world at large.

Q: Since France is one of the standard-bearers among the nations driving East-West cultural exchanges, could you describe France’s priorities in this process, in general, and in cultural exchanges between France and Viet Nam in particular?

A: France places a very high priority on cultural exchanges between the continents, and most particularly between Europe and Asia. This is a process of mutual enrichment and discovery, but it is also a question of tolerating our differences while respecting the universal values enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights.

In that respect, we have launched a wide range of programmes to showcase the unjustly neglected treasures of our partners. The exhibition of medieval Vietnamese sculpture from the Champa era, to be held in Paris in 2006, will be a quite exceptional event. Also, we will be devoting considerable resources over the next three years to showcasing the collections of the five main museums of Viet Nam, in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and Dac Lac.

Promoting exchanges between artists and cultural professionals is just as important. That is why I want to see these relations intensified. We cannot, in this context, allow cultural goods and services to be treated as mere merchandise.

Safeguarding cultural diversity is a crucial issue, which justifies special treatment for cultural goods and services within the World Trade Organization. On that point, France reaffirms the right of the States and governments signatories to the Beirut Declaration of Francophone States freely to define their cultural policy and the instruments whereby they implement it.

So our priority is not only to sustain dialogue between cultures by promoting artistic exchanges, but also to safeguard cultural diversity. We are determined to ensure that these positions prevail in the various international forums, and we welcome the work accomplished by Viet Nam, within both the Francophone community and UNESCO, in bringing the draft Convention on Cultural Diversity to fruition.

Regarding cultural exchanges between France and Viet Nam, they are part and parcel of a long history of mutual fascination. They cover all areas of artistic creation, as witnessed by the success of the Hue Festival over many years, with support from the French regions of Nord Pas-de-Calais and Poitou-Charentes.

Theatre, music (with the support given to the Ha Noi Philharmonic Orchestra), dance, the visual arts with the Arles School of Photography and the training program for performing arts technicians due to begin in 2005… all these projects are occupying us.

The inauguration of L’Espace—the French Cultural Centre in Ha Noi—in Autumn 2003, and the showcasing of the audiovisual and photographic collections of the IDECAF (Institute for Cultural Exchanges with France) in Ho Chi Minh City, are opening up vast new possibilities for relations between us. They will give greater visibility to cooperation between us, among both the general and specialized publics.

Q:Returning to Viet Nam this time, what message would you like to send to the Vietnamese people?

A: First of all, I’d like to tell the Vietnamese people what a pleasure it is for me to return to the land of Viet Nam, which is dear to me, and to convey to them my very warmest wishes. I want to convey to them my determination to continue making Viet Nam a priority for France, especially in the area of cooperation. Finally, one reason why the relationship between Viet Nam and France is so special is because the legacy of history combines with our hopes and confidence for the future and the heart.

VNA - (05/10/2004)

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