The UK - heading in a new direction

By Gareth Ward   February 6, 2020 | 06:00 pm PT
As a new era ushers upon us, the U.K. is determined to pursue our goals on diplomacy, innovation and sustainable development.
British Ambassador Gareth Ward

British Ambassador Gareth Ward

On the 31st of January 2020, the U.K. left the European Union (EU). The U.K. is now heading in a new direction, in partnership with, but independent from the EU. We have big ambitions: to be a factory of ideas for the world, driving innovation and growth at home and abroad; to promote free trade and strike deals with new markets in the fastest growing countries; and to act as a force for good by strengthening the international rules and addressing common challenges like climate change. My job is to translate these ambitions into achievements in the U.K.’s relationship with Vietnam. 

I arrived in Vietnam 18 months ago as British Ambassador as we prepared to celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations. My first big event was to welcome the Royal Navy ship visit of HMS Albion – a clear signal of the U.K.’s global security presence. I also spent time meeting U.K. companies exporting to and investing in Vietnam, and visiting Vietnamese universities to hear from the new generation of talent here. It was clear to me that Vietnamese people were most interested in the U.K. as the home of the best universities in the world and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with a global engagement.

First of all, let me emphasize that the U.K.’s relationships in Europe will still be built on common bonds of friendship and cooperation. We will continue to work closely with our European partners on issues of security, for instance - Europe’s security is Britain’s security. But, we will also have a clear, independent voice to speak and act on the things that matter to us, and to partner with dynamic countries like Vietnam. A good example is the way that the U.K., France and Germany have spoken with one voice on the importance of UNCLOS and freedom of navigation globally.

One area we will prioritize is innovation through our strong system of education and skills. With 1 percent of the world’s population, the U.K. produces 15 percent of the most frequently cited research papers globally. And, half of those papers are co-authorized internationally. The U.K. will increase R&D (research & development) as a proportion of our GDP to keep us as an innovation and research superpower, and an attractive partner for Vietnamese academics, whether working in the U.K. or Vietnam.

A Union Jack flag flutters next to European Union flags at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 16, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Yves Herman.

A Union Jack flag flutters next to European Union flags at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 16, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Yves Herman.

I have now visited 30 provinces in Vietnam, and have been to local universities, hospitals and factories. I am particularly impressed by the co-operation between Oxford University Clinical Research Unit the Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, which is at the forefront of infectious disease control, including for new epidemics such as the 2019 novel coronavirus.

Another area of focus will be the U.K.’s role as a global champion for free trade – benefitting businesses, reducing costs for consumers, and helping the poorest countries in the world achieve genuine economic independence. Vietnam’s dynamism has a lot to do with the 13 free trade agreements (FTAs) you have already signed. We will make sure that a bilateral U.K.-Vietnam FTA is in place to provide continuity for our businesses. 

The U.K. will also stick up for the international rules. We are global leaders on climate change, becoming the first major economy to legally enshrine a commitment reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And, alongside Italy, we are hosting COP26 to galvanize international efforts to tackle climate change. Vietnam is one of the countries which would be most damaged by a global temperature rise of 2 degrees, so we will help you with finance and policies to leave behind coal, and tap your huge wind and solar power potential. I have seen for myself solar power installations in Binh Thuan, co-funded by U.K. overseas development assistance.

As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the only G7 economy to commit 0.7 percent of GNI to overseas development assistance, the U.K. will be a force for good on peace, security and development. For instance, we believe strongly in the U.N. Convention on the Law of Sea, which protects freedom of navigation.  We will continue to train Vietnamese peacekeepers as they join U.N. missions in conflict zones around the world. And we will remain committed to universal human rights and freedoms to ensure all our people – irrespective of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity - benefit from and participate in development.

This year is not only the year the U.K. leaves the EU. It is also the year that the U.K. marks the 10th anniversary of our strategic partnership with Vietnam. We recognize that ASEAN is a region, which will grow in economic and political power this century. We also know that Vietnam is a key partner in this region, growing faster than any of its neighbours. We will support your efforts to make Vietnam a gateway to the wider ASEAN region. So this year I, and our growing team at the British Embassy in Hanoi and the British Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, look forward to deepening contacts between our two countries, and making a contribution to a safer and more sustainable world.

*Gareth Ward is the British Ambassador to Vietnam.

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