Cablegate: Vietnam Reaching Out to Africa

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 01 Hanoi 2637

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. As another symbol of how Vietnam prizes
the diversity of its diplomatic contacts and seeks to
maintain its third world credentials, the GVN hosted the
first Vietnam - Africa Forum in Hanoi May 28-30.
Delegations from 18 African countries discussed trade and
investment and "opportunities for the 21st century."
Vietnam undertakes some developmental activities in Africa,
albeit financed mainly by the United Nations. Two-way trade
remains modest at under USD 250 million, but GVN officials
claim that there is "much potential for growth." With trade
levels at about USD 50 million in 2002, South Africa is the
most important African trading partner, opening its Embassy
in Hanoi only in 2002. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) According to Nguyen Manh Cuong, Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (MFA) senior expert for West Asia and
Africa, Vietnam and many African countries have "traditional
friendships" based upon historical mutual support to
"overcome colonial powers." Cuong noted that, while Vietnam
only has embassies in Libya, Algeria, Egypt, and South
Africa, "traditional" diplomatic partners in Africa also
include Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Angola. Cuong
highlighted the importance of the forum, which brought
representatives from many African countries to Hanoi for the
time to discuss issues of mutual concern. In a working
luncheon on June 5, Xuan Hieu (who attended parts of the
forum), International Affairs Department Deputy Director of
the Communist Party of Vietnam's flagstaff "People's Daily,"
boasted to poloff that Vietnam was "proud to host this first
event of its kind." He predicted that the forum will lead
to "greater mutual understanding and cooperation between
Vietnam and Africa."

3. (U) Despite the traditional friendships, there have
been few high level visits in recent years. Namibian
President Sam Nujoma visited Vietnam in 2001. Robert
Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, also visited in 2001
(reftel). Vietnam's President, Tran Duc Luong, visited
Angola, Namibia, and Congo in October 2002, after attending
the Francophone summit in Beirut. Cuong said that he did
not know of any upcoming senior visits; however, he
expressed confidence that there would "undoubtedly be some
"ministerial level" visits over the next year.


4. (SBU) Over 80 delegates attended the forum, including
four ministers and four deputy ministers. Representatives
from eighteen African countries attended: Egypt, Libya,
Morocco, Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burundi, Congo, Guinea,
Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa,
Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia. In addition, representatives
of several Hanoi-based UN agencies, non-governmental
organizations, and international organizations also
participated. Japan sent a representative and several local
embassies, including France, Italy, and the U.S., sent
observers. While Cuong declined to provide exact numbers,
he admitted that a "sizeable number" of the African
delegates actually came from regional embassies accredited
to Vietnam, mostly either in Beijing and Bangkok. (Note:
While Vietnam's MFA provided hotel accommodations, the
delegations had to pay their own airfares. End note).
Cuong said that concerns about SARS might have had some
impact, but that only two delegations had actually canceled
their participation.

5. (SBU) Forum attendees heard about 30 presentations from
various African delegations, other international
participants, and GVN officials. Many of the speeches
reiterated the common desire for realizing "the great trade
potential" between Vietnam and Africa. In his keynote
address, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai emphasized the need to
move beyond the currently "limited cooperation" and develop
a "multifaceted approach." Several speeches commended
Vietnam for its "south - south" cooperative activities.
H.K. Angula, Namibia's Minister of Agriculture, Water, and
Rural Development, told the forum that Namibian farmers
"have a great deal to learn from Vietnam," noting Vietnam's
transformation from a rice importer to one of the world's
leading rice exporters in a relatively short period. He
said that Vietnam's "comparative advantage" in rice "sets
the stage" for further bilateral cooperation.

6. (U) At the conclusion of the forum, Vietnam signed
several cooperative agreements, including:
--on agricultural cooperation and fisheries cooperation with
--on economic, trade, cultural, and technical cooperation
with Sierra Leone; and,
--on trade and investment protection with Namibia.

7. (U) The forum also included about 150 booths showcasing
various Vietnamese exports, such as electronics, textiles,
and agricultural products. The rather elaborate exhibition
invited speculation among some observers that export
promotion might have been an underlying theme of the forum.
Cuong admitted that Vietnam "would like to sell more
products to more African countries." He claimed that there
is "especially good potential" for rice exports. Cuong
maintained, however, that the main purpose of the forum was
to discuss Vietnam and Africa two-way cooperation, of which
Vietnam's exports is "only one part."


8. (U) Cuong claimed that, while Vietnam is itself a large
official development assistance (ODA) recipient, the GVN was
"proud" to have a role in helping African countries. Cuong
noted that there are Vietnamese experts working in a number
of African countries, citing agricultural experts in
Madagascar, Benin, Congo, and Senegal. (There are also
Vietnamese medical doctors in Angola.) Much of this
assistance, he admitted, is actually financed through a "two
plus one" program under the U.N., whereby Vietnam supplies
the experts and the U.N. supports them and their programs.


9. (U) Cuong lamented that, while Vietnam's trade with
Africa had grown by a factor of 10 since 1990, it was still
"far below potential." Vietnam's 2002 exports to Africa
totaled about USD 200 million (about one percent of
Vietnam's total exports); its imports from Africa are about
USD 43 million (about three tenths of one percent of
Vietnam's imports), according to a press report.
10. (SBU) While a number of officials stressed the theme
of economic potential, others noted that there are serious
impediments that Vietnam and African countries must overcome
to realize that potential. Cuong admitted that lack of
payment mechanisms is a major factor. Another is the lack
of familiarity with culture and customs. He said that many
Vietnamese business people were reluctant to do business in
Africa because "it is sometimes rather hard to get paid."
Barter trade, while possible, is not going to raise trade
volume significantly, he opined. Joseph Bonesha, the
Rwandan ambassador to the PRC, told poloff on the margin of
the forum that distance to market was a major problem for
both Vietnam and African countries. He noted that Rwanda
was "very poor" and at this point not able to import much of
anything from any country. Guinea's Ambassador to Beijing,
Djigul Camara, predicted to poloff that Vietnam would be
"hard pressed" to compete with the PRC in Guinea. He
estimated that Guinea and the PRC have about USD 100 million
in two-way trade, with established links. Camara said that
the PRC is "similarly well established" in a number of other
West African countries.


11. (U) In October 2002, South Africa opened an embassy in
Hanoi, headed by a Charge d'Affaires. Vietnam had
established its embassy in South Africa in 1999. Two-way
trade, while limited, has grown from USD 20 million in 1999
to USD 50 million in 2002, according to a GVN press report,
making South Africa Vietnam's most important African trading
partner. Vietnam's primary exports include footwear,
textiles, artificial flowers, coffee, rice, and plastics.
Its imports include machinery, steel, wood, chemical
products, and paper. The trade balance is in favor of South
Africa by about a three to two ratio, according to South
African government statistics. The two countries signed a
bilateral trade agreement in 2000.

12. (U) In a speech at the forum, Charles Bailey, Ford
Foundation representative in Vietnam, highlighted that South
Africa and Vietnam shared a strong historical relationship
stemming from their respective independence struggles. In
1978, a high-level delegation from the then-banned African
National Congress (including now-President Mbeki) visited
Vietnam and met with the top leadership. According to
Bailey, this visit made a strong impression on both sides.

13. (SBU) South African Charge d'Affaires Elizabeth
Erasmus told poloff in a sidebar conversation that one of
South Africa's goals in opening an embassy in Hanoi was to
demonstrate to Vietnam that South Africa can serve as a
gateway for regional trade. She noted that it will take
"considerable effort" to realize this goal, but there are
plans for further cultural and educational exchanges that
will also improve mutual understanding. Commenting on
Vietnam's long-term goals in Africa, Charge Erasmus opined
that Vietnam may be interested in counterbalancing the PRC's
already strong economic position in a number of African


14. (SBU) This forum can be viewed as part of Vietnam's
general diplomatic push over the past decade to diversify
its relations globally. There are still warm feelings in
Vietnam for the many African countries that provided moral
support during wartime, even though the tangible benefits
nowadays remain minimal. Lack of infrastructure, vast
distances, questionable markets, and uncertain business
practices all suggest that more meaningful Vietnam - Africa
ties are unlikely in the foreseeable future, despite
goodwill and good rhetoric.

© Scoop Media

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