Your Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan; New Zealand alumni; Members of the New Zealand community in Ha Noi; Ladies and Gentlemen. Xin chao qui vi and kia ora to you all. On behalf of my wife Janine and myself, I want to thank everyone involved in organising this event.
It’s great to be back in Viet Nam after five years. It’s also a great pleasure to be here with so many friends of New Zealand today, as well as our small but energetic New Zealand community.
I first want to talk about the relationship between our two countries. Yesterday I met President Sang. During our discussions we agreed that the bilateral relationship between Viet Nam and New Zealand is in excellent shape, and that our links are growing stronger every year. Indeed, President Sang and I witnessed the signing of the new Action Plan to give effect to our strong Comprehensive Partnership between New Zealand and Viet Nam, covering goals and activities across the spectrum of political, trade, development, defence and security ties.
We are good friends and partners, not only in terms of the bilateral relationship, but in working together regionally, to deliver peace and prosperity for all in the region.
Two way trade between Viet Nam and New Zealand is growing well. It sits at US$750 million, and we are on target to achieve our shared goal of US$1 billion by 2015.
Our governments are working together to make it easier for businesses to trade and invest in each other’s country. The signing of the Action Plan yesterday was one example of that work. Another is our close co-operation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and our shared desired to conclude in 2013 a high standards agreement. A third example is our shared desire to renegotiate our air services agreement, which New Zealand hopes will improve the connectivity between our two countries in future.
I now want to focus the remainder of my remarks on the theme of “connectivity” and the importance of education links as a ‘bridge builder’ between our two countries.
For New Zealand, education is a key priority for our relationship with Viet Nam – and has been identified as one of five areas for ‘strategic engagement’ in our new Action Plan. We have a long and proud history of education links with Viet Nam, going back to Colombo Plan days more than 50 years ago. I understand the Embassy is still in touch with a number of Colombo Plan alumni from Viet Nam, some of whom studied in New Zealand in the early 1960s. I’m also told that to this day they maintain a fondness and connection with New Zealand, and in some cases, a New Zealand accent!
Our education links have broadened significantly since then. New Zealand is increasingly a destination of choice for Vietnamese students wishing to study abroad. Our reputation for quality education and for offering a safe and peaceful living environment attracts more than 2000 Vietnamese students to New Zealand each year and we hope to significantly increase those numbers in future.
New Zealand has strong quality assurance systems and standards are in place to ensure consistent and high quality education across all levels of our education system, whether it is in high school; at English language schools; at higher studies institutes in business and finance, marketing, environmental management, agriculture, IT and computer science, design, international relations; or in vocational studies such as hospitality.
Our education institutions are also increasingly focused on building partnerships with Vietnamese counterparts to deliver in-country education and training. In this context I would like to specifically acknowledge the efforts of Victoria University of Wellington and Auckland University of Technology (AUT) – both of whom have made a significant investment to be represented here today.
Both institutions have been committed to Viet Nam for many years now, and have established excellent partnerships with institutions here that are bringing benefits to students and researchers both in New Zealand and in Viet Nam. Many of their partner institutions are also represented here today – such as the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam and the Academy of Finance to name just two of them.
We are working closely at the government level, through a number of programmes including Programme 165, the Vietnamese scholarships programme administered by Viet Nam International Education Development (VIED), to build our education links. New Zealand’s largest single investment in Viet Nam is also in the education sector, through the Academic Colleges Group investment in international schools in Ho Chi Minh City.
Of course many of you today have experienced a New Zealand education through our long-standing English language training programmes for officials. For many of you, the experience of living with a Kiwi family was a unique experience that I am sure has built friendships that will last a life-time.
These programmes, along with the 150 fully funded postgraduate scholarships for Vietnamese students over the next five years, are funded through New Zealand’s official development assistance to Viet Nam. They are a powerful demonstration of our commitment to Viet Nam’s development, because we believe that a strong, peaceful and prosperous Viet Nam will also contribute to New Zealand’s own prosperity.
New Zealand believes there is no stronger way to create long-term, sustainable connections and goodwill between our two countries than through education. Your presence here today is proof of that.
There is a Māori proverb that makes this point well. In Māori it goes: “Ko te manu e kai ana I te miro, nona te ngahere. Engari, ko te manu e kai ana I te matauranga, nono te ao.” This in English means, “The bird that consumes the miro berry owns the forest. However, the bird that consumes learning owns the world!” The proverb emphasises the power of education. It can open doors to provide better jobs, new opportunities and enriched lives.
I want to thank you all once again for being here today to celebrate our education connections. I look forward to talking with a number of you shortly and hearing more about your New Zealand experiences. Kia ora, huihui tātou katoa.