Giles Lever, UK Ambassador to Vietnam

Giles Lever

British Ambassador to Vietnam

Part of UK in Vietnam

22nd January 2015 Hanoi, Vietnam

2015 – The Year of ASEAN?

My 2015 began after a relaxing Christmas here in Vietnam with my family. Getting back to work after the holidays started with a trip to Manila.

On my way to Manila, I experienced some new beginnings. I took the new Nhat Tan bridge and expressway and saw the newly completed international terminal. (When I first arrived in 1993, the road between the Thang Long bridge and the airport had not even been completed, and the journey was via Long Bien – how things change!). Diplomats tend to spend a lot of time at airports, so these developments are very welcome. They are also symbols of Vietnam’s changing face as a dynamic emerging economy.

In Manila, I got together with the British ambassadors and high commissioners from all 10 ASEAN countries. With colleagues from the Foreign Office in London, we talked about our shared priorities in 2015 and the UK’s approach to the region, using the start of the new year to plan ahead. It felt fitting to open 2015 by talking about the ASEAN region. 2015 is, of course, the 20th anniversary of Vietnam becoming a member of ASEAN. For me, this remains one of the landmark developments in Vietnam’s international relations in the modern era – marking a fundamental shift away from the tensions of the Cold War era, and towards cooperation and partnership across the whole region.


2015 also marks the scheduled date for full implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community.  Although ASEAN is still a long way from being a true single market, the aspiration remains important.  At the moment ASEAN economies trade a lot more with the rest of the world than they do with each other. In Europe, although much of the continent is still struggling with low growth, the EU’s single market remains a cornerstone of not just prosperity, but also stability.

For Vietnam , deeper ASEAN economic integration will present some challenges, but also opportunities in terms of new markets, and new drivers to improve competitiveness.  And of course integration isn’t just about reducing barriers to trade. People-to-people contacts is one area where I see a very noticeable coming-together across ASEAN, especially among the emerging middle classes (and Vietnam’s middle class is growing at the fastest rate in the region).

For the UK, we need to understand these trends and think about not just our relationships with individual ASEAN members, but with the organisation and region as a whole. In fact, we do a lot of cross-regional working already. For example, my three colleagues in the Embassy who cover economics, climate change and science & innovation are all part of British government S E Asia regional networks. We are also looking at strengthening our regional coordination in our trade promotion work.  Most people are surprised to learn that the UK already exports more to the ASEAN countries than it does to either China or India. But we can do more.  So as we plan our activity in 2015 we will be working on this.

To return home to Hanoi, I had to get up much earlier in the morning than I would have liked – at 4 am – in order to catch a flight from Manila to Ho Chi Minh City and then onto to Hanoi. This was a reminder that, although Vietnam’s infrastructure is developing impressively, inter-ASEAN connectivity still has a way to go!

Finally, one of the many advantages to living in Vietnam is that I get to celebrate two new years every 12 months. And so I get two chances to think about the lunar (or solar) year gone by and to make good resolutions for the lunar (or solar) year ahead. In this spirit, I’ve been reflecting on the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and elsewhere in Paris earlier this month, news of which broke while I was still in Manila. These attacks represent a threat to our core values of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  The outpouring of sympathy and solidarity around the globe shows how deeply we cherish these values.

The UK believes that sustainable peace, prosperity and partnerships need to be underpinned by common values, mutual understanding, and respect for human dignity. In the real world, different countries will have different views on what these terms mean and how they should be put into practice. But I think nearly all of us would agree with the basic proposition. Working together to turn these values, understanding and respect into reality will continue to be a central part of our engagement with Vietnam, and with ASEAN, in the year ahead.

I wish all of you a peaceful, safe and prosperous 2015.

About Giles Lever

I’ve been ambassador to Vietnam since July 2014. It’s a great privilege to serve as ambassador anywhere, but I’m particularly delighted to be back working for British interests in a…

I’ve been ambassador to Vietnam since July 2014. It’s a great privilege to serve as ambassador anywhere, but I’m particularly delighted to be back working for British interests in a country and a region I know well.

My very first job in the FCO, in 1991, was in the Southeast Asia Department, and that was followed by a posting to Vietnam from 1993-97 – an exciting time, as the “doi moi” process of economic reform and opening up gathered pace.

East Asia has been a bit of a theme in my career, as I also worked at the British Embassy in Tokyo from 2002-2006 (preceded by two years learning Japanese). But I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on a lot of other interesting regions and issues, including on the Middle East and North Africa, international development, and arms control/security. Immediately before coming back to Hanoi, I was Deputy High Commissioner in Abuja, Nigeria.

Outside of work, when I have time, I like running, reading, exploring, and trying to stay in touch from afar with the fortunes of Bolton Wanderers FC. Many of my Vietnamese friends love Premier League football, and are invariably disappointed to hear that the team I support is not in the Premiership!

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