Sunday January 27, 2013
Vietnam diplomats facing anniversary fatigue
HANOI: Like many communist regimes Vietnam is partial to pomp and ceremony, but even its seasoned diplomats are wearying of the party mood as dozens of countries vie to celebrate their four-decade friendship with Hanoi.
The Paris Accords, signed 40 years ago on Sunday, ended America's direct military involvement in Vietnam, heralding a warming of relations with the outside world that saw 21 countries open embassies in Hanoi within a year.
Those nations - from Australia and Uganda to Singapore, Finland and Bangladesh - are all keen to mark the anniversary with Vietnamese officials.
But the ensuing stream of diplomatic functions is not universally welcomed.
"The (top) leaders are OK because they don't have to do anything. We have to prepare so many things," grumbled one Vietnamese diplomat, who works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"It's so, so boring repeating the same cliches for almost every delegation, but we can do nothing to improve that," the diplomat, who is helping foreign missions plan their celebrations, told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"I know it's our job, but we still get exhausted by all the functions."
From the Brits who are hosting a fashion show and - somewhat less glamorously - a raffle, to the Japanese who are flying in opera singers, Vietnam's foreign partners want to make sure that their celebrations catch the eye.
"There's so much competition - it's hard to get Vietnamese officials to commit to attending the events," sighed one Asian diplomat helping to organise his country's celebrations, before rushing off to woo the foreign ministry.
Singapore is issuing a commemorative stamp, holding an art exhibition and flying in the Prime Minister, while Australia's Ambassador Hugh Borrowman said his embassy will host events showcasing "(our) creativity and diversity".
But where Hanoi's diplomats are losing enthusiasm, the city's hospitality industry is welcoming an expected mini-boom.
"It will definitely generate extra interest in Hanoi, there will be more official travel," Kai Speath, general manager at the city's historic Metropole Hotel told AFP, adding that the Metropole had been home to dozens of foreign missions during the 1970s as diplomats rushed back to Hanoi.
The bonanza year of diplomatic celebrations owes much to Vietnam's success at implementing its official foreign policy strategy: being friends with everyone - and upsetting no-one.
While the "being friends with everyone sounds trite... when you look at it in practice... they're doing pretty well," said Vietnam expert Carl Thayer.
Vietnam currently enjoys nine strategic partnership deals, including with Germany, South Korea and Italy - which struck an agreement this week.
While Thayer questioned how much they "convert these wonderful expressions into reality", he said Vietnam's ability to make allies reflects the nimble diplomacy it was forced to develop during the war era.
"During the Vietnam War they went high and low for support, from the non-aligned movement, the third world, the socialist bloc," Thayer said.
More recently, Hanoi has also had to balance relations with wartime foe America - Washington did not normalise ties until 1995 - and fellow communists China, one of Vietnam's oldest and most troublesome, allies.
Beijing began diplomatic relations with the communist regime in Hanoi in 1950, but ties frayed after a border war in 1979 and were only fully restored in 1990.
The pair are currently locked in a row over contested islands in the oil-rich South China Sea and while it is eager to avoid antagonising China, Hanoi has been discretely strengthening ties with countries with similar gripes, including Japan and the Philippines.
This illustrates how Vietnam has learned to be proactive in its diplomacy, a skill Thayer says Hanoi has "honed to a fine degree".
But as they contemplate their busy social calendars for 2013 some weary diplomats are lamenting the success of their nation's diplomacy.
The round of anniversary parties are likely to be "similar and often boring" one diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity, explaining that although attendance is not obligatory "absence will be noticed". - AFP