Vietnam Year 2010
The German government has declared 2010 "Vietnam Year" because of the 35th Anniversary this September of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Vietnam. Embedded in a cultural framework, which began already in January and will last until the end of the year, numerous events are being planned to promote exportation and investments by German enterprises. Last week a "Vietnam Business Forum" was organized in Frankfurt/Main aimed at enticing German companies to do business with Vietnam. In a few days, an "Institute for German Law" will be inaugurated in Hanoi to facilitate the rapprochement of the legal framework. A business symposium, featuring the former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder as speaker, will also be held in Hanoi in April. At a conference in the Vietnamese capital, the CDU affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation was praising the German "social market economy" as a "model for Vietnam."
The economic promotion measures are aimed at facilitating lucrative business for German enterprises in Vietnam, a booming nation, in spite of the economic crisis. Last year while the West was experiencing a slump in economic growth, Vietnam's economy grew five percent. With 86 million inhabitants, Vietnam not only remains an attractive location for cheap production, especially for the western textile industry, it is also, to a growing extent, being considered attractive as a promising market. At the beginning of March, the EU trade commissioner visited Hanoi and arranged with the Vietnamese government to begin negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement. Berlin is strengthening the position of German enterprises not only with the usual means of support, but also with so-called development aid.
Two weeks ago, the German Development Minister Dirk Niebel visited Vietnam and launched the "Alumniportal Germany" in Hanoi. Berlin refers to skilled personnel abroad, who once studied or received training in Germany, therefore speaking the language and having life experience in Germany as "Alumni". More than 100,000 "Alumni" are living in Vietnam - due particularly to the fact that the German Democratic Republic had had close ties with this Southeast Asian country. The "Alumniportal" is a web-service that, according to the Development Minister, allows alumni "to get in touch with one another and with German and local businesses, organizations and institutions, to network and to make cooperation arrangements. "Germany is able to keep in touch with important contacts for German industry, cultural and educational policy abroad and development cooperation in Viet Nam," is how Niebel summed up the advantages of the project that is also being supported by "development" organizations.
The Development Ministry is even supporting the position of German companies in Vietnam with direct financial allocations. For example, half of the 400,000 Euro in-service training project of the German Metro Corp., for the company's suppliers, was financed by the ministry. The company, which - in spite of the economic crisis - had made more than half-a-billion Euros in profit last year, would have financed the project itself, according to the press, but Berlin's development aid increases the company's profits and reinforces Metro's standing in relation to its rivals. The project had already been decided by Niebel's predecessor in office, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (SPD). Siemens, which seeks a contract to construct one of Ho Chi Minh City's subway lines, benefits similarly. The German Ministry of the Economy has already earmarked 85 million Euros for the subway project and now the KfW Bank wants to provide a credit of 155 million Euros, before the end of the year. In return for according Siemens the contract, Vietnam is demanding other development aid as well as a training program for the subway personnel. German "development helpers" would train Vietnamese in how to run the Siemens trains, saving the Munich company the costs of the training program.
Gateway to Southeast Asia
Berlin is not only interested in supporting German companies, but also in geostrategic aspects. In Southeast Asia, China's influence has significantly grown over the past few years. The growth of commerce is but one indicator. Vietnam, for example, was importing US $720 million worth of goods from China in 1995. By 2008 the imports from the People's Republic of China were valued at US $16.2 billion, making China number one among Vietnam's suppliers, providing approx. one-fifth of Vietnam's imports. The trend with the other Southeast Asian nations is similar. Beijing's economic influence in the countries at its southern border is growing hand in hand with economic development of Southwestern China, including the Yunnan Province, traditionally considered to be the country's gateway to Southeast Asia. Currently new infrastructure projects are linking Yunnan to neighboring countries in the south; a further enhancement of China's influence in these countries seems merely a matter of time.
As was noted in a recent study published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), China is not only systematically developing its economic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia. Beijing is simultaneously seeking to politically stabilize the region and is committed to "maintaining limits on the influence of other major powers and if possible even force them out." Using the example of the dispute over the use of the Mekong River, the SWP describes the alternatives at the disposal of Southeast Asian nations in relations with Beijing. "They can make an arrangement with the great power, and have the corresponding concessions in return," explain the government advisors of the SWP. "Or they can attempt, through a coalition, to become a countervailing power." The SWP considers that "such a coalition could achieve more clout, if it incorporates one or more major powers."
This more than insinuated proposal of an anti-Beijing alliance with western powers could build on traditional rivalries between China and Vietnam. Vietnam still has some influence in Kampuchea and Laos and sees itself as a historical contraveiling power to China. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) Therefore Germany could be contributing to future conflicts in Asia.