The UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Vietnam held a reception at the House of Commons on June 18 to celebrate the excellent relationship that exists between the UK and Vietnam and to hold an auction to raise funds for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.
This is the first time such an event has been held in the House of Commons.
Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne, Vietnam’s Ambassador to the UK and Northern Ireland Vu Quang Minh and several UK members of parliament, including Labour MP George Howarth who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group, attended the reception.
Others included government officials and those from non governmental organisations, institutions, universities and representatives from the business community such as Dragon Capital, who also do business in Vietnam.
Addressing the event, Ambassador Minh said that bilateral ties between the UK and Vietnam are now at their best ever. Both countries have witnessed many positive developments in relations, which include the visit to the UK last year by Chairman of National Assembly Nguyen Sinh Hung and the visit to Hanoi in April by Foreign Secretary William Hague, the first visit by a UK foreign secretary for 17 years.
When talking about the significance of the event, Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne said: “It is a very significant event, because this is British Parliament, a famous and historic parliament and the meeting here is just about British relations with Vietnam. The different parties group has a strong love for Vietnam and they want to see a closer relationship between Britain and Vietnam.
There are also people from businesses and other sectors of economy who have gathered here in London to celebrate bilateral ties and make them stronger in the future, he said.
It is also a significant event because the relationship that exists between the two countries is not just between both governments but between both parliaments, businesses, universities and peoples, he added.
Browne also said that Vietnam is an investment destination that holds a huge potential for UK businesses and its relationship with Vietnam is very important to the UK. He noted that although Vietnam has a low GDP per capita, its boasts a hard working, educated and young workforce, so Vietnam’s future over the next 20 years is extremely bright.
Ambassador Minh said that George Howarth has initiated the auction to raise funds after he visited Vietnam last December while on a trip called the ‘Friends of Vietnam Study Mission’, which was organised by the Vietnamese Embassy in the UK.
During their trip, Howarth and other members of the delegation visited Hoa Binh Village in Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City where victims of the defoliant Agent Orange, extensively used during the American War, are cared for. Afterwards Howarth and his colleagues felt strongly that they should do something to help the victims.
Minh said the reception and auction received a lot of support, particularly from the leaders of the three major parties in parliament: David Cameron who is Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party; Nick Clegg who is Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats and the leader of the UK Labour Party Ed Miliband. All three leaders donated books to put up for auction, which were personally signed by their owners.
Others gifts sent to the auction included a copy of ‘A Walk on Part’, the latest volume of former MP Chris Mullis’ diary; a bottle of whisky signed by the Speaker, MP John Bercow and paintings by Vietnamese painter Nguyen Thanh Mai.
The auction raised 5,000 pounds, of which Howarth said, half will go to help the victims of AO in Hoa Binh Village at Tu Du Hospital and the rest will be given to Da Nang’s Cancer Hospital. Howarth said he hopes that the auction will help to spread the word that the victims in Vietnam still need help.
A lot of people already know about the legacy of Agent Orange, but they do not realise that even today, children who need care are still been being born in Vietnam, he said.