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Sep 02, 2021 / 12:01

Poland-Vietnam relations: Friendship tested through tough times

Nothing deed is more significant to commemorate an anniversary than presenting a meaningful gift, Poland did that way to stand shoulder to shoulder with Vietnam in the fight against coronavirus.

The Hanoi Times is honored to introduce some reflections by Polish Ambassador to Vietnam Wojciech Gerwel on the occasion of Vietnam's 76th anniversary of the National Day.

Polish Ambassador to Vietnam Wojciech Gerwel. Photos: Embassy of Poland in Hanoi 

This year the 76th anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence of Vietnam comes at a challenging time. Across the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic has threatened people’s health and disrupted their daily lives. It has imposed economic hardships on many. All the more, on this occasion I wish Vietnamese people the best of health, safety, happiness and prosperity. I hope that despite the difficulties, today’s anniversary will be a joyful occasion.

Poland and Vietnam share a long tradition of friendly cooperation. Countless gestures of solidarity over the past 71 years have given this bilateral relationship extraordinary character and depth. Such relationships take on value especially in difficult times, like today, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Polish Ambassador to Vietnam Wojciech Gerwel (L) and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh meet in Hanoi on August 17, 2021. 
Long-lasting relationship

Poland was one of the first countries to have established diplomatic relations with Vietnam and opened its embassy in Hanoi as early as 1954. In the years 1954–1975, Poland was also the only country that took part in both international supervision and control commissions, following the Geneva Accords of 1954 and the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. During the war and post-war reconstruction, Poland implemented numerous development assistance projects in Vietnam, some of which have grown to symbolize bilateral friendship. Examples that come to mind include the establishment of the Polish-Vietnamese Friendship School in Hanoi (today one of the largest high schools in the capital), the Polish-Vietnamese Friendship Hospital in Vinh, and the preservation and restoration of priceless monuments in Hội An, Huế, and Mỹ Sơn, under the leadership of Kazimierz Kwiatkowski (“Kazik”).

Today, the Polish Embassy in Hanoi continues to support these projects. Over the past two years, it has worked with the largest Polish investor in Vietnam to improve the school’s digital infrastructure and provide additional training in English and in hard sciences. In 2021, the Polish Embassy will support the hospital in Vinh with medical equipment. Finally, a Polish-Vietnamese scientific conference will be held in October 2021 in cooperation with the Hanoi University of Architecture on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the arrival of Polish restoration specialists to Vietnam.

Over the past seven decades, many Vietnamese students chose to pursue their academic dreams in Polish universities. Some of them stayed in Poland and created a vibrant and prosperous Vietnamese community, which is one of the largest in Europe. Those who returned to Vietnam made significant contributions to the post-war reconstruction of their homeland. All of them have added a crucial new dimension to Polish-Vietnamese relations – a bridge of friendship and solidarity that has united the two nations and will continue to do so for years to come.

Today a growing number of Vietnamese students decide to undertake studies in Poland, mostly in English-language majors. Some of them benefit from the pool of government scholarships and scholarship programs offered by the National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA), including Banach and Ulam scholarships. It is worth noting that in 2019 and 2020 Polish language courses have been launched at the University of Hanoi and at the University of Mining and Geology in Hanoi. Attractive opportunities and European labor standards, as well as affordable living costs, have drawn more and more Vietnamese to contemplate undertaking legal employment in Poland.

Polish Ambassador to Vietnam Wojciech Gerwel and Ngo Thi Mai Huong, principal the Polish-Vietnamese Friendship School in Hanoi.   

Relations enhanced despite Covid-19

Despite constraints due to the pandemic, Vietnamese audiences have recently had a number of opportunities to learn more about Polish culture. In the framework of the Polish Presidency in the Visegrad Group (V4) the Visegrad Corner Library and the Polish Room were launched at The Slavic Tea House (Xuan Dieu Street, Hanoi), where visitors are able to explore literature, music, visual arts, and cuisine of Poland and other countries from the region. In addition, the Embassy of Poland hosted the 3rd edition of the Vietnamese Wikipedia contest which attracted over 1500 entries. This year’s focus was on the heritage of V4 countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the V4 (1991-2021).

The value of Polish-Vietnamese economic exchange has also been increasing despite the global economic turbulence. Trade turnover between the two countries reached US$3.7 billion in 2020 and US$2.3 billion in the first half of 2021. The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which entered into force in August last year, also offers great opportunities for further development of mutual economic relations.

Despite the difficult pandemic situation around the world, mutual contacts have been maintained at every political level as well. Most recently, a telephone meeting was held between the Polish and Vietnamese ministers of foreign affairs. Last year, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations with a Polish painting exhibition at the Vietnamese National Museum of Fine Arts in Hanoi. In November 2020, political consultations were held online at the level of deputy foreign ministers, and the ministries of finance of Poland and Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the field of taxation and public finance.

 Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Health Truong Quoc Cuong (L) and Polish Ambassador to Vietnam Wojciech Gerwel at the handover ceremony of Poland-donated Covid-19 vaccines held in Hanoi on August 23. 

Support in hard times

Poland and Vietnam have lent each other support in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, reflecting the depth and nature of our relationship. As Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Paweł Jabłoński said on the day of the official dispatch of the transport of Polish donation of over half a million doses of vaccines for Vietnam on August 20: “Help in need is the true measure of friendship. We still remember the spontaneous gestures of support of the Vietnamese community that Poland experienced at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the epidemiological situation in Vietnam worsens significantly, we feel obliged to act in a similar fashion.”

Indeed, at the beginning of the pandemic, Vietnam dealt with it efficiently and quickly. The situation became more complicated with the emergence of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Vietnamese authorities, health care workers, and ordinary citizens are doing their best to save as many lives as possible. Recently the Vietnamese authorities appealed to Poland for support, to which our country did not remain indifferent.

On August 21, exactly one month after the letter from Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland delivered a donation of 501 600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Vietnam to support the country in its fight against Covid-19.

In the near future, a Polish military airplane containing 8 tons of medical equipment worth around US$3.6 million will land in HCMC. The transport will include respirators and other medical equipment that the city authorities consider a priority. Poland has also announced plans to secure the non-profit reselling of Covid-19 vaccine shots to Vietnam.

I hope that the Polish donations and support will help to save lives in Vietnam and speed up the country’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. I also hope that it brings forth even closer friendship and cooperation between Poland and Vietnam in the years ahead.