Taiwan-Vietnam ties are looking better than ever

The China Post

Once again, political pressure from Beijing has made it impossible for President Chen Shui-bian to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum’s leadership summit.

It was regrettable that Vietnam, the APEC meeting’s host country, could not overcome Beijing’s pressure. However, we were especially heartened to see Hanoi roll out the red carpet for President Chen’s special envoy, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company chairman Morris Chang.

As was the case at past APEC events, our special envoy will be permitted to take part on President Chen’s behalf and meet with top officials and heads of state from other APEC member economies.

And in a symbolic gesture, Chang was permitted to fly to Vietnam in President Chen’s official aircraft, dubbed “Air Force One” by the local news media. Reports here have said that the aircraft, which bears the Republic of China’s flag and national symbols, has never been permitted to land in the capital of a foreign country that has no diplomatic relations with us.

After Chang’s arrival, his delegation was met by officials from Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry and received a police escort as they made their way into the city toward their hotel accommodations.

While the reception still fell short from that normally accorded a visiting head of state, the cordial arrangements symbolized just how much relations between Taiwan and Vietnam have changed for the better over recent years.

It really was stunning and surprising to see footage of Chang’s aircraft landing in Hanoi, since such a scenario was truly unthinkable not very long ago.

During the Vietnam War, Taipei was a staunch ally of the former government of South Vietnam and provided material and logistical support to Saigon.

Shortly before Saigon fell to invading North Vietnamese forces in April of 1975, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu personally fled to Taipei, where his younger brother was serving as South Vietnam’s ambassador to the ROC, and eventually resettled in Britain.

When South Vietnam collapsed during that fateful month, ROC forces were dispatched to assist with the evacuation of our nationals, many of whom had lived and worked in South Vietnam for many years.

In Taipei, the fall of Saigon was officially trumpeted as a stark warning of what would ultimately happen if Taiwan were to make any sort of compromises in its dealings with the communist government of mainland China.

Large numbers of South Vietnamese who had been studying in Taiwan or visiting at the time of the fall crowded into Saigon’s embassy in Taipei in the hopes of getting travel documents or last minute assistance with resettling here or in a third country.

An aircraft belonging to the defunct South Vietnamese airline sat abandoned for several days at the Sungshan Airport, and eventually was handed over to a domestic airline here in Taiwan.

After Saigon fell and South Vietnam was annexed by North Vietnam, authorities in Hanoi began persecuting ethnic Chinese in the country and large numbers of them fled, including many refugees who made their way to Taiwan.

Things got even worse after the events of late 1978 and early 1979, when Vietnam invaded and occupied Cambodia, triggering mainland China’s brief “war of punishment” against Vietnam.

After reaching rock-bottom, ties began to rapidly turn for the better after the Vietnamese government adopted mainland Chinese-style economic reforms in the mid-1980s.

Starting around that time, Vietnam changed its policies and began welcoming foreign investors, including Taiwanese businesspeople who had extensive experience in labor-intensive exporting industries.

While Vietnam’s communist government has since renewed its friendship with Beijing, Hanoi has opened unofficial relations with our government much in the same way that other countries of Southeast Asia deal with us.

Today, Taiwan has become Vietnam’s largest source of foreign investment capital, with an estimated US$8 billion sunk into mostly labor-intensive manufacturing industries.

In recent years, officials and entrepreneurs from Taiwan have shared their experience with Vietnamese counterparts in operating export processing zones and formulating policies conducive to economic growth.

Taiwanese investment in Vietnam is widely expected to grow after Vietnam becomes a member of the World Trade Organization.

While ties between Taipei and Hanoi remain unofficial, it could easily be argued that relations have never been better.

That is most likely the reason why Hanoi managed to shrug off Beijing’s demands and permit Chang to arrive in the presidential jet and take full part in the APEC summit.

According to reports published in Taiwan, Beijing had initially believed it could stongarm Vietnam into completely banning Taiwan from participating in any of the APEC events this year.

We are grateful that Hanoi was able to overcome this pressure and note that our treatment has been commensurate with the warm state of unofficial relations between our two countries.