Sunday, September 09, 2007

I am in love with Vietnam: New US Ambassador

US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak
VietNamNet Bridge – Friendly, open, humorous – that’s what the new US Ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Michalak, showed himself to be in his first meeting with Vietnamese journalists.

In over one hour of talking to Vietnamese journalists, the US Ambassador several times confirmed his optimism about the future of the Vietnam-US relationship and the bright development potential of Vietnam. He was also willing to answer personal questions about his family and his habits.

What are the focal points in your working schedule in Vietnam?

In the US, we have the conception of “multi-tasking” or assigning many duties and performing all of them at the same time. During my time in APEC, I set many goals, followed them and performed most of them.

However, I will spend more time on human rights, economic development in Vietnam, including promoting direct investment of the US in this country, and education. I have set the goal of at least doubling the number of Vietnamese students studying in the US.

One of my priorities at this moment is seeking a new place for the US Embassy. Negotiation has been carried out for six years and now is the time for coming to a conclusion and construction.

You said that you want to at least double the number of Vietnamese students studying in the US. What will you do to achieve this ambitious target?

At present, we are developing a general strategy on education. We have some ideas but we want to ensure that American consulate officers can go to many provinces, to meet with universities of Vietnam to know the demand of Vietnamese students and to instruct students in acquiring visas to enter the US.

About the question of how to have more money for scholarships, we will seek measures to increase the funding for Fulbright Scholarship Foundation or to effectively use this fund.

We hope that we can organise a meeting of American organisations operating in the field of education in Vietnam this year’s end. I want to bring them together to seek new ideas to increase the number of Vietnamese students in the US.

How did you prepare for the post of US Ambassador to Vietnam?

There is no preparation for becoming an ambassador. In 30 years working as a diplomat, I have been prepared to be a person who knows how to listen, to speak, and to care for others.

I’ve been the US Ambassador to Japan and China, have many experiences in Asia, can speak Japanese and Chinese very well.

Working in APEC (Mr. Michael Michalak is the former US Ambassador to APEC) has made favourable conditions for me to visit all countries in Asia. I think those experiences will help me a lot in dealing with the relations between the US and Asian countries.

Actually I have been in love with Vietnam since 2006 when I worked with Vietnamese partners on the APEC Summit. After that, I strongly proposed to the US Department of State that if they planned to appoint me to be an ambassador, to please appoint me to be the ambassador to Vietnam. God listened to my request and now I’m here (smile).

How will your experiences in Asia help you to deal with the relationship between the US and Vietnam?

There are many things that I have learned in Asia that will surely help me in dealing with the relations with Vietnam.

For example, all Asian countries, including Vietnam, attach much importance to personal relations so I expect that my Vietnamese partners will not only be officials but for me, they will be also men. In turn, I hope that they will learn about me and consider me a normal man, not an American official only.

For Asian people, the face is very important and I think it is the same in Vietnam. When we have disagreements, it is important that we respect the point of view of the other side. I think we need to deal with disagreements based on the principle of respect for each other and responsibility.

In addition, there is a general characteristic of Asian people that I see in my colleagues and the people in Asian countries where I have visited: Asian people work very hard. I’m sure that I will have to work with all my might to catch up with my colleagues.

When you were in Tokyo and Beijing, how did you feel about Vietnam, and now, in Hanoi, what differences do you see in Vietnam?

When I was in Japan, Vietnam’s economy began to develop strongly and many circles in Japan talked about the possibility that Vietnam would become the next tiger in Asia.

When I was in China, there were many seminars on the South China Sea issue and Vietnam was mentioned as a country in the region that always expressed its strong standpoint about the South China Sea.

However, the thing that impressed me the most was the time I worked with Vietnam on APEC. When the APEC year began, the working group of Vietnam seemed to be prudent, bureaucratic and discreet. However, along with time, that working group quickly learnt how to deal with multilateral economic and political issues. And at the end of the APEC year, Vietnam was very self-confident talking about its goal and the way to achieve that goal, even though it might be different from the US and China. They were always ready to work to overcome differences to achieve their goal.

In APEC year, Vietnam had difficult choices but they did that job very well and earned the respect of their colleagues.

I think when Vietnam becomes an impermanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Vietnam will face new choices: the questions about Myanmar, Kosovo, Iran, Iraq and other global issues will put new choices before Vietnam.

But I completely believe that Vietnam will succeed at the United Nations like it did at APEC.

Is it a sign that the US really wants to step up its relations with Southeast Asia when it appoints an Ambassador to Vietnam who has worked much on issues of this region? What do you expect from Vietnam as a partner of the US in those issues?

In the past two, three years, remarkable growth and the enthusiasm of Vietnam are important impacts for the future. Almost all Washington officials talk about the dynamic changes in Vietnam. Vietnam has become the number one of number two topic of talks in Washington.

You can be proud of this but it means that the expectation of the world on Vietnam is rising.

For the United Nations, as I have said, Vietnam can be requested to play the role of leadership in many issues that Vietnam has not performed before.

For ASEAN, Vietnam can play an important leadership role. For APEC, Vietnam played a very significant role in 2006 and it can continue that role with enthusiasm like in 2006.

I know that is not an easy mission but I will do everything to support Vietnam.

You said that you can speak Japanese and Chinese well. Do you hope that after three years in Vietnam, you will be able to tell others: “I can speak Vietnamese very well”?

Next week I’m starting to study Vietnamese. I guess that I will have to study very hard to be able to speak Vietnamese (smile).

Has your family come to Vietnam with you? How do they feel about Vietnam?

My wife and my 16-year-old daughter have come to live in Hanoi with me. My daughter will study in the 11th grade class in Vietnam and she thinks about school like any other 16-year-old girl.

My wife is very happy to be in Vietnam. She is Japanese so she hopes to travel everywhere in Vietnam. She wishes to eat all wonderful cuisines of Vietnam.

I love nem cuon, cua bay, rau muong xao, nom ngo sen thit ga and all other delicious cuisines of Vietnam (laughing loudly).