Monday, May 26, 2008

Vietnam's President hails Gazprom’s cooperation

10:44' 25/05/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge - President Nguyen Minh Triet has praised the effective cooperation between Russia’s natural gas company Gazprom and the Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation (PetroVietnam) in gas industrial development.

The President heralded the Vietnam-Russia gas cooperation while receiving Gazprom’s General Director Miller Aleksei Borisovich on May 23 in Hanoi.

President Triet applauded the agreement on establishing an oil and gas exploration and exploitation joint venture and holding training courses for Vietnamese guest workers in Russia .

He said he wished for the two corporations to have many successes in the new area in order to strengthen the countries’ relations and emphasised that oil and gas is a key industry which contributes to Vietnam ’s development.

The director informed the President of results from the cooperation between Gazprom and PetroVietnam and said the two sides have agreed to continue their cooperation in oil and gas industrial development, highlighting the establishment of their joint venture company for oil and gas exploration and exploitation in Russia .

He stressed that this was Gazprom’s first foreign joint venture in Russian territory, adding that the company will help train 30 Vietnamese researchers and guest workers of PetroVietnam each year.

On the same day, the director was also received by Politburo member and CPV Central Committee Secretariat Standing member Truong Tan Sang.

(Source: VNA)

Vietnam's new power plants

New plants to ease power shortage


Machine work to mark the construction of the expanded Uong Bi Thermo-electricity plant 2. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyen Dan

HA NOI — Nine new power plants are expected to come into operation this year, minimising power shortages nationwide, according to Electricity of Viet Nam(EVN).

Nhon Trach 1 thermo-electricity plant’s first turbine in the southern province of Dong Nai begins running today at full design capacity of 150MW, reports Viet Nam Machinery Installation Corporation (Lilama), the main builder of the plant.

The turbine has been connected to the national network.

Nhon Trach 1 thermo-electricity plant, backed by Viet Nam Oil and Gas Corporation (PetroVietnam) and Electricity of Viet Nam, has total design capacity of 450 MW, including two air turbines and one gas turbine.

Lilama expects to bring a second air turbine into operation next month and have the plant fully operational by April .

Construction begins
at Uong Bi

Uong Bi Thermo-electricity Company began construction of the expanded Uong Bi Thermo-electricity plant 2 in the northern province of Quang Ninh yesterday.
The plant which will have an annual capacity of 330MW was backed by total investment capital of about US$220 million.
The plant, covering an area of 6.6 ha, will be equipped with facilities from Chinese Chengda Engineering Corporation.
Le The Ba, director of Uong Bi Thermo-electricity Company, said the new plant will be installed with modern technology facilities, which will significantly help reduce its production cost.
Once in operation, Uong Bi thermo-electricity plant will supply 1.980 billion kwh per year to the national electricity network.

Construction of Nhon Trach 1, the third biggest thermo electricity plant in Viet Nam, began last March. The plant’s total investment capital is about US$380 million.

Nhon Trach and Ca Mau thermo electricity plants, expected to be connected to the national electricity network by the end of this month, will supply about 12 billion kWh per year, accounting for about 20 per cent of the nation total electricity.

EVN said that it would put six more electricity plants ,with a total capacity of nearly 1,400 MW, into operation this year.

By the end of this month, EVN will connect the second turbine at Tuyen Quang hydroelectricity plant to the national network. The third turbine is expected to begin generating electricity in September .

In August, the first turbine of Pleikrong hydro-electricity plant will become operational.

In October, the second turbine at the Pleikrong plant and the first turbine at the Ba Ha River hydro-electricity plant will begin generating.

The second turbine at the Ba Ha River plant and the first turbine at Buon Kuop are expected to start generating electricity in November. The first turbine at Hai Phong 1 thermoelectricity plant is also planned to come into operation late 2008.

In addition to these targets, EVN hopes to connect the first turbine of O Mon thermo-electricity plant in October and the first turbine of A Vuong hydro-electricity plant in December.

EVN is also working on the construction of systems linking electricity plants such as the 220kV Tuyen Quang – Bac Kan – Thai Nguyen power grid, 220kV Ca Mau – Rach Gia power grid and 500kV Ca Mau – Bac Lieu power grid. — VNS

Vietnam and Russia boost oil, gas co-operation


HA NOI — The Viet Nam Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) and Gazprom have seen firm co-operation in recent years, President Nguyen Minh Triet said.

The President made the comment at a meeting with chief executive of Russia’s National Oil Corporation (Gazprom) Aleksei Miller in the capital yesterday.

Triet said he hoped PetroVietnam and Gazprom would expand co-operation in gas industry development, especially regarding their agreement to establish a joint venture for oil and gas exploration in Russia.

The President said the oil and gas sector was key to Viet Nam’s economic progress, so Gazprom had made a great contribution to the development of the country.

The Vietnamese people were grateful to the people of the former Soviet Union, both in the past and today, for the support and help they have given Viet Nam.

For his part, Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller said PetroVietnam and Gazprom had agreed to continue to co-operate in developing the oil industry, especially regarding their agreement to set up a joint venture to exploit oil and gas in Russia, Gazprom’s first venture project with a foreign partner.

He also said Gazprom would help train 30 officials and workers from PetroVietnam each year.

The same day Politburo member and Party Secretary Truong Tan Sang also met with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller.

Sang said the Party and Government of Viet Nam always created favourable conditions for Russian investors to do business in Viet Nam.

He said he appreciated Gazprom’s potentials and co-operation with Viet Nam in oil and gas.

Miller said Gazprom would effectively implement agreements signed with PetroVietnam to continue boosting economic co-operation between the two countries, especially in the oil and gas industry. — VNS

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Gazprom to explore Vietnam's offshore fields

Fri May 23, 2008 12:47pm BST
(Adds details, background)
MOSCOW, May 23 (Reuters) - Russian state-controlled gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Friday it has signed an agreement with Vietnam's state oil monopoly Petrovietnam to explore four new offshore blocks.
Gazprom said in a statement that joint company VietGazprom, which has been exploring a Vietnamese offshore deposit since 2000, will operate the new fields.
Gazprom also said the two firms would create a separate joint venture, GazpromViet, to take part in oil and gas projects in Russia and third countries.
Russian state oil firm Zarubezhneft, a pioneer in communist Vietnam's oil industry, will represent Gazprom in the new venture, said the statement. Zarubezhneft and Petrovietnam are already long-time partners in their equal joint venture Vietsovpetro, which produces around 8 million tonnes per year (160,700 barrels per day) on offshore fields in Vietnam.
The two companies said earlier this month that they were creating a new consortium to develop 13 new oil deposits in Russia's West Siberian Nenets region, where they plan to produce up to 130,000 bpd in 10 years. (Reporting by Tanya Mosolova)

Largest tourist site project gets licensed in Vietnam

15:39' 24/05/2008 (GMT+7)
VietNamNet Bridge – The Canada-based Asian Coast Development Ltd (ACDL) is to break ground for the construction of a 4.2-billion-USD resort on May 24, just one day after getting a license for Vietnam’s largest tourism venture.
The Ho Tram Tourist Site will be built in the southern coastal province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau.The Ho Tram Tourist Site will be built in the southern coastal province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau and have 9,000 luxury rooms and an entertainment site. Once put into operation during the third quarter of 2010, the first phase of the project will see a five-star hotel with 1,100 rooms and a casino. The second phase will be completed by 2011 with construction of a luxurious resort, a casino, 10 restaurants and a night club. Construction of the entire project is scheduled to take 10 years. ACDL’s CEO Paul Steelman described the project as one of their best opportunities for its location by one of the world’s most beautiful and cleanest beaches. The New York Times selected Vietnam as one of the 53 most attractive destinations in 2008. The country has moved up from the sixth to the fourth place in the World Travel and Tourism Council’s ranking in regard to the world’s fastest-growing tourism destinations. In the first four months of 2008, foreign arrivals reached almost 1.7 million, up by 16 percent over the same period last year. The same growth rate was recorded last year when 4.2 million foreign visitors were reported.
(Source: VNA)
Printer - friendly version Send via e-mail Send your feedback
Read on >>

Lao Cai readies for tourism festival (24/05/2008)

HCM City fruit festival planned in June (24/05/2008)

Sand, stones and surf (24/05/2008)

TRAVEL IN BRIEF 23/5 (23/05/2008)

Second private airline expects a license soon (23/05/2008)

Ocean Dunes Golf Club signs up for Faldo Series (23/05/2008)

Gov’t okays expansion of Noi Bai Airport (23/05/2008)

A must-see beyond landscapes in hilly city (23/05/2008)

Airport to get nearly 1 billion USD makeover (22/05/2008)

Enchanted (22/05/2008)

Import tariff on air petrol to go down (21/05/2008)

Swiss travel firms to start Fam trip to Vietnam this week (21/05/2008)

HCM City: extensive potentials for hotel market (21/05/2008)

New resorts open in Kon Tum (21/05/2008)

Three international cruises dock in Vietnam (21/05/2008)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ba Ria - Vung Tau attracts $1.7 billion

BA RIA — VUNG TAU - So far this year, the southern province of Ba Ria - Vung Tau has lured US$1.7 billion from five domestic investment projects and eight foreign direct investment projects.

In 2008, the province invested more than VND1 trillion for the infrastructure development of industrial zones (IZs) and VND20 billion for land clearance.

Currently, Ba Ria - Vung Tau has 12 IZs, covering 3,200ha. Fifty per cent of IZs have been occupied with a rate of 80 -100 per cent.

Vung Tau lighthouses

The light from the Vung Tau lighthouse can be seen 56 km away at sea
The coastal province Ba Ria – Vung Tau neighboring Ho Chi Minh City has a number of lighthouses including Vung Tau, Ba Kiem, Cao Trang, Ganh Rai, Can Gio, and Con Son 1 and 2.

Three of these are in Vung Tau Town.

Cao Trang lighthouse is on the western point of Vung Tau on Tran Phu Road, about 6 km north of Nui Nho (Small Mountain).

It was the second lighthouse to be built in the town in 1898, after Vung Tau lighthouse.

The original tower had square sides and was painted black and white.

In 2007 it was replaced by a hexagonal tower, painted white with blue trim.

Ganh Rai lighthouse is also on Tran Phu Road, not far from Cao Trang.

Built in 1911, the lighthouse is still in use, guiding ships into the harbor.

The 14-meter tower is painted white and dark green.

The most historic and beautiful lighthouse in the beach town is the Vung Tau Lighthouse.

From Ha Long Street, take the turn just after the Hai Dang cafe and you will find it at the end of the road.

The white tower, standing above the trees on Nui Nho, is of postcard perfection.

In 1992, its image was used for a postal stamp.

Built in 1865 it was Vung Tau’s first lighthouse and it has guided ships through the night for over a century.

The tower was rebuilt in 1885, and lastly again in 1913.

Open daily for visitors it is 170 meters above sea level.

There’s a narrow staircase so you can inspect the lamp and enjoy the panoramic view of the town and sea.

It’s light can be seen from 56 km offshore.

How to get there

Buses to Vung Tau are available at Ben Xe Mien Dong (East Bus Station) every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Try Rang Dong, Mai Linh or Thien Phu bus lines.

Cost: VND55,000 per person.

The express hydrofoil is available at Bach Dang Wharf for VND140,000 per person.

Source: TPO

Vietnam to spend $857 mln on Hanoi airport upgrade

Wed May 21, 2008 3:17am EDT

HANOI, May 21 (Reuters) - The Vietnamese government has approved a plan to expand its second-largest airport near the capital Hanoi by 2020 with an estimated investment of 13.74 trillion dong ($857 million).

Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai has approved the project to build a third terminal at Noi Bai International Airport 45 km (28 miles) north of Hanoi, so it could handle 25 million passengers a year by 2020, up from 10 million passengers now, a government statement said.

The expansion of Noi Bai, which ranks behind Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City, will be funded by the state budget, corporate funds and private equity depending on component projects, the statement issued late on Tuesday said.

Vietnam would need to invest another 43 trillion dong after 2020 to double Noi Bai's capacity to 50 million passengers a year from 2030.

Vietnam has forecast air passenger traffic to more than double to 32.4 million people by 2020 from nearly 15 million last year. It has been opening up the aviation sector to foreign investment since it joined the World Trade Organisation in January 2007. (Reporting by Ho Binh Minh; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gold demand in Q1 five year low – Vietnam becomes the largest retail investor

High prices continue to hit tonnage, but value during the first quarter was at close to record levels. Supplies fell sharply quarter-on-quarter, as mine de-hedging more than offset an increase in scrap.
Author: Rhona O'Connell
Posted: Wednesday , 21 May 2008


The most recent quarterly survey "Gold Demand Trends" from the World Gold Council, using figures compiled by independent research house GFMS Ltd. estimates that the dollar value of contained gold demand in the first quarter of this year (including activity in Exchange Traded Funds) reached $20.9 billion, 20% higher than in the first quarter of 2007. In tonnage terms however, offtake was down by 16% when compared with Q1 2006, at 701 tonnes. The supply-demand analysis suggests that the market was in a technical surplus of 139 tonnes, with total supply running at 857 tonnes (compare 811 tonnes in the first quarter of 2006) against fabrication in identified investment at 718 tonnes (compare 849 tonnes in Q1 2006). Jewellery demand was down by 21% year-on-year at 445 tonnes, the lowest quarterly level on record since 1992, although in dollar terms this equated to a rise of 12%, reaching $13.2 billion.

The "inferred investment" residual figure comprises stock changes and institutional investment. It represents a 60 tonne drop on the residual figure of Q4 2007 which comprised supply of 936 tonnes and demand of 737 tonnes. Price action was directly responsible for the majority of the contraction in tonnage demand, while the drop in supply quarter-on-quarter reflected a fall in mine production and an increase in dehedging. Mine supply (production less de-hedging) thus stood at 465 tonnes in the past quarter against 497 tonnes in Q1 2007 and 560 tonnes in the final quarter of last year. Old scrap return increased to 314 tonnes, against 242 tonnes in Q1 2006 at 281 tones in Q4 2007.

New investment in Exchange Traded Funds and similar products was lively in the first quarter; doubling against Q1 2006 to 73 tonnes in response to the financial crisis and other economic concerns [does the subsequent reversal of these gains suggest a return of confidence? Doubtful], while the associated action in the price had the reverse effect on retail investment, which dropped by 35% to 73 tonnes. The impact on overall identifiable investment was thus broadly neutral in tonnage terms, but the texture of the activity was different. In dollar terms, the amount of metal absorbed in the identifiable investment sector rose by 41% to $4.3 billion.

Vietnam came into the spotlight in this quarter with investment demand more than doubling to 32 tonnes, making it the largest investment market during the quarter. Net disinvestment from retail holders in Japan, however, was 37 tonnes. Vietnam's arrival into pole position in the retail investment sector ousts India from the top slot, a position that it has held since the second quarter of 2003.

In fairness, the difference between the two countries' investment tonnage in this past quarter was minimal, but Vietnamese demand increased quarter-on-quarter by 140% and by 110% over the first quarter of 2006. Indian demand was up by 1% and down by 50% respectively. The difference comes from a combination of reasons. While Indian purchasers preferred to withdraw from the market and wait for lower and more stable prices (of which they have, recently, been taking advantage), Vietnamese investment soared in response to a rising domestic inflation rate and gold's relative strength by comparison with other asset classes such as property and the stock market.

Vietnam thus constituted just over 43% of the total investment market and India, just less than 43%. Since the start of 2003 through to the end of 2007, India absorbed just over 39% of the investment market and Vietnam, just over 4%.

The retail investment market is dwarfed by the jewellery market, however, and here the largest consumer in the past quarter was mainland China, with 87 tonnes or just over 19% of the total. As noted above, the jewellery market overall was down by 21% in tonnage terms, when compared with the first quarter of 2007, but up by 12% in dollar terms. China's demand increased by just over 9% in tonnage terms, but by some 56% in value terms. Other countries registering share increases in the value of gold absorbed into jewellery over the quarter included Russia at almost 55%, Egypt at 52% and Japan at 37%.

In the US, meanwhile, which over 2003 - 2007 inclusive accounted for just less than 13% of the jewellery market, a combination of high prices and the economic slowdown contributed to a 25% fall in demand in tonnage terms. In the US an assessment of the value of the contained gold is more or less irrelevant because of the caratage, fabrication charges and taxes, etc but, for the sake of completeness, the value of the gold in jewellery was 7% higher than in Q1 2007. Demand remained firm at the high end of the market, while the mass gold jewellery market suffered a decline in sales exacerbated by the impact of the weaker dollar on the cost of imported items. Retail investment demand almost doubled however, soaring by 172% against a backdrop of inflationary concerns and the slowing economy. Demand is expected to remain subdued in this quarter.

India is the world's most price-sensitive gold-consuming region as well as being far and away the largest consumer with an average jewellery market share of 20% from 2000 to 2007 inclusive. In the first quarter of this year India sustained the largest fall, with jewellery offtake dropping by 50% in tonnage terms and by 28% in dollar terms. Demand was low in January and February. The study notes that the first 15 days of the year are generally considered to be auspicious, but even after this the extreme price volatility prevented any recovery in purchases. March was a little better, reflecting the start of the first half-year festival season, and the time when farmers sell their winter produce, while the approach of the wedding season meant that those buyers who had held off since October could delay their purchases no longer.

Investment demand has been mixed in the first few weeks of the quarter, and while ETFs have witnessed an outflow, retail investors in traditional bars and coins in several markets have been encouraged by the pullback in price and that notwithstanding any short-term fluctuations, the general investment environment remains encouraging.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The trip to Ho Chi Minh City provides an opportunity to reassess Vietnam

A drive through history, part two


A land rich in history: Ho Chi Minh City has witnessed the rise and fall of successive regimes. Now the largest city of Vietnam, it attracts huge investment from multinational companies, returning well-to-do Vietnamese expats and tourists from around the world, including Thailand. — PHOTOS: VASANA CHINVARAKORN AND CHAGORN SOPAPORN

Sometimes, the shorter a distance is, the longer the time it takes to traverse. That seemed to be the case at the Moc Bai border crossing where we were waiting for the Vietnamese immigration officials to process our paperwork.

To kill time, the three children in our group started using the walkie-talkies to take part in a three-way quiz. The adults simply dozed off or looked out of the windows.

But there was nothing much to see - except Vietnamese officials at work. And they were quite meticulous. For each and every car we Thai tourists drove into this country, and there were 26 altogether, the border staff checked the engine thoroughly, before proceeding to spray the tyres with insecticide. Last but not least, the Vietnamese travel agency that would take care of us for the next two days pasted their company's stickers on the doors of our four-wheel drives and SUVs.

The less than 2km of no man's land between Cambodia and Vietnam took us about two hours to cross.

"I bet it would have been much faster for those who want to smuggle cars into the country!" joked one driver.

But the most strenuous part of our 2,756km journey was before us. No, it was not the bumpy road through Cambodia, where we had stopped at Angkor Wat and the other splendours of Siem Reap. Nor was it the rugged Highway Number One that brought us from Phnom Penh to Moc Bai.

The outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, with its chaotic sea of vehicles, especially motorcycles, meant we had to stick together like a flock of flying geese in a hailstorm. We had to be fast - and relentless, making sure that no one entered our line of vehicles.

Thanks to our captain's manoeuvring and close coordination on the walkie-talkies, every car in the convoy finally reached the stadium named after the nearby international airport of Tan Son Nhat. For the rest of our stay in Ho Chi Minh City, we would be riding in coaches instead. To drive through and around the largest city of Vietnam (which according to our guide has about four million motorcycles and another million cars), in a large group like ours, would have been a stupid, if not suicidal, idea.

Someone then remarked how Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, was once nicknamed the "City of the Sinful". This statement prompted one curious boy to ask: "So why do we still go there then?" His innocent voice drew a big laugh from everyone.

Indeed, the purpose of our caravan, tracing the history of Indochina, would not be complete without a visit to Ho Chi Minh City, once also known as the "Paris of the Orient". It was originally a fishing village on the Mekong delta, and saw the rise and fall of successive regimes. From life under the Cambodian kingdom (thus the former Khmer name of "Prey Nokor", from which some etymologists argue came the derivative "Saigon"), the settlement was annexed by the Vietnamese in the 17th century and served as the capital of the French colonial government of Cochin China about 200 years later. It was run by the US-backed South Vietnam republic during the Cold War, and finally reclaimed by the Communist National Liberation Front army on April 30, 1975.

The famous Cu Chi tunnel, about an hour's drive from Ho Chi Minh City, showcases a variety of `traps' reflecting Vietnamese ingenuity and the people's fighting spirit.

The historic significance of that date depends on which side of the fence one is on. Some refer to it as the "fall of Saigon", but our Vietnamese guide, who introduced herself by the Thai name of Ratchaneewan, said the Vietnamese prefer to celebrate that date as Reunification Day, the day Vietnam became a whole country again, proving to the world (once again) that it could challenge any nation in the world, regardless of its size or resources.

On that day in 1975, Vietnam sent the US scuttling out of the country in packed helicopters. In 1954, the formidable French bases at Dien Bien Phu were besieged by Vietnamese nationalists, thus ending almost a century of French colonial rule. Further back, in 938, General Ngo Quyen defeated the massive navy of imperial China through a clever tactic that would be repeated again in the 13th century by General Tran Hung Dao, when he successfully resisted the mighty Mongol fleet. On both occasions, the Vietnamese planted wooden poles with iron tips in the river bed which would be hidden by the high tide. As the Chinese/Mongol invaders were lured to the area, and the tide receded, they found their vessels impaled on the protruding poles, effectively disabling them.

Intriguingly, the Vietnamese outwitted the Siamese forces with a similarly cunning strategy. In 1784, a Vietnamese prince named Nguyen Anh sought help from the king of Siam in his bid to claim the throne. By some accounts, Rama I dispatched 300 ships with about 20,000 soldiers (some say 50,000) to the Mekong delta. The Vietnamese defence, however, managed to dupe the entire fleet into running aground before they launched a sudden assault, resulting in only 2,000 Siamese troops surviving the battle.

Most Thais have never learned of this, though. Instead, Nguyen Anh was portrayed in Thai history textbooks as a hero in exile. Called Ong Chieng Sue, the Vietnamese prince came to seek political asylum in Siam in 1782, during which time he helped his Siamese patron to fight the Burmese and later the Malay rebels. After his return to Vietnam, where he established himself as emperor Gia Long, Ong Chieng Sue continued to send "golden trees" as an expression of his gratitude to the king of Siam.

Actually, earlier that morning as we were leaving Phnom Penh, we were reminded of a similar gap in how we, and our neighbours, perceive the past, and how that past continues to undermine the present. Historian Charnvit Kasetsiri pointed to the Thai embassy, with its reinforced double steel fence. Passers-by used to be able to look through the old fence at the buildings inside, he noted. But since the riot on January 29, 2003, when hundreds of Cambodians stormed and torched the Thai embassy and other businesses believed to belong to Thais, new security measures have been adopted.

"Such an incident [the torching of embassy] would be considered extremely rare in foreign diplomatic circles between any two countries," he noted. Today a thick piece of steel serves as a partition that supposedly protects, and divides, the residents within from the outside world. Will the day come when we are able to transcend the borders in the minds of the two countries?

Or has that thing called "nationalism" been ingrained so deep, making citizens ever gullible to manipulation by vested interests? The 2003 riot, for example, was incited by a rumour about a Thai actress demanding the return of Angkor Wat to Thailand. At present, the long-running dispute over the ownership of the stone shrine at Preah Vihear on the Thai-Cambodian borders is threatening to cause another flare-up between the two countries. Charnvit proposed a thorough revision of the history curriculum in Thailand, which he said is quite biased and tends to portray neighbouring countries as inferior and untrustworthy.

The statue of Uncle Ho at the Historical Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. An inscription behind shows his famous words urging the Vietnamese to try their best to preserve the unity of the land their ancestors sacrificed their lives for.

"We usually portray ourselves as a peace-loving nation," he said. "On the other hand, we never say how many times we have invaded and looted the capitals of others.

"And there are some types of tourists who behave as if they have never left their houses," Charnvit shared his concerns.

"They show off, act loudly and arrogantly, as if they can buy anything with their money. This is ego-centric tourism, one without historical perspective. And it is dangerous."

On the other hand, the Thai historian said the Vietnamese have the sort of latent defiance that keeps them from kowtowing to anyone, let alone their neighbour to the west. Even when the country seemed to be torn apart by Western superpowers, sometimes with our own government as accomplice, its people demonstrated again and again their unsurpassed spirit to fight.

The famous Cu Chi tunnel, about 70km from Ho Chi Minh City, is a testament to such Vietnamese ingenuity. Now a major tourist destination, the former battleground showcases a variety of different traps devised by the Viet Cong that hark back to the wisdom of ancient times.

In a way, Vietnam at that time was like a huge pitfall for the US - and for Thailand, too. Historian Charnvit pointed out how the Thai ruling elite, from the Pibulsongkram regime to Sarit and the Thanom-Prapass dictatorial governments, took an active role in supporting their US ally. In return, military aid poured into the Kingdom and a number of roads and other pieces of infrastructure were built. At one time, there were up to 48,000 US soldiers and 600 US war planes in Thailand, at different military bases in Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Chon Buri, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Phanom and Nakhon Ratchasima, to name just a few. As the Nixon administration tried to appease growing public discontent at home through a promise to "Vietnamise" the war, more and more Thais were recruited and given incentives to fight their Indochinese neighbours instead. Our Vietnamese guide, Ratchaneewan, remembered that a Thai platoon called Jong-arng Suek (Queen Cobra) was once stationed not far from Ho Chi Minh City.

The so-called Indochina War had ramifications beyond Southeast Asia though. Charnvit said it literally penetrated every home in the US, through TV broadcasts and other media. Importantly, during his graduate studies in the US in the late '60s, Charnvit said he was exposed to different, more diverse, sources of information about the Vietnam War. The experience was an eye-opener, in particular, he learned how Thailand allowed US forces to use its territory to launch bombing raids on neighbouring countries.

"Like most people, I originally looked at the Vietnamese as the bad guys. Over time, though, I came to realise it was us [the Thai government] who were the baddies."

One casualty of the war was the large number of Vietnamese expatriates, called Viet Kieu, who were ordered to leave Thailand in the '60s. This was in sharp contrast to the period under Pridi Banomyong's government that offered explicit support to the Vietnamese refugees fleeing French persecution during the early phase of the Indochina War. Others who managed to stay on were subject to abuse and condemnation as sympathisers of the communist government of North Vietnam. Meanwhile, those who returned to Vietnam had to go through a difficult period of readjustment. Charnvit said one of his classmates at Suan Kularb College had to drop out and return to Vietnam. Nguyen Chi Thong has since contributed to the land of his childhood by writing a Thai-Vietnamese dictionary.

Our Vietnamese guide shared a similar fate. Ratchaneewan said her grandfather had to take the whole family back to Haiphong in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War.

"I remember the deafening noise of the [US] planes dropping bombs over our heads - I was so scared," she reminisced.

"The first English word we learned was 'Go', and the second word was 'Out'. At the time, the Vietnamese hated the US so much we had no desire to use English."

What a contrast to now. As our coaches made their way through Ho Chi Minh City, we passed an English language school, where emerged a big crowd of young Vietnamese boys and girls. Ratchaneewan said parents nowadays tried hard to send their children to expensive international schools. A privileged education would enhance the chances of landing well-paid jobs with the foreign companies flocking to invest in Vietnam, said the guide.

"So, in a way, the Vietnamese may have won the political wars over the French and the Americans," Charnvit commented. "But in the end, it is the Americans who seem to be prevailing in the economic war."

Stepping off the bus at Ho Chi Minh City's central landmark, the statue of Uncle Ho amid a group of children, we found a middle-aged lady selling cheap photocopied foreign language books at a nearby road junction. Was this another Vietnamese challenge to the new regime of intellectual property rights (but one had to hurry as the street vendor could disappear at any time)? Among the piles was Bao Ninh's award-winning novel, The Sorrow of War, a moving account of a soldier reminiscing on the bloody Vietnam War. "We all shared a common sorrow," he wrote, "a sublime sorrow, more sublime than happiness, and beyond suffering.

"It was thanks to our sorrow that we were able to escape the war, escape the continual killing and fighting, the terrible conditions of battle and the unhappiness of men in fierce and violent theatres of war.

"It was also thanks to our mutual sorrow that we've been able to walk our respective roads again. Our lives may not be very happy, and they might well be sinful. But now we are living the most beautiful lives we could ever have hoped for, because it is a life in peace."

Basking in the amber light of a street lamp, the smile on Uncle Ho's statue certainly had an enigmatic look.

Japan, Vietnam ink nuclear power deal

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam wanted Japan to help the country develop a safe nuclear programme, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai told visiting Japanese Deputy Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Nakano Masashi in Hanoi yesterday.

Nuclear power was new in Vietnam, Hai said, so the country hoped to continue receiving international support in this field, especially from Japan, a country well-experienced in developing nuclear power.

He said in the short term Vietnam wanted Japan to help train human resources and build a legal basis to boost development of nuclear energy.

Nakano Masashi informed Hai on the signing of the memorandum of co-operation (MoC) between the two countries pledging to jointly foster nuclear power development.

Nuclear deal

During the signing ceremony for the MoC yesterday, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Do Huu Hao represented Vietnam, and Deputy Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Masashi Nakano signed for Japan.

The MoC will create a legal framework for the two countries to continue developing human resources for Vietnam's first nuclear power plant, slated for operation by 2020.

Under the MoC, Japan will help Vietnam implement its strategy to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes as approved by Vietnamese Government in June 2007. Japan will also help educate experts in nuclear power and aid Vietnam in formulating safety regulations.

The two countries will negotiate co-operation agreements in areas like high-level delegation and information exchanges, conferences, forums and exhibitions.

The MoC would mark an obvious advance in the two ministries' co-ordination and help create a good environment for enterprises from the two nations to co-operate on nuclear power, said Vietnam's Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Japan has gained experience with nuclear power safety and technology in terms of construction, operations and maintenance since the first nuclear plant began operation in 1966. As many as 55 nuclear power plants are operating in Japan with a total capacity of 47,700 MW. Thirteen others are planned or under construction.

Earlier, Vietnam inked several memoranda of understanding regarding nuclear power with South Korea, France, Russia, China and Canada.

Japan and Vietnam have already worked together in researching the possibilities of using nuclear power and building the first nuclear power plant in Vietnam.

(Source: Viet Nam News)

Vietnam builds second refinery

Updated May 11, 2008 09:27:19

Vietnam has started building its second oil refinery in a bid to feed the nation's booming economy.

Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation, Petrovietnam, set up a joint-venture with its counterparts from Japan and Kuwait to build the 6.2 billion dollar Nghi Son refinery in the north of the country.

The refinery, to be operational by 2013, will turn Kuwaiti oil into petrol, liquefied petroleum gas, diesel, kerosene and jet fuel for Vietnam, which has offshore oil reserves but currently imports petroleum products.

By 2013, the Nghi Son refinery and the country's first refinery Dung Quat, hope to meet 65 percent of the country's oil and gas needs.

Last year, Vietnam spent eight billion dollars to import nearly 13 million tonnes of refined oil.

Vietnam;s first oil refinery nears conclusion

First oil refinery project closer to conclusion
14:30' 18/05/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge - The first oil truck for the US$2.5 billion Dung Quat refinery under construction in central Quang Ngai province is due to transport crude oil today, one step towards putting the whole plant on stream by February next year.

The 18 cu.m-capacity truck has been checked for safety and will start loading and offloading DO oil to Reservoir No 1 until 5,000 tons are filled, after which other categories pertaining to this mega project will be operated on a trial basis, contractors said.

Next month, a pressure system will be used to pump out dregs and other obstructions to pipes while the whole plant - the first oil refinery in Viet Nam - is to be put on trial run in December. It is expected to churn out 6.5 million tons of refined oil and liquefied gas from February 2009 - equivalent to a third of the country's needs.

Early this month, a US$93.75 million breakwater dike designed to facilitate waterway traffic at the refinery’s harbor was completed, 5 months ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, a second $6 billion oil refinery, the Nghi Son Refinery in Thanh Hoa province in the north, kicked off this month.

To be operational by 2013, its annual output is targeted at up to 10 million tons.

(Source: SGGP)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Vietnam to upgrade central region airports

The Da Nang International Airport
Two central airports will be upgraded to host additional airstrips by 2015 and 2025 according to zoning plans approved by Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai on Tuesday.

Under the plans, Da Nang International Airport in Da Nang City will accommodate a total of 21 airstrips by 2015, and 27 by 2025, while Chu Lai Airport in Quang Nam Province will have 25 landing strips by 2015, and 46 by 2025.

Da Nang and Chu Lai airports will be able to receive four million and 2.2 million passengers a year by 2015 respectively.

The total investment capital to upgrade both Da Nang and Chu Lai airports is some VND15.9 trillion (US$988 million).

Source: Government Web site

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cambodia, Vietnam launch direct bus route to Angkor temples

May 16, 2008, 6:21 GMT

Phnom Penh - Vietnamese company Saigon Passenger Transport Company (Sapaco Tourist) is launching a new luxury bus service from the Vietnamese capital Ho Chi Minh direct to Cambodia's northern tourism hub of Siem Reap, a company spokesman said Friday.

The new nine-hour, 500-kilometre trip cuts hours off the former route through the Cambodian capital and is just the latest in a stream of Vietnamese tourism investments in Cambodia as its travel industry booms, according to the Tourism Ministry.

The new route, which crosses into Cambodia through Vietnam's southern Tay Ninh Province, launches Monday and one-way tickets will cost 24 dollars, Sapaco's spokesman said.

Siem Reap's Angkor Wat temple is Cambodia's largest tourism attraction, bringing in the bulk of the country's more than 2 million visitors last year, and the route is expected to prove especially popular with budget travellers, the company predicted.

Vietnam OKs building $6.2b Kuwait-Japan joint refinery

Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) - 11/05/2008

(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) The first-ever Kuwaiti-Japanese joint refinery project in Vietnam has received an investment license to start construction one month earlier than expected, Vietnam News Agency (VNS) reported.

A ground breaking ceremony for a refining and petrochemical complex took place Saturday at Nghi Son Economic Zone in the northern province of Thanh Hoa, 180 kilometers south of the capital Hanoi, VNS said.

The joint venture, established on April 7, was initially scheduled to obtain the investment license in June, according to a joint statement from the venture.
The Nghi Son Petrochemical Refinery Complex, the largest and most important refining project in energy-hungry Vietnam, has a total investment capital of USD 6.2 billion for the first stage. Kuwait Petroleum International (KPI), an international unit of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), and Japanese major refiner Idemitsu Kosan Co. evenly own a 35.1 percent stake in the joint project with a capitalization of USD 200 million, with state-owned PetroVietnam and Japan's Mitsui Chemicals Inc. putting up 25.1 percent and 4.7 percent. The partners aim to secure about 70 percent of the construction costs through project financing led by the government-affiliated Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

The participating firms will provide the reminder of the funds, depends on their percentage of the stake acquisition. For instance, KPI and Idemitsu are likely to contribute around USD 650 million each.

KPI committed to secure long-term 100 percent crude supply for the refinery, which will be on stream by 2013 with a refining capacity of 200,000 barrels per day (bpd), or 10 million tons a year.

Its capacity is expected to be doubled in the future. "The plant represents Kuwait's first successful step in the implementation of long-range strategy and plans for investments in the refining, petrochemical and distribution projects, particularly in Asia," KPI has said in the statement.

The refinery will turn Kuwaiti heavy crude oil into petrol, liquefied petroleum gas, diesel, kerosene and jet fuel for Vietnam, which has offshore oil reserves but now imports petroleum products, according to KPC. "Although this kind of project usually takes around eight years to seek international partners and fulfill agreements and procedures, we only spent four years," PetroVietnam's director general Tran Ngoc Canh hailed the achievement, said VNS.

"The project's pre-feasibility research was completed four years ago. In reality, the negotiation time with KPI and Idemitsu only took over a year," Canh was quoted by VNS as saying.

"We have obtained certain successes in reaching agreements with these foreign partners because they are globally powerful groups with world-class experience." Vietnam, where demand for oil products is rapidly increasing, currently relies heavily on foreign suppliers.

Nghi Son is the country's second oil refinery after its first 140,000 bpd Dung Quat plant in central Quang Ngai Province, which will be operational early next year.

The two refineries are expected to contribute more than 65 percent of Vietnam's demand for petroleum products by 2013.

Meanwhile, in China, KPC is participating in a joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell Plc. and state-run Sinochem for the 240,000 bpd refinery in the eastern Fujian Province, which is expected to go onstream as early as January 2010.
The corporation is also in talks with China's top refiner Sinopec and Dow Chemical Co. to construct a USD 5 billion complex in the southern Guangdong Province.

Sorry, Vietnam Is Not the Next China

Royal Bank of Scotland has issued a research report predicting that Vietnam's impact on global trade and inflation will be "marginal"

Vietnam is often compared to China. Consider the obvious: they are both communist countries; Vietnam's laws are often mirror images of Chinese rules, just translated into Vietnamese; and Vietnam is a rising manufacturing hub that boasted a booming GDP growth of 8.5% in 2007.

But on Friday, the Royal Bank of Scotland issued a research report titled, Vietnam: Not Another China, that puts right that myth by stating another obvious: Vietnam "lacks the same scale advantages. Its impact on global trade and inflation will also be marginal".

The report concedes that comparisons to China in the 1990s, particularly southern China, make sense. Hourly manufacturing wages are around $0.50, which puts it among the lowest in emerging Asia. Plus North Asian manufacturers are investing in Vietnam—indeed they accounted for half of total foreign investment in the country in the past five years. And Vietnam has been pouring money into its infrastructure system—from roads to ports, it's determined to be user-friendly, just as the six-lane smooth-as-silk highways in China are.

However, the RBS report points out that in the end Vietnam's impact on global trade will be marginal. "Vietnam's population, at 84 million, is smaller than that of Guangdong province (93 million), neighbouring Hong Kong. Moreover, Guangdong province accounts for just 30%, rather than 100%, of China's total exports, and has the advantage of drawing on the workforce in its neighbouring provinces, in particular Guangxi (47 million), Hunan (63 million), and Sichuan (82 million)."

According to RBS this is good news for the global economy. "Relocating labour-intensive production to Vietnam from China will have little impact on global consumer goods inflation. Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the United States accounted for the large share of foreign investment in China during the past decade. The median hourly manufacturing wage for these countries was $12.97 in 2005 versus $1.06 in China. The labour-cost saving of moving to China was thus large. The hourly manufacturing wage in Vietnam is just $0.60, by contrast, meaning the labour-cost saving of moving to Vietnam from China is far smaller."

And there's also some good news for China. RBS reckons that China's labour-intensive manufacturing is what is gradually migrating to Vietnam. However, capital-intensive production will likely remain in China as barriers to entry are higher and profit margins wider. And it was capital-intensive exports that explained 64% of China's export growth in the second half of last year—so China's keeping the quality of manufacturing.

Furthermore, a recent survey of Hong Kong-owned mainland Chinese factories indicated that just 14% of respondents are considering switching production to Vietnam, while 29% are thinking of remaining in China and simply moving further inland where land and labour costs are lower.

The report agrees with those who say Vietnam is the next Asian Tiger, it's just not the next China.

Wozniak is an editor at .

PetroVietnam to build $2.4 mln fence for first oil refinery

The National Vietnam Oil & Gas Group (PetroVietnam) will spend VND40 billion (US$2.4 million) to build a security fence around the oil pipelines at the Dung Quat oil refinery.

The system includes two 2.5 meters high, 7.5 km long floodlit fences to secure the pipelines between the country’s first oil factory and the port plus seven pipe crossings and security stations.

The US$2.7-bilion Dung Quat oil refinery is under construction in the central province of Quang Ngai.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The road to Cambodia

Vendors at the river crossing swamp the bus with amphibious, avian and insect snacks for those with an adventurous palate
The bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh is getting quicker all the time, as work on the road on the Cambodian side nears completion.

It takes about seven hours, sometimes less, depending on how the border checks go.

About an hour out of the Khmer capital there are a few holdups with road work, but compared to a few months ago they are minimal.

The road is quite smooth and comfortable and there is plenty of interesting scenery to look at.

The border crossing at Moc Bai/ Bavet costs about VND400,000 (US$25) for foreigners – VND300,000 ($18.75) for the Cambodian visa and VND100,000 ($6.25) for the bus company – to organize all the passengers and passports in one hit.

Several local money changers work the strip but only offer half the going rate, so it’s better to wait till you get to a bank in Phnom Penh.

For a short stay US dollars are the main currency anyway.

Then the bus passes through the Cambodian border casino paradox, where dirty markets are juxtaposed with rows of large glitzy gambling houses against a backdrop of a fairly desolate landscape.

The roadside lunch restaurant stop has a wide range of excellent Khmer food, the chicken curry is a special favorite.

They accept US dollars, Vietnamese dong or Cambodian riel, whatever you have.

The dish is not particularly cheap, at about US$3.

The next stop is a river ferry crossing at Kandal.

Vendors assail the bus with all sorts of delicacies in trays balanced on their heads.

The bus driver often has to shut the door to keep the passengers in and the vendors out.

Big-bellied fried frogs, baby birds and crickets are the main fare.

God knows how much they cost – I didn’t ask! But there were also some little sweet glutinous rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves – 50 for $1.

A few hours up the road is Phnom Penh. A tuk-tuk can take you from the bus station to your hotel.

Busy contraband trade across Vietnam-Cambodia border

Illegal trade of gasoline and sugar across the Cambodia-Vietnam border is now rampant in some southern Mekong Delta provinces.

Amid escalating world oil prices, Vietnam’s gasoline price, which is partly subsidized by the government, is lower than Cambodia’s fuel by VND5,500-7,500 (US$0.34-0.46) per liter.

Vietnam’s diesel and kerosene prices are also about VND3,000 ($0.19) cheaper.

An Giang Province’s Market Management Department estimated some 40,000 to 60,000 liters of fuel were trafficked out of the province daily.

The department named An Phu District, Tinh Bien District and Chau Doc Town as localities where fuel smuggling is rife.

A veteran trafficker N.V.M. said about 20 “businessmen” direct several dozens of people to smuggle gasoline, diesel and kerosene from Tinh Bien border town to Cambodia by water and land.

Fuel traffickers often mix kerosene into gasoline to earn more profit from sales, another trafficker named T.V.B. said.

Sometimes they add tra catfish oil into gasoline to “export,” T.V.B. said.

Domestic sugar prices, meanwhile, are higher than smuggled sugar by VND500-1,000 per kilogram, precipitating an illegal influx of the commodity into Vietnam.

Thailand’s sugar smuggled into Mekong Delta provinces via Cambodian traders is causing difficulty to sugar companies in the region.

Can Tho Sugar Company (Casuco) General Director Nguyen Thanh Long said although the company had reduced its sugar prices to VND8,000 per kilogram compared to early last month, it is still hard to compete with smuggled sugar, which is sold at about VND7,600 per kilogram.

Long said the company outlets in Can Tho City were now only able to sell between 50 and 100 tons of sugar daily, two to three times lower than before.

He also said around 300-400 tons of sugar are smuggled into the Mekong Delta region each day.

In An Giang Province, smuggled sugar bags are often falsely labeled before market distribution to avoid anti-contraband detection.