TOKYO -- Vietnam's first nuclear power plant will get the go-ahead this year as planned, President Truong Tan Sang said March 17.
Sang brushed off speculation that construction of the plant will not begin on time because of financing difficulties and delays in passing necessary legislation. In an interview with The Nikkei in Tokyo, he also urged Japan to fully assure the facility's safety.
Facing electricity shortages, Vietnam is eager to build a nuclear power plant to advance economic development. Sang was visiting Tokyo to discuss energy issues, as well as maritime security and economic cooperation.
Q: Last year was the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and Vietnam. How do you see the current relationship between the two countries, and how can it be strengthened?
A: Bilateral ties between Vietnam and Japan have developed in recent years. The two countries in 2009 established a Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in Asia. Parliaments, governments and people broadly supported the partnership in both countries.
Relations between our two countries are at an all-time high. Mutual understanding and trust between the two sides have deepened.
Japan is now Vietnam's biggest investor and the third-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade turnover in 2013 reached more than $25 billion. The two sides have implemented a number of large-scale projects that are of great significance to Vietnam's socioeconomic development. Japan invests more than $34.5 billion in Vietnam. Its overseas development commitments for Vietnam have reached $23 billion.
I will discuss upgrading bilateral ties on my visit. Our excellent relations contribute to peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region and the world. Vietnam wishes to deepen ties with Japan through the following actions:
First: Work to implement Vietnam's industrialization strategy within the framework of Vietnam-Japan cooperation through 2020, and vision through 2030, focusing on six industries selected by the two sides: agricultural machinery; processing of food and agricultural-aqua products; electrical goods and electronics; shipbuilding; environment and energy efficiency; automobiles and autoparts.
Second: Strengthen trade and investment. Vietnam wishes to work closely with Japan to at least double trade turnover by 2020 and implement the Japan-Vietnam Economic Partnership Agreement. Vietnam values the role of the Japanese private sector in economic cooperation.
Third: Vietnam looks forward to Japan's sustained and increased aid and support to implement large-scale projects, particularly in infrastructure, energy, supporting industries, economic restructuring and sustainable growth.
Fourth: Strengthen cooperation in agriculture, particularly in research and development, climate change response and human resources.
Fifth: Cooperate to promote regional economic integration, including the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Cultural and personal exchanges have intensified, particularly on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. These have become a bridge of friendship between our two nations, creating opportunities for people to understand each other's culture, history and traditions.
Q: What kind of role does Asean expect Japan to play in the region?
A: Japan is one of Asean's long-standing partners. Dialogue was established in 1973, and the framework for a strategic partnership in 2003. Japan and Asean in 2011 adopted a joint declaration for enhancing ties. Japan is one of Asean's most important trading partners, and one of its biggest donors. Social and cultural cooperation between the two sides have made great strides. The achievements of the past 40 years have laid a solid foundation for elevating the partnership.
Asean is ready to work with Japan. In the coming years, I believe the two sides should take the following actions.
First: Raise resources to deliver on existing commitments, agreements and cooperation programs, with high priority given to supporting the development of the Asean Economic Community in 2015.
Second: Intensify economic, trade and investment cooperation, with a view to doubling two-way investment and trade flows by 2022. Implement the Asean-Japan 10-year Strategic Economic Cooperation Roadmap, and conclude the Asean-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership, to move toward the establishment of a comprehensive free trade area. Negotiate with Asean on the RCEP.
Third: Support regional economic integration, Asean connectivity and sustainable development in the Mekong subregion.
Fourth: Promote dialogue and consultation; build trust; ensure security and safety of aviation and maritime activities in the region; seek peaceful settlements to disputes and strictly observe international law.
The Asean-Japan partnership has grown in strategic importance. Asean looks forward to Japan's continued support for its regional architecture.
Q: What is Vietnam's policy for resolving regional disputes with China?
A: Peace and stability are the goals of all countries within and outside the region. All want to maintain sustainable development and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific. We are watching with deep interest the developments in the East China Sea, as well as the concerns of the parties involved. It is our hope that the countries concerned will resolve outstanding disagreements through peaceful dialogue. We are ready to work with other Asean members and partners in the region and the world to contribute to efforts for the maintenance of peace, stability, and maritime and aviation security and safety.
Vietnam's policy on all territorial disputes, including those in the East China and South China seas, is to work for resolution through peaceful means on the basis of international law, particularly the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. At the same time, Vietnam will do its utmost to join hands with Asean and China to strictly implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and to soon bring about a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
Q: Vietnam's tight monetary and fiscal policies have curbed inflation, reduced the trade deficit and stabilized the economy. However, growth is slowing. What should Vietnam do next?
A: Vietnam has redoubled efforts to cope with the challenges caused by global economic turmoil. We have managed to control inflation, maintain macroeconomic stability and achieve a decent gross domestic product growth rate. Growth in 2013 reached 5.42%. Inflation was 6.6%, the lowest level in 10 years. Our objective in 2014 is to maintain macroeconomic stability, hold inflation at 7%, and maintain GDP growth at around 5.8%.
We are determined to implement solutions under the framework of the 2011-2020 Socioeconomic Development Strategy.
First: Work to realize socialist-oriented market economy institutions, high-quality human resources and comprehensive infrastructure.
Second: Strengthen economic restructuring, improve the quality, efficiency and competitiveness of the growth model. We will focus on three areas: investment restructuring, particularly public investment; restructuring of the financial and banking system, particularly commercial banks; and restructuring of businesses, particularly state-owned enterprises.
Third: Actively integrate into the global system.
Q: Tell us about Vietnam's industrialization strategy.
A: Vietnam has focused on attracting high-quality foreign investment with modern and environmentally friendly technologies. It wants companies that can effectively use natural resources, including minerals and land. We have implemented measures to improve the business environment and provide more incentives to foreign investors, such as tax exemptions and reductions in priority areas.
The ongoing trend of outbound investment by Japanese companies is a great opportunity for us. The government is working to create favorable conditions for Japanese companies to invest and do business in Vietnam. I hope that Japanese businesses will take advantage of these favorable conditions to promote investment and enhance technology and skills for the Vietnamese economy as a whole.
Vietnam and Japan have implemented large-scale infrastructure projects, making significant contributions to the development of the economy and society. Projects in infrastructure, especially transport, have accounted for a large proportion of the development aid cooperation between the two countries. In the near future, transport infrastructure will continue to be a priority for Vietnam.
Long Thanh International Airport and the North-South Express Railway are both important projects. They are now under evaluation to ensure their cost-effectiveness.
Q: After the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, safety demands have grown among Vietnamese. Did this situation affect plans for Vietnam's first nuclear power plant?
A: It is Vietnam's policy to use and develop atomic energy for peaceful purposes and for socioeconomic development. That use and development must be safe for the people and the environment.
The government of Vietnam has chosen Japan as a partner in building Ninh Thuan Nuclear Power Plant No. 2. The decision was based on technological assessments, especially in terms of safety and the experience of nuclear power in Japan.
Relevant agencies from the two sides are working closely to decide on the best way to ensure the effective use, highest level of safety and the environmental viability of nuclear energy for sustainable economic development.
Vietnam and Japan should closely coordinate to implement agreements, including in human resource training and the legal framework for the management of the atomic energy sector.
Q: TPP negotiations face difficulties.
A: Vietnam foresaw challenges when it joined the TPP negotiations. We are ready to make adjustments based on opportunities and challenges. Joining the TPP will create pressure for market liberalization and increase competition among enterprises. Without thorough preparation, many sectors will face difficulties. In order to implement its commitments under the TPP, Vietnam will have to revise and develop regulations on trade, investment, public tenders, intellectual property, et cetera. Sooner or later, Vietnam will have to go down that road if it is to be successful in restructuring its economy.
Since Vietnam is at a lower level of development than the other TPP members, our accession to and success in the TPP will help raise membership diversity. It will show that the TPP is more than a high-level cooperation mechanism. It is capable of harmonizing the interests of economies at different development levels.
We believe that apart from aiming at high standards, the TPP should maintain a balance between the rights and obligations of each negotiating partner. Vietnam hopes that other countries will be flexible on Vietnam's important sectors, such as garments and footwear, and give our country a reasonable transition time, as well as provide technical assistance in negotiations and implementation. This will enable us to gradually enhance our capacity to meet TPP standards. It is also consistent with the principle of "for development" promoted by TPP members.
Vietnam shares the goals of the TPP, and we believe in our ability to make a positive contribution to this process. By participating in the TPP negotiations, Vietnam would like to show its commitment to reform and economic integration.
The TPP is a diverse agreement. Its members have different political systems. The TPP is also considered a "21st-century agreement," with broad and extensive commitments and a very high level of liberalization. Therefore, in order for the 12 countries to reach an agreement, it is our view that the TPP should ensure the balance between the rights and obligations of the parties, while respecting differences.
Unabridged text available at asia.nikkei.com