As MPs in the Commons battled it out over Brexit on the evening of 15 January 2019, some one hundred supporters of the Vietnam-UK Network sat down to an enjoyable evening of networking and speeches at their 5th Anniversary Dinner in the Cholmondeley Room in the House of Lords.
After welcoming words from Host Lord Dholakia, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords and Ben Chapman, former Chairman now Joint President of the Network, guests tucked into their Kentish spiced pumpkin soup while getting to know their neighbours. Two donations of £500 were then announced by Network Chairman Warwick Morris, who reminded those present of the Network’s wide remit, encompassing a range of fields including social welfare. Notwithstanding huge improvements in living standards in Vietnam, there were still issues around poverty, disability and hardship, especially in remote areas. The two UK-based recipients were ’Facing The World’ www.facingtheworld.net , represented by its (voluntary) CEO Katrin Kandel, which for 10 years has been carrying out surgery on severely disfigured children and training Vietnamese medical staff in the process, and ‘Medical and Scientific Aid for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (MSAVLC) www.msavlc.org, which since the 1960s has been helping disadvantaged people in Vietnam, especially young orphans and landmine victims, and funding training for midwives in remote areas.
HE Mr Tran Ngoc An, Vietnam’s very active Ambassador to the UK, and a Joint President of the Network, then presented Chairman Warwick Morris with the Medal of Friendship on behalf of the President of Vietnam for his contribution in recent years to the bilateral relationship.
Over coffee, the Chairman introduced the Guest Speakers. First up was Baroness Fairhead, Minister of State for Trade and Export Promotion at the Department for International Trade. Awarded a Life peerage and appointed Minister in 2017, she brought huge business experience to the job, including top roles at the BBC Trust, Financial Times and Pearson. She spoke of the growth of business activity and the current high level of Ministerial visits between the two countries, including another due the following week by a delegation led by Vietnam’s Minister of Education which promised to boost educational ties. She praised the Government of Vietnam’s impressive plans to improve English language skills. Talks were making good progress towards establishing a UK-Vietnam FTA which should further enhance business opportunities. Replying, after two days of technical talks in London, Vice Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Quoc Khanh – holder of an Economics diploma from the University of London – spoke enthusiastically about strengthening business links, and highlighted Vietnam’s recent move up 30 places in the ‘ease of doing business’ Index. It was clear from both that whatever the outcome of Brexit, the potential for UK-ASEAN and UK-Vietnam links across the board to grow was enormous.
Before the speeches, four MPs involved in the Brexit debate and vote were good enough to join the dinner, including former FCO Minister Sir Hugo Swire and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Trade with Vietnam, Ed Vaizey, both previous speakers at Network functions. Events in ‘the other place’ certainly provided the evening with a lively backdrop.
Network Vice-Chairperson Anh Hai Nguyen then oversaw the draw for two return tickets to Vietnam, generously donated by the Vietnam Airlines UK GM Phan The Thang, and Ed Vaizey MP presented them to the lucky winners.
In concluding, Warwick Morris thanked the host, the sponsors, especially Prudential for the drinks reception, the two Guest Speakers, and all those who helped make the evening a success. Sarah McAlister received a gift, to warm applause, for all her hard work. Reminding those present that the Network is run by volunteers, with no premises or financial support from governments, Warwick said the Committee would be delighted to hear from anyone else interested in offering one-off or longer term sponsorship to enable the VUKN to maintain and hopefully grow its range of activities. The evening ended with a toast from Baroness Fairhead and the Ambassador to the broadening and deepening of UK-Vietnam links.
Note: Anyone wishing to offer or discuss future sponsorship should please contact in the first instance Sarah McAlister at firstname.lastname@example.org