Germany plans to increase presence in Vietnam

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on a visit to Vietnam on Friday that Berlin will greatly expand its economic and educational presence in the country.

German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier told reporters that a German-Vietnamese university is set to open this autumn in Ho-Chi-Minh City, formerly Saigon, and German companies are looking to increase investment in the country.

Vietnam has grown rapidly in recent years, and last year trade volume between the two nations increased around 40 percent to €3.4 billion. Steinmeier, however, referred to the “stormy development” of business relationships between Hanoi and Berlin. During the visit, Steinmeier said that that as Vietnam’s most important EU trading partner, a stronger German presence should motivate a need for modernization in the nation that is home to some 84 million people.

One such plan for modernization is the construction of a new city transport system in Ho-Chi-Minh City. The estimated value of this project is €800 million, and German company Siemens hopes to win the contract. But Steinmeier emphasized that investments influenced by political or governmental factors should be handled with “patience and even more confidence.”

Another development, the new university, is a joint project between the German state Hesse and Vietnam. Hesse’s Minister for Economics Udo Corts presented preliminary plans during the visit. He said the federal government will make €6 million available for the university over the next four years. The state of Hesse will contribute €2 million.

“All those who do their bachelor there should, at the end, also speak fluent German,” said Corts. Around 80 percent of the new university’s teaching staff will be German. Vietnam estimates that up to 5,000 students will attend the university in the next eight years. Vietnamese deputy Minister of Science Banh Tien Long said he foresees the university being among Vietnam’s most elite schools in 15 years.

In other diplomatic discussions, Steinmeier emphasized that Vietnam’s communist regime still must undertake further reforms to improve the country’s civil liberties.

In 2010 the two nations will celebrate the German-Vietnamese Culture Year to honour 35 years of diplomatic relations. There is a vibrant Vietnamese community in Germany, and during the Cold War some 100,000 Vietnamese moved to communist East Germany.