Visiting Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Ignacio Ybanez Rubio tells Việt Nam News reporter Thu Hà that the two countries have enjoyed excellent political relations, but should make more efforts to boost economic co-operation and people-to-people exchanges.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of bilateral relations. Can you give us an overview of the relations between the two countries?
I would like to start with political relationship which has seen excellent co-operation between the two countries. Until now, we have had no major issues of concern. We have been very supportive of each other. Spain is very proud to be the first EU country to establish a strategic partnership with Việt Nam. We have also been very supportive of each other in international organisations. For example, when Spain was a candidate for the United Nations Security Council, we received Việt Nam’s support. Spain supported Việt Nam when your country vied to become a member of the Human Rights Council. We have conducted frequent high-level visits and have established a political consultation mechanism at a vice ministerial level. The last one was held in 2015 in Madrid and now I am in Hà Nội for another one.
As for economic relations, I think this is an area in which we need to make more efforts because there is room for further co-operation. First of all, on trade, I think the figures are very positive for Việt Nam which is exporting a lot of products to Europe and Spain, in particular. However, we are trying to balance commercial relations by exporting more products to Việt Nam. On investment, there also remain many opportunities for Spanish companies to invest in Việt Nam and we are determined to develop this area.
We also need to do more to promote people to people contact. There is a growing interest in Spain and Europe in Asia. We have seen an increase in the number of visits between people of the two countries, but it is still at a modest pace. As you know, Spain is famous for tourism. We want to receive more Vietnamese tourists. We will also try to have more Spanish tourists come to Việt Nam. Last year, you adopted a very open visa policy for some European countries, including Spain. Next week we are holding a tourism fair in Madrid and your Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism will come to seek opportunities to expand the tourism market from Europe and Spain.
What is the position of Việt Nam in Spain’s foreign policy towards the Southeast Asian region?
We are following with great interest the integration process that ASEAN is moving and we regard Việt Nam as one of the leaders in this regional organisation. We want very much to count on Việt Nam in our relations with the region. Last year, Spain adopted a new foreign policy strategy. We have defined some priority countries and Việt Nam is among our three priority countries in ASEAN, besides the Philippines and Indonesia. It is a clear sign of our interest in Việt Nam in our foreign policy in the region.
What will be high on the agenda of the bilateral relations?
The 40th anniversary of our bilateral relations is a good opportunity to look back on what we have done together, as well as looking ahead. We have seen fruitful results in terms of development co-operation. But important programmes in this area are coming to an end, not because there is lack of interest from our side but because of the new reality in Việt Nam. Việt Nam has become a middle-income country so our co-operation mechanism needs to change a little bit to adapt. There will not be as much development co-operation as before. It will be more about relations between companies that we want to develop. The role will be more for companies than for governments.
So what we need is to create more interest for Spanish companies to come to Việt Nam. To that end, it is important to have conditions conducive for investment. This is something that I will discuss with my Vietnamese colleagues. In the infrastructure sector there is also great interest from Spanish companies. Our country is very developed in infrastructure development. Spanish companies have built high-speed railways in Saudi Arabia, roads in the United States and so on. I think we will have a lot of opportunities in this field in Việt Nam.
We also intend to provide more soft loans [loans with very favourable terms for borrowers] to Việt Nam. We have already reached an agreement with Việt Nam on soft loans for construction of Line 5 of the metro in HCM City, some of them from Spain. We are also working on other important areas, for example, promoting women’s roles and promoting solar energy. On cultural relations, more Vietnamese are interested in learning Spanish while there is also growing demand for Vietnamese language and culture in Spain. And of course, we must maintain the excellent political relations that we have had. – VNS