As Swedish ambassador to Vietnam during the two countries’ 45-year anniversary of diplomatic relations, Camilla Mellander looks on how Sweden is leading by example. Photo by David Harris

 

I have been in Vietnam for… two-and-a-half years. Funny, it feels as if I arrived a few months ago. I still learn new things about Vietnam and Vietnamese culture every day, and I’m very happy I have another one-and-a-half years to go.

 

The Swedish embassy is housed in… the Swedish embassy compound, in the middle of busy Kim Ma Street. Most people know where this is because the embassy has been there since 1980 and the architecture is a bit different and some people call it “the Swedish red-roofed compound”. My Swedish colleagues and I love living there even if the buildings are a little bit old. It’s almost like a kibbutz. We work and live together and have a lot of fun.

 

Sweden recognised Vietnam’s sovereign status earlier than other western nations because... Sweden has always been a strong advocate for self-governance and the rights for people and countries to decide and create their own future. Those are Swedish core values and therefore the Swedish government decided to recognise Vietnam in 1969.

 

This year we celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations — and it has been a really special year with more than 30 different events. In November more than half of the embassy relocated to Ho Chi Minh City for the exhibition, Innovative Sweden, which ran for three weeks at Hoa Sen University. Sweden is a small country but always at the top of the Global Innovation Indexes.

 

As the longest-standing western diplomacy to Vietnam, we lead by… example, I’d say. A deep and trusting relationship that recognises all that is uniting our countries and us, that is built on mutual respect but at the same time doesn’t shy away from the fact of our sometime differences of opinion. Just like in any respectful relationship.

 

During my tenure, Sweden has emphasised… the importance of an innovative climate for Vietnam to be able to climb up the ladder and sustain a high level of economic growth. Sweden is also a strong voice for democracy, freedom and equality, and coming from a country with a high level of gender equality, I’m happy to see that women in Vietnam are making headway into politics, academia and the business sector. There are more female CEOs in Vietnam than in Sweden.

 

Swedish-Vietnamese trade has grown to historic levels because… of the liberalisation of the Vietnamese economy and a growing market economy in Vietnam. The new economic policies have opened doors to the international markets and catapulted the Vietnamese economy, which in turn has made it attractive for trade and investments. With the free trade agreement between the EU and Vietnam, hopefully to be concluded next year, the volume will increase even further.

 

Our interest in Vietnamese financial reform stems from… the fact that we see a liberal market-oriented economy as the most effective way to lift nations and people out of poverty. It also brings increased exchange economically and culturally.

 

We see the next 10 years of Swedish-Vietnamese partnership as focusing on… bringing Swedish knowhow and technology to Vietnam. Vietnam is now a middle-income country and after being one of the largest donors in Vietnam for many years we have now changed our focus to trade promotion.

 

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