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It is a pleasure for me to be here in this wonderful city of Hanoi for my first visit to Vietnam. I would like to thank you, Mr Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister [of Vietnam, Pham Binh Minh] for your very kind welcome here today.
We have been meeting regularly over the years, be it in Brussels or in Asia. In the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] context, we were, just a few days ago, together in Bangkok for the EU-ASEAN ministerial meeting and the ASEAN Regional Forum. But I am particularly pleased and proud to be paying this official visit to Vietnam to highlight the excellent state of partnership and relationship we also enjoy bilaterally between the European Union and Vietnam.
We have just discussed with the [Deputy Prime] Minister a very dense, very rich, very positive bilateral agenda that we share and that demonstrates that being geographically far apart does not prevent us at all from having excellent bilateral relations, starting - as you [Minister Pham Binh Minh] mentioned - with trade and economic relations, including with the signature of the trade and investment agreements just one month ago.
Coming to our existing agreements, we discussed the best way to ratify and implement these agreements in the most effective manner on both sides, which is in the interest of not only Vietnam and the European Union, but also sending a strong signal to the rest of the world of our common, joint commitment, in particular, to uphold free and fair trade regionally and globally.
We work together on many different issues, trade and investment being probably the most evident part of this cooperation. But I would like to mention two fields among many that are particularly relevant for our cooperation: sustainable energy, where the European Union is supporting the government in the implementation of its programme on supplying electricity to rural, mountainous and island areas and enhancing the governance of the energy sector; and also our common work to increase the exchanges between our people, starting from students and researchers. I was delighted to start my official visit to Vietnam yesterday with a meeting with all the Vietnamese students that are leaving to study in European universities in this academic year under the European Union Erasmus Mundus programme. Vietnam is the second country in the entire Asian continent and the first in ASEAN when it comes to sending students to the European Union. I believe that this exchange we have among our young people and our communities is the basis for the solid friendship that we are developing also at economic and institutional level.
As true friends do, we also address in our talks and in our partnership issues where the views might differ or where we might have concerns, such as, in our case, the respect for human rights and the protection of fundamental freedoms. But these are always addressed in our dialogues in a constructive, respectful, open and frank manner, as we do, as the European Union, with all our partners and with all our interlocutors around the world.
Among the many areas where our cooperation is increasing is the area of security and defence cooperation, where we are looking at ways to work more closely together. And I am particularly pleased that we have concluded negotiations of an agreement enabling Vietnam to participate in and contribute to European Union crisis management operations, which play a key role in peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security.
Last but not least, Mr Minister, let me reassure you that the European Union fully shares your positions and your concerns when it comes to the situation and the increasing tensions in the South China Sea. We believe that these tensions and this militarisation is definitely not conducive to a peaceful environment. As the European Union, we always stand for the freedom of navigation and overflight, which is in the interest of all states. We support transparency in and the rapid conclusion of negotiations for a legally binding code of conduct between China and ASEAN. You can count on the European Union to always defend not only the need to decrease tensions, but also and first of all, the need to have full respect for international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Let me conclude by congratulating Vietnam for the upcoming chairmanship of ASEAN. We very much count on strengthening not only our bilateral cooperation, but also the cooperation between the European Union and ASEAN even further under your chairmanship, including the upgrading to a Strategic Partnership and the negotiations of a region-to-region free trade agreement. Let me also congratulate you on the upcoming seat in the UN Security Council. I discussed with the [Deputy Prime] Minister on the opportunity we will have to coordinate positions in New York between the EU Member States sitting in the UN Security Council and Vietnam, as you will take this important responsibility. Let me thank you once again Mr [Deputy Prime] Minister for the excellent talks we have had today, as well as for an excellent discussion I also had this morning with the Chairwoman of the National Assembly. I am sure that the continuation of my visit, with meetings with the Prime Minister [of Vietnam, Nguyen Xuan Phuc] and the Minister of Defence [of Vietnam, Ngo Xuan Lich] will confirm this excellent state of partnership that we have developed between the European Union and Vietnam.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-176710