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Forty years

Rodion Ebbighausen / shsMarch 27, 2015

Germany and Vietnam are half a world apart, but the two countries are much closer diplomatically because of their history. The two nations are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their diplomatic ties.

Angela Merkel and Nguyen Tan Dung in Berlin (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images/S. Gallup

Vienam and Germany have a lot in common: Both were divided and on the front line during the Cold War. The shared experience of division and reunification still serves as a bridge between the two countries, says Rabea Brauer of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in the Vietnamese capital. "This common experience creates a lot of faith in each other," she told DW.

19.02.2013 DW Made in Germany MIG Vietnam
Germany is now Vietnam's major trade partnerImage: DW

The image of Germany and the Germans in Vietnam has been overwhelmingly positive. "We are connected by common values - diligence, punctuality, and a sense of order. There are many things in common," Brauer adds.

Renewed ties

This is usually the feeling when Brauer's Vietnamese interlocutors find out that she comes from East Germany and grew up under communism. "Sometimes I have to tell them that I am glad that in Germany that system doesn't exist any longer."

On one hand, the Vietnamese feel close to the Germans and are sincerely happy about the turn of events, but on the other hand, German reunification - based on a different ideology than theirs - also had a negative impact on their ties, Brauer says.

When German reunification took place October 1990, Vietnam lost not only one of its most important allies but also a major business partner. At that time, some 60,000 Vietnamese contractual workers lived in East Germany.

When that country collapsed, almost all its Vietnamese workers suddenly lost their jobs. They did not want to return to Vietnam because the employment prospects in their home country were very poor. The Vietnamese economic boom was yet to come.

Even so, the majority of these Vietnamese were still repatriated because they did not have a residence permit.

A strong bond

The conflict over contract workers and the regulation of old debts strained the German-Vietnamese ties for several years, according to Gerhard Will. "Only during the course of negotiations, it became clear to both countries what they could offer a lot to each other," writes Will, who has been a Vietnam expert and worked at the German Institute of International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

In the 1990s, Germany not only became a key economic partner for Vietnam, but it also helped the Southeast Asian country open up to the world. On the other side, Vietnam proved to be beneficial for Germany, since the emerging developing country with 90 million inhabitants was a virtually untapped market.

The following years consolidated the relations between the two nations. "Berlin became Hanoi's main trading partner in the EU and a 'priority country' of German development cooperation," Will says. The expert also believes that "it is in Germany's interest to have a partner in the region with whom Berlin could work together economically and politically."

After East Germany collapsed, the Communist Party of Vietnam was concerned about the new developments, Brauer says, adding that this no longer the case.

East German postage stamp (via de.Wikipedia)
During the Cold War, East Germany issued post stamps to show solidarity with VietnamImage: Gemeinfrei

Hanoi Declaration

In 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed the "Hanoi Declaration" to establish a "strategic partnership" between the two countries. The two leaders expressed the desire to continue economic partnership and cooperate in the areas of development policy, environment, education and science. The German-Vietnamese University in the city of Ho Chi Minh, founded in 2008, is considered a model project in terms of bilateral cooperation.

Since 2008, the two countries have also held the "Law Dialogue." Germany conducts around 60 meetings and seminars every year to support Vietnam on penal reforms. There has been some criticism in relation to the project's transparency, but if successful, it would deepen the relations between the two countries, say analysts.