Vietnam president Trần Đại Quang and President Michael D Higgins in Vietnam
President Michael D Higgins gave a speech at Vietnam National University in Hanoi.
During the speech, he said:
Most of you here are students, for whom many futures are possible, in an ever-more interdependent world for which a pluralist scholarship is essential. You are invited to contribute to imagining and shaping a new form of globalisation appropriate for your generation and its future – one that can foster cohesion, social progress and a balanced relation between our human species and nature in all its forms.
This year, Ireland and Vietnam celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations. However young the formal relationship between our two countries may be, it is one that is built on the solid bedrock of mutual esteem and authentic understanding.
There is so much shared experience in our respective histories; there are so many ways in which we Irish, when we acquaint ourselves with the history of Vietnam, can identify, in sympathy and imagination, with the aspirations of the Vietnamese people.
Ireland’s national journey and the journey of Vietnam are ones that chime: in your recollections we hear echoes of our own path. Yours is a history of so much inflicted suffering by external powers, that while it must not disable your present, or deprive you of future possibilities, yet it would be so important for you never to be asked to assume some false amnesia in its regard. Your history in its fullness belongs to you and the world must learn from its imposed tragedies.
Both our cultures have their roots in ancient civilisations renowned for the value they placed on scholarly learning, spiritual cultivation and the arts. Both our peoples have endured the harmful experience of colonisation, and, in your case, the ambitions of four imperialisms. Both have suffered from the scourge of famine – “the terror of the hungry grass”, as Irish poet Donagh MacDonagh described it. Both of our nations have suffered, in cultural terms, from imperialist theories of culture which sought to justify the racial superiority of the coloniser over the colonised, and to rationalise the ruling of the world by a handful of imperial powers.
We recall the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, after that collision of Empires that was the First World War: a conference to which a young Ho Chi Minh sent a petition asking for the delivery of the independence that had been promised from France. He did not receive an answer from the presiding world powers.
Similarly, the doors in Paris remained closed to the delegation of Irish Republicans who travelled there in an attempt to garner support for the cause of independence from the British Empire. Both rejections were perceived by the Irish and Vietnamese leaders of the time as proof of the risks of placing trust in concessions from an imperial power.
It is important to remember that the Paris Conference was unfolding just a few short years after the Easter Rising of 1916, when a few thousand brave men and women rose to defy the power of the British Empire. This was a milestone event on the path to Irish independence, an event of which we, in Ireland, are celebrating the centenary this year. And we do so with what I have called a hospitality of narratives.
Both our peoples have led an unyielding and irrepressible struggle for independence. We both know, too, how difficult it can be to secure, vindicate and deliver on the promises of freedom, justice and equality that motivated the struggle for independence in the first place. The decades following the heady atmosphere of the days of declared independence are the most challenging.
…The globalised economic and trade structures to which Vietnam and Ireland have been opening, and in which they have been participating ever more actively and with success in recent times, are ones that create great hopes, suggest great opportunities for increased prosperity, security and social progress, but also ones that involve risk and serious challenges. Everywhere in our global system we can see how deepening inequality is threatening social cohesion, and how inter-generational justice is threatened as we witness our natural environment degrading at an alarming pace.
We should reflect deeply on the opportunities and the risks before us, risks that we share. No nation should ever be made to rush unthinkingly towards a model of development presented in the illusory guise of an ill-defined modernity. Is the modernity on offer simply an invitation to imitate the practice of others? Are current models of global trade and finance, production, extraction of resources, ones that truly advance the fundamental objective of human development?
Do those models protect the hierarchy of purpose that should exist – that must be restored – between morally purposive economic and social outcomes? As to quantifying our achievements or failures: To what extent do growth rates as we currently define and measure them reflect the ability of our economies to respond to the basic needs of our most vulnerable citizens?
…The scale of the global challenges we face together requires, it is my deep conviction, not only a recovery of the genuinely idealistic impulses which drew our forefathers forward in their best and selfless moments towards a new world of independence. It also requires, of all of us and you now, new models, new paradigms for cooperation at national and international level, and also new scholarship, of such a nature as can generate balanced and respectful relationships between the peoples of the world, and between humans and the forms of life on their shared planet.
As places of learning, universities and institutes of technology have a crucial role to play in our transformational tasks, and we must ‘think long’. As Vietnam’s much respected leader, Ho Chi Minh, once said:
“For the sake of ten years, we must plant trees, for the sake of one hundred years, we should cultivate people.”
…However great the global challenges we are facing may be, we can, in this century, if we set about it collectively and creatively, succeed in delivering the promise of sustainable development. Doing so is not some vague utopia, rather it will be immensely rewarding to see the fruits of one’s intellectual work delivered for the welfare of all.
It is a promise on which we must deliver urgently. Failure in relation to either of the interrelated challenges of sustainable development and climate change would be a disaster. It will result in the destruction of the prospects of millions to live a life of dignity. Given our existing demographic projections, it will result in massive migratory flows, from poverty-stricken areas, first to cities that are unprepared, then on into the uncertainty of international migratory trails, to which we are currently making such a dismal response.
…The international community also faces the difficult and most urgent challenge of preventing human trafficking. This terrible plight of human trafficking affects countless numbers of men, women and children, who are often seeking to make better lives for themselves and fall prey to ruthless criminals.
The factors which contribute to this problem are, like most of the global issues we face today, very often complex, and while difficult to resolve, must be tackled. Extreme poverty and migration from rural areas are primary factors, but we also need to consider carefully the impact which major development projects – such as the building of dams or the development of certain industries – can have on rural communities and on the continuation of their traditional livelihoods. We must be open to seeing how displacement occurs.
…Finally, but so importantly, may I say how crucial the United Nations’ work on disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons is. This is an area in which Ireland and Vietnam are aligned and actively engaged. It is work that is critical for a safer and more secure world.
There is no doubt that political leadership is fundamental to the achievement of such critical global objectives. I am very confident that the incoming UN Secretary General António Guterres, with his exceptional experience of the work of the UN on the ground, will continue the good work of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in leading the world onto a more sustainable path.
…We are all but migrants in time and space – transient travellers who must do our best to pass on to the next generations, a hospitable ground, on which they can flourish – let us try to do it together.
Read the speech in full here