Keynote Speech at the First 2018 Diplomatic Corps Lunch by Kamal Malhotra United Nations Resident Coordinator, Vietnam on The UN’s Contribution to Vietnam: Some Retrospective and Prospective Reflections


Date: March 15, 2018

Event: First 2018 Diplomatic Corps Lunch

Venue: InterContinental Hotel, Landmark 72, 3 Spoons Restaurant, Ha Noi, Vietnam

On behalf of the United Nations in Viet Nam, I am honored to deliver some retrospective and prospective reflections on the role and contribution of the United Nations to Viet Nam at this Diplomatic Corps Lunch. First, please allow me to thank the Venezuelan Ambassador, the Dean of our Diplomatic Corps in Viet Nam, His Excellency Ambassador Uzcategui, for his leadership in bringing us together here today. As partners in support of this unique country, it is our duty to continually strengthen our mutual engagement. And, today's lunch offers excellent opportunities to do precisely that – to better position and focus our collective actions. These collective actions must support Viet Nam on the core development challenges that it faces.

Colleagues and friends,

We need to reflect at least a moment – ideally longer – on how we define our actions? How do we ensure that these are ultimately contributing positively to the lives of the people of Viet Nam?

We have given ourselves multilateral and bilateral instruments and organizations, which aim to channel our actions. Agenda 2030, which all of your respective governments and organizations have endorsed and now support through the United Nations, is one of those critical instruments. Under the banner of Agenda 2030, as well as the UN's wide-ranging set of agreed international norms and standards, the United Nations is uniquely placed to continue to build impartial bridges and platforms to give a voice to diverse views and constituencies, and to guide the international and Vietnamese community on abiding by universal values as we collectively support the people of this country.

As you know, the UN in Viet Nam has a long and special history. UN agencies were among the first international partners on the ground to support Viet Nam with humanitarian assistance after the end of the war in 1975. And ever since, the UN System has actively engaged, at global, regional, national, and sub-national levels to support Viet Nam. This support, manifested in strong partnerships with both the Government and people of Viet Nam for over four decades now, involving many of your countries or organizations, has focused on helping Viet Nam recover from some of the most severe consequences of the war, on restoring domestic production and the wider economy, and on helping the country transform itself into a modern forward-looking nation. This also included critical UN support to undertake reforms towards a socialist oriented market economy - 'Doi Moi', long before either the World Bank, IMF, or many of your countries had formal relationships with Viet Nam.

My fellow colleagues and friends in the Diplomatic Corps,

On a number of fronts, Viet Nam is a success story. The transformation of the last few decades is striking. While it is undeniable that challenges remain, and that the challenges themselves are becoming increasingly complex, we can all agree that Viet Nam's transformation over the last four decades to where it stands today is remarkable, especially when we consider its still recent history over the three decades before 1975.

We have all played a part in the transformation of Viet Nam, under the strong leadership of the people and Government of this country. Going forward, it is thus critical for all of us to consider how we will tailor our actions in such a manner that best addresses these increasingly complex challenges.

In July last year, I signed the One UN Strategic Plan for the 2017-2021 period on behalf of 18 UN agencies with the Government of Viet Nam. This is a third generation One UN strategic cooperation framework. And, it is designed around the central themes of Agenda 2030: People, Planet, Prosperity, and Peace. The key purpose of the 2030 Agenda is to "leave no one behind". This remains at the core of the values we espouse as United Nations staff; and in this I believe I can also safely include all of you, representing Members States of the United Nations.

Viet Nam has also made significant contributions to the Delivering as One UN reform efforts, which this country has piloted from their global inception in 2006. The results of these experiences have strengthened the UN's coherence on programme, policy, advocacy and operations, also leading to the establishment of the Green One UN House in Hanoi, which is now one of the UN's cutting edge integrated facilities in the world. Many of you have visited us there but many of you have not. I would encourage all of you who have not yet visited to pay a visit to my UN colleagues and me there soon.

The last decade of UN reform experiences has further served to inform a new set of reforms of the UN Development System, currently being directly led by the UN Secretary General with Member States who are due to decide on many new reforms to the UN Development System, the UN's peace and security architecture and management reform in 2018. The proposed reforms are completely consistent with the thrust of the One UN reforms which the UN in Viet Nam has pioneered and is in the forefront of. This means that Viet Nam will continue to be a pioneer of and will remain at the forefront of the global UN Development System reform agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my hope that the final set of UN reforms to be agreed by Member States this year, will allow us as a UN family, in partnership with all of you, to better contribute to the development trajectory of Viet Nam. This ultimately, should support us in tackling the increasingly complex challenges faced by Viet Nam.

Please allow me to highlight four such domestic challenges, which are top priorities for the UN in Viet Nam, going forward: First, the increased frequency of devastating weather-related events highlights Viet Nam's very high vulnerability to both climate change and disaster risk, and special emphasis in this regard will need to be placed on the near-poor "missing middle" population, which has only too recently escaped poverty but remains vulnerable to slipping back into it.

Second, measures that increase Viet Nam's competitiveness, productivity and innovation, while simultaneously promoting a green, resilient, economy are essential. This should include an emphasis on promoting 21st Century skills in the context of Industrial Revolution 4.0. In this context, special attention needs to be paid to supporting Vietnamese micro, small and medium enterprises.

Third, a stronger emphasis should be placed by the Government on a 'whole of society' partnership approach, more actively embracing the private sector and civil society in Viet Nam. This should include a strong focus on empowering women and groups such as ethnic minorities and those who have been 'left behind' by previous and current approaches to development in Viet Nam.

Fourth, while Viet Nam has signed and ratified several of the UN's human rights conventions and treaties, and we applaud and appreciate that, the UN system has increasingly expressed concerns regarding freedom of expression, association, and movement, arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights defenders, bloggers and activists, and the ongoing use of the death penalty, amongst other human rights issues such as gender equality and labor rights. These will need to be addressed in a progressive and realistic manner. On this, please allow me to highlight that in January 2019, Viet Nam will undergo its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) under the UN's Human Rights Council. The UN has already initiated consultations and support for Government and Civil Society efforts on UPR reporting, and as the UN Resident Coordinator I am mandated to transmit the UN in Viet Nam's report for Vietnam's third UPR to Geneva in early July this year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last but not least, there is increasing UN support for what I call the "global give-back" agenda. This has two immediate elements which the UN and I are prioritizing and a third element for the medium to long-term.

First, South-South and triangular cooperation is strategically relevant to low income countries and those in fragile or conflict contexts and they can best learn from countries like Viet Nam which have recently graduated from all three contexts: Vietnam is no longer low income, fragile or in conflict! The triangular part is where UN member states, especially more advanced countries, have an important role to play.

Second, support for Viet Nam's role in and contribution to global peacekeeping, going full circle, from a country which was in conflict for decades on end to one which makes a major contribution to maintaining the peace in other protracted conflict situations around the world. I have been advocating for a coordinated long-term peacekeeping strategy for Viet Nam under the overall leadership and coordination of the Government and the UN rather than the current fragmented approach of the Government and many donors to Viet Nam in this area and we hope to co-convene with the Government a seminar on peacekeeping with this objective in mind this summer which I hope many of you will attend and support.

These two agendas need immediate action and we are providing it. The third, building up Viet Nam's institutional capacity to develop a development cooperation programme and/or agency is longer-term but worth thinking about from now onwards.

Colleagues, while the challenges I have highlighted are formidable, I am convinced that our collective actions can support Viet Nam to address them. We are fortunate to serve and work in a country with high levels of ambition. The success of the recent APEC Summit pays testimony to that, and to Viet Nam's repeatedly demonstrated ability to forge new positive paths and reach new heights when there is a collective decision of its top political leadership which enables this.

Please allow me to conclude by emphasizing that the UN, with the support of all of you representing our Member States, will continue to support Viet Nam in its efforts at tackling its remaining and emerging challenges. We look forward to continuing to do this together with all of you, consistent with our jointly agreed Agenda 2030 global framework. The UN will, in particular, continue to serve as a catalyst to broker knowledge and best international expertise and provide policy advice based on best practices from both the wider UN System as well as from all stakeholders.

Colleagues, as I already said at the beginning, there is no free lunch, and I hope that my reflections have given you enough food for thought.

I hope that they will stimulate interesting discussions over our remaining lunch!

Thank you for your attention.