Vietnamese diplomat and educator Pham Sanh Chau, who is serving as Vietnam’s ambassador to India since 2018, believes investing in the youth and “people-to-people exchanges” are the most important way to build lasting peace in any region, including South Asia.
This is one of the reasons that his country has just signed Memorandums of Understanding with three Indian universities to encourage Vietnamese students to study in India.
The ‘Ambassador’s Scholarship Programme’ will pay for the tuition fee, lodging and meal costs of Vietnamese students in undergraduate, masters and PhD courses in Integral University of Lucknow, Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology in Bhubaneswar, and Rishihood University of Sonepat, Haryana.
Born in Myanmar in 1961, Chau was a young boy when Vietnam went through one of the worst phases in its history and one of the most significant wars of the modern world. Often called a ‘Cold War proxy war’, the northern and southern parts of the country were wracked in a bloody conflict fuelled by international powers – the communist nations of Soviet Union and China on one side, and their opponents mainly US, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia on the other.
US entered the war in 1965, and finally lost and retreated in 1973, after which both parts of Vietnam came together as one communist state. At present, Vietnam is run within a single-party socialist republic framework.
“As a country that has gone through many, many years of prolonged wars, Vietnam appreciates tremendously the value of peace,” says ambassador Chau, who served in the artillery division of Vietnam People’s Army in the mid-1980s.
“But, in fact, all those wars were not of our creation. Other forces from outside brought war to us and we were forced to fight those wars, which we didn’t want. Therefore, Vietnam now upholds a foreign policy of peace as we pursue the principles inscribed in international law of peaceful settlement of all differences,” adds Chau, who is fluent in Vietnamese, English and French.
Chau earned his Bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Foreign Affairs in Hanoi, and a diploma in international law from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands. He also studied at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, United States; Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland; University of Oslo, Norway; and the European Union Training Centre in Belgium.
He joined Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1983 and has since served as Vietnam’s ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the European Union.
“Vietnam is enjoying peace in this day and age, and that is a very important thing. Peace is very valuable,” says ambassador Chau, adding that countries facing conflict should take proactive efforts towards peace, and those already enjoying a peaceful existence should implement proper guidelines to ensure lasting peace in their region.
“Vietnam has been working in that spirit on different platforms. We are now member of the UN Security Council and our voice has also reflected that principle,” says Chau, who is concurrently accredited to Nepal and Bhutan, besides India. Earlier, he had led Vietnam’s national commission for UNESCO for many years.
On questions related to the India-Pakistan conflict, ambassador Chau asserts, “Vietnam wants the region to have peace and stability. We encourage all countries in the world to abide by the law, and we respect and look for rule-based order and peaceful settlement of all differences, and not threat of force. So, countries that follow that principle are all friends of Vietnam.”
He adds that among Asian nations, Vietnam is among the few that enjoys higher levels of gender equality. “We have a saying that the woman at home is the home minister,” he smiles, explaining that, at the social level, most of the decisions of the household and family are taken with the consent of the woman or by the women themselves.
Women are also better represented at the political level compared with other many other Asian nations. Since 2010, women have made up 27.30% of Vietnam’s national assembly, leading in Asian countries. Of the presidency positions of functional committees of the national assembly, 42% are held by women, and all vice presidents of Vietnam since 1992 have been women.
Pham Sanh Chau – who has received numerous state distinctions including the Grand Cross of Order of the Crown from the King of Belgium; the Ordre des Palmes Académiques from the President of Republic of France; and Vietnam’s Lifetime Ambassador Title – is currently looking forward to greater numbers of his country’s youth visiting India for education. He believes the most sustainable way to ensure peace is through “mutually beneficial projects and by strengthening economic and trade investment and cooperation”.
Interestingly, of the 200 Vietnamese students across India at present, around 140 are Buddhist nuns here to study Buddhism.
Ambassador Chau avers, “We must intensify people-to-people exchanges, and especially invest in the youth, so that it creates and strengthens mutual trust. Trusting one another is most important.”