Interview with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Uladzimir Baravikou on the occasion of the Independence Day of the Republic of Belarus on July 3 202316.08.2023
Dear Ambassador, we are very pleased that you have taken time for an interview with the Journal of European Studies today. First of all, can you tell the readers of the magazine about the current development of Belarus?
Recently, our country has been subjected to unprecedented pressure and illegal sanctions aimed at changing the political system chosen by our people and the path of development and independent foreign policy of Belarus.
Nevertheless, as the last two years have shown, our country, together with our allies and friends, is successfully coping with this challenge.
Despite the forecasts of our opponents, Belarus’s economy did not collapse. By the end of 2022, Belarus’ GDP reached 95.3 percent compared to the previous year. In dollar terms, the growth of nominal GDP increased by 104.8 percent (in 2022, the GDP totaled $73.2 billion and showed an increase of $3.4 billion as compared to 2021). The positive foreign trade balance in goods and services reached $4.3 billion.
The foreign exchange market and the net supply of foreign currency remain stable.
After a surge in the first quarter of 2022 caused by mainly external factors the inflation dropped down significantly.
Most importantly, we have prevented a fall of the real incomes of the population.
According to the statistical data for the first five months of 2023, Belarus' economy has adapted to the new realities. We are demonstrating a moderate economic growth. The trade flows have been successfully redirected.
All these achievements have been possible due to the personal input by the President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Grigorievich Lukashenko and our people, who have rallied, as before in difficult times, for the sake of the interests of their country.
As Comrade Ho Chi Minh said, “there is nothing more precious than independence, freedom”. And our people gave a positive response to the question of the Head of State whether they were ready to pay for their independence.
We have defended our sovereignty, preserved peace and harmony in Belarus.
We can say that Belarus is a country with beautiful nature, kind and friendly people. Can you tell us how you feel about the country and people of Vietnam? Do you see any similarities between two countries and people?
Vietnam is a wonderful country. The beauty of nature and architectural monuments are impressive and do not leave very demanding tourists indifferent. Halong Bay and the Changan Landscape Complex are generally recognized as natural phenomena.
Belarusians know well and love the resorts of Vietnam. They like the local weather, the availability of services and many other advantages compared to other countries.
As I have already seen, the Vietnamese are very wise and sincere people. And in this we are very similar. We are open, hardworking and hospitable. The history of our states has also made us strong – our peoples rebuffed the aggressors, defended their freedom and the right to live by their own rules without orders from any side.
We are bound by sincere ties of friendship, rooted in the times of the USSR. Thousands of Vietnamese citizens studied and worked in Belarus during the Soviet period, and Belarusians helped establish the independent Vietnamese state.
In the relations between our countries, the folk wisdom “a friend in need is a friend indeed” has a special meaning. Thus, in December 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, Belarus delivered to Vietnam a humanitarian cargo with a total weight of more than 15 tons containing medical and personal protective equipment. In response, Vietnam handed over tests to Belarus to determine the presence of coronavirus infection. Such mutual support means a lot.
Last year, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Belarus and Vietnam and the 65th anniversary of the first visit by President Ho Chi Minh to Minsk City.
We highly value the friendly ties with Vietnam and strive to bring our relations to the level of strategic partnership.
Belarus is on the path of broad integration both at the global and regional levels. As far as we know Belarus is a member of many international and regional organizations. What foreign policy is Belarus currently pursuing in order to lead the regional integration processes so successfully?
Belarus is a sovereign European state that pursues an independent and peaceful foreign policy, actively develops cooperation with strategic allies and foreign partners in different parts of the world, is one of the initiators and active participants in regional integration structures and projects, makes a significant contribution to strengthening international security and stability.
As an longstanding advocate of the idea of integration, Belarus takes an active and constructive position in the integration structures in the post-Soviet area – the Eurasian Economic Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
In 2023, the Republic of Belarus performs the functions of chairman in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The motto of the Belarusian presidency is “Through solidarity and cooperation to peace and security." Against the backdrop of a systemic crisis in international relations and the continuing numerous challenges and threats to security in the CSTO region, the fundamental goals of the Belarusian chairmanship are as follows: internally – increasing the cohesion of the CSTO member states and resolving contradictions among them in order to strengthen the Organization, ensure security and stability in the zone her responsibility; on the outer contour – strengthening the role and importance of the CSTO in the system of international relations, ensuring comprehensive compliance of the CSTO activities with the context of regional and global security.
Belarus is speeding up the process of accession as a full-fledged member to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to strengthen its international positions.
Multilateral diplomacy is an important area of Belarus' foreign policy activities. Our country strives to contribute to solving global problems, countering modern challenges and threats, traditionally actively participates in the activities of the UN and other international organizations, generates approaches and initiatives that offer an agenda uniting all members of the international community, promote dialogue and overcome dividing lines. In 2022, Belarus was granted an observer status in the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
Belarus’ relations with the European Union, the United States and other Western countries have transformed from partner and mutually beneficial to hard confrontation due to their unprecedented political and economic pressure on us. At the same time, Belarus remains open for dialogue with Western countries in order to return to positive cooperation, primarily in trade, economic and investment spheres.
In a world where there are so many changes, as today, peace, stability and development are the main trends that many countries want to move towards, including Belarus and Vietnam. How does Belarus, a country located in Europe, view security and strategic stability in Europe in the current new context?
I agree with you. Today we live in a very complex and fragile world.
Our country stands against the use of unilateral coercive measures as an instrument of political and economic pressure. We believe that such measures should be abolished as violating the UN Charter, the principles of international law and the multilateral trading system. They adversely affect the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by the targeted countries, and violate fundamental human rights. This is a global problem because the 2030 Agenda is under threat around the world because of sanctions.
Another important problem caused by the use of unilateral coercive measures is the provision of global food security.
With regard to the situation on our continent, I would like to note that throughout the entire period of independence, our country has acted as a donor of security in Europe. We did not and do not pose a threat to our neighbors. No matter what our opponents say.
All decisions taken by the Head of State and the leadership of our country have a single goal – to preserve and protect peace on our land. The deployment of the joint Belarusian-Russian group on the territory of our country, strengthening of protection of the State border, improving the material and technical potential of the Armed Forces, deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus – all these ongoing activities are carried our strictly in the legal field and are capable, as we believe, of ‘cooling heads’ of those who are haunted by a stable and cohesive country with its own view of the international and domestic agenda.
As you know, security is indivisible. And security of one state should not be ensured at the expense of security of another one. In this regard, back in 2017, fixing the degradation of the security system in Europe and the negative trends in the development of regional processes, President of our country Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko put forward the initiative to conduct new negotiations on security on the continent with participation of the leading world powers, the so-called “Helsinki-2” process. Unfortunately, this appeal of a peace-loving country was not heard.
I will repeat. We know the price of peace, history has taught us. And we are ready to act again as a mediator for peace on the continent, to be the donor of stability and security in Europe.
Dear Ambassador, what is the place of Asia, specifically Southeast Asia in the foreign policy of Belarus? What are Belarus' priorities for this region in the future?
Against the backdrop of the unfriendly policy of the West, Belarus step by step is expanding its foreign economic horizons in the Asian region. The interest to this area as a capacious, fast-growing and promising market is logic and understandable. Asian countries take a very balanced position in relation to what is happening in the world, and they also treat Belarus and our policy with understanding. This is very important.
Taking into account the fact that we will seemingly have to live under Western sanctions for a long time, our domestic exporting enterprises will inevitably have to learn how to work more systematically in Asian markets and redirect their main efforts to this region. This task was set to us by our Head of State.
Opening of Belarusian diplomatic missions in the key financial and economic centers of Vietnam, India and China, namely in Ho Chi Minh City, Mumbai and Hong Kong, should give additional impetus to turning to Asia.
I believe that the so-called ‘turning to Asia’ strategy can be considered as one of the drivers of the economic future of our country.
Given the impressive successes achieved by Vietnam in socio-economic development under the wise leadership of the Communist Party, and the growth of its international prestige, Vietnam can become sort of a ‘springboard’ for Belarus for expanding cooperation throughout the entire Southeast Asia.
I see our primary task in converting the high-level interaction in the political field into deepening and building up trade and economic relations. We are currently working on a large-scale basis in this direction, carefully studying possibilities for industrial cooperation between our enterprises and their foreign partners, and looking for projects in which Belarus could participate.
Relationship between Vietnam and Belarus are traditionally friendly. This relationship is permanently getting stronger, broader and deeper. What achievements, from your point of view, can be singled out in Vietnamese-Belarusian relations?
Undoubtedly, the most important political milestones in our history are visits at the highest and high levels. The leaders of Belarus and Vietnam have made three mutual visits since the establishment of diplomatic relations. The leadership of our countries are well aware of the current topics of the bilateral cooperation agenda. We hope that this year we will manage to organize a visit of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus to Vietnam, which should mark a new stage in the development of Belarusian-Vietnamese relations.
Inter-parliamentary ties are strengthened too. In late 2021, the parliamentary friendship groups were formed. Our Foreign Ministries actively interact. The latest bilateral political consultations were held in January 2022.
Our countries also successfully interact in international organizations, support each other on issues of mutual interest.
Belarus and Vietnam have formed a solid legal framework with over 85 agreements, which cover almost all areas of cooperation.
Our countries historically maintain close cultural contacts. Belarusians have always treated warmly and respectfully people of Vietnam known for their ancient history and rich cultural traditions. This attitude is mutual.
In May of this year, the Days of Culture of the Republic of Belarus were held in Ho Chi Minh City and the province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau.
Such events, which have already become traditional, are aimed at bringing us closer to each other. Art knows no boundaries. We understand each other well despite the geographical distance and different languages. We don't need an interpreter!
It was a pleasure to note that among the viewers and participants of the event were not only those who perceive our country and culture with some nostalgia. I also saw many young people who started getting to know our country Right there! It is a positive experience.
We are also striving to develop cooperation between the two countries in cinematography.
In May this year, on the eve of significant historical events in the history of the former USSR and Vietnam, a film “The Brest Fortress” was screeded in Hanoi. I hope that this will be a good start in organizing thematic viewings.
To spur our bilateral cooperation in education, the Embassy initiated signing of a new version of an intergovernmental Agreement and holding the Days of Belarusian Education in Hanoi on June 15-16. We hope that the updated Agreement will simplify the access to Belarusian education for Vietnamese students.
A significant impetus was given to cooperation between security agencies. The top officials of the Ministry of Public Security of Vietnam visited our country twice in 2022 and once in 2023. An agreement on cooperation in the field of security was signed between the Vietnamese Ministry and the State Secretariat of the Security Council of the Republic of Belarus. In April of this year, the heads of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus visited Hanoi.
Our absolute priority in dialogue with Vietnam is the development of trade and economic relations. In March last year, the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation at its 15th sitting outlined the promising areas of cooperation. The trade turnover between our countries is stable.
Belarusian high-capacity dump trucks BelAZ, MAZ trucks, Belarus tractors have been known in Vietnam for many decades. Belarusian consumers know well such traditional Vietnamese goods as silk, seafood, tea, coffee. Recently, Vietnamese microcircuits, electronic equipment under the brand “Made in Vietnam” have become widely known. The supply of Vietnamese fruits has a great potential.
Undoubtedly, the Free Trade Agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and Vietnam has given an additional impetus to development of relations between our countries. The removal of barriers made it possible for Belarusian dairy products of high quality and diversity to enter the Vietnamese market.
I would note preservation of sincere friendship and a serious degree of mutual trust between Belarusians and Vietnamese as our main achievement.
What limitations do we need to overcome in order to bring the Vietnamese-Belarusian relations to a new height?
The illegal sanctions and restrictions imposed by the collective West on Belarus have resulted in breaking the traditional routes for delivery of products of Belarusian enterprises and the system of payments. At the same time, as the past year demonstrated, everything is possible, if there is a sincere desire to cooperate.
There are alternative logistical routes and payment methods. And they have proved their reliability and usability!
The most promising in this situation is the transition from the traditional exchange of goods and services to active creation of joint ventures in our countries, which will open up access for our goods to the markets of ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Union.
We are working in this direction. There are already a number of promising areas.
How do you assess the future prospects for relations between our countries? What areas of cooperation could we promote?
Today, Belarusian-Vietnamese relations are characterized by positive dynamics: the trade turnover is stable with a prospect of further growth.
The cooperation of Belarusian enterprises with Vietnamese partners, and the certification of Belarusian dairy products in Vietnam in 2020 stimulated a significant increase of their export in 2021. A project of construction of a plant in Vietnam for production of dairy products from Belarusian raw materials is underway.
A joint venture “MAZ Asia” operates in Vietnam. We can use its duty-free quotas to export vehicles and assemble car kits at a certain level of localization of production in Vietnam.
We see good prospects for promoting boneless beef and pork to the Vietnamese market. Together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the relevant authorities of Vietnam we are working on certification of Belarusian meat enterprises.
Vietnam has a demand for using Belarusian sports facilities. Vietnamese athletes are eager to taking part in international sports events in Belarus. We are ready to assist this process in every possible way.
We realize that trade and economic cooperation should be mutually beneficial. In this regard, we see a potential in increasing imports from Vietnam, along with traditional goods such as fruits and nuts.
We have many new ideas and promising directions. After all, the current situation provides countries with a new opportunity for development and raizing the well-being of their people.
I would like to share one more observation. We had a solid foundation of friendship in the Soviet period. But time goes by. One generation is replaced by another.
We need a new common ground to develop our friendship. It is important to us to communicate more often. Building up our relations through development of business contacts and tourism, organization of cultural events, and implementation of educational projects help us get closer and know each other even better.
I am sincerely convinced that we face great prospects for cooperation. The traditional and sincere friendship between our peoples is the foundation for dynamically developing Belarusian-Vietnamese relations.
We would like to thank Mr. Ambassador for this interview. We wish you a successful working term in Vietnam, making a great contribution to further strengthening the relations between Vietnam and Belarus now and in the future. Thank you very much!