Vietnam Time

8/9/2017 9:21:41 AM

Former US Ambassador Michael Michalak: I'll keep coming back to Vietnam

(VNF) - It has been 10 years since former US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak took his office in Hanoi. Despite no longer working in the country, Michalak keeps coming back to Vietnam, the land that means a lot to him.

Michael Michalak làm đại sứ Mỹ tại Việt Nam giai đoạn 2007 - 2011. Ảnh: Trọng Giáp

Former US Ambassador Michalak is now working for the US-ASEAN business council (source: vnexpress)

This November, US President Donald Trump will arrive at Da Nang International Airport, beginning his trip to Vietnam to participate in the APEC summit week. It will also mark Trump’s first visit to the country since his inauguration in March.

The US President will be received at the new premium international terminal # 2, built on the land which used to be a hotspot of dioxin contamination, as large amount of Agent Orange and other herbicides were handled by the US army at the airport during the U.S.-Vietnam War. 

Nowadays, 45,000 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated soil has been detoxified in a project titled Danang Airport Remediation, sponsored by the US government.  

The project marked the two governments’ commitment to start the detoxification in July, 2011 and complete it within two years.

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to kick start Danang Airport Remediation was witnessed by the then US ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak.

Sân bay Đà Nẵng

45,000 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated soil in Da Nang International Airport has been detoxified (source: kps.com.vn)

Returning to Vietnam in mid July to attend an economics dialogue as Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director of the US-ASEAN Business Council, the former ambassador kept recalling the event which he feels honored to be part of.

The signing of the MoU would not have been successful without the US diplomat’s unwavering efforts to make it happen.

During his tenure in Vietnam, Michalak maintained close coordination with the US Congress, the Vietnamese goverment, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and prominent public figures like Ms. Ton Nu Thi Ninh, co-chair of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange and Dioxin, Charles Bailey, Director of the Special Initiative on Agent Orange/Dioxin, (a task force initiated by the non-profit charitable Ford Foundation).

The Danang Airport Remediation, jointly implemented by USAID and the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense costs a total amount of US$ 41 million, of which US$34 million was financed by the US, while the counterpart fund was paid by the Vietnamese government.

To Michalak, his nearly-four-year tenure in Vietnam is an unforgettable part in his over-30-year diplomatic journey.

What he remembers about Vietnam, was some cups of bia hoi (local beer) shared on the street sidewalk with local people, and the exotic taste of bun cha (grilled pork noodles) sold on Hang Than street.

Part of the memories was filled with the image of his cherished friends, the Vietnamese diplomats whom he had chance to work with, including the then Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh, who is currently Deputy PM, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

“Sometimes we even shouted at each other while discussing some issues. We had dinner together. Our families met each other’s and exchanged interesting conversation. And most importantly, we have become good friends.” Michalak said.

He also recalled an interesting fact-finding trip which he took part in, along with Vietnamese leaders, including the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Gia Khiem.

It was not difficult for the diplomats to become friends, as they shared something in common: both spent some times living in Eastern Europe before.

Since Michalak also picked up Russian language when he was in college, the two also took the ocassion to jointly sing a couple of Russian folk songs. “It was really exciting!”, said Michalak, joyfully.

Kết quả hình ảnh cho michael michalak giáo dục

Michalak (L) pays special attention to VN-US education ties (source: Tien Phong)

During his tenure in Vietnam, Michalak particularly focused on strengthening the education ties shared by two countries. He spent time on organizing various conferences introducing US education to Vietnamese students and welcome parties for new Fulbright scholarship holders.

“While sworn in as US ambassador to Vietnam at the Congress, I had promised that during my tenure, I would double the number of Vietnamese students in US, and at the end of the tenure, it was tripled.”

The momentum created by Michalak keeps going on after he left Vietnam in 2011. It hit 21,400 by 2016, putting Vietnam at the 6th place on the ranking board of nationals studying in the US.

The today Vietnam – US relations, in Michalak’s eyes, is at its best.

The progress was proved by the fact that “It's now much easier to communicate with Vietnamese leaders in person”, Michalak noted.

Nowadays, talking to chief officers of the Party, leaders of the Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Public Security is no longer a rare experience to Michalak, especially when compare to 10 years back, when he only had chance to meet with the Party leaders two or three times during his tenure.

At the moment, the senior diplomat Michalak is working as an independent business consultant for Vietnamese and US companies. The opportunity knocked his door 3 years after his retirement from the US Department of State and came back to his homeland, Seattle, Washington DC.

 “The opportunity sounded fantastic, since it allows me to live in the South East Asia region, working with not only Vietnamese firms but also those from the ASEAN”, Michalak said cheerfully while talking about his favorite activity –  exploring the member countries of ASEAN.

Throughout his two years working in the US-ASEAN Business Council office in Singapore, he has been in charged of assisting and promoting trade and investment activities of 160 US renowned business groups in the South East Asia. The job has given him the opportunity to visit Vietnam again.

His new job shares certain common traits with his previous one, at the same time, bringing him new challenges.

“In some ways, it is slightly easier”, he laughed. “When I was the ambassador, I had to take care of everything, from politics, economics to human rights, education to social issues. Now I can focus on a single area, which is business and economics."

Former US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak presenting certificate to contestant in a logo design contest celebrating VN-US 15 years ties (source: VNA)

In the former ambassador's eyes, Vietnam is a bright spot of ASEAN. “Vietnam is an appealing FDI destination, as the goverment tends to be more willing to provide consultation to the private sector and take them into account when it comes to the design and enforcement of related laws."
 
"Investors favor this move, because it signifies more transparent and predictable administration system. These are key factors which foreign investors care about when making investment decision”, he explained.

The former ambassador is feeling excited about his trip to Vietnam this November to attend the APEC CEO Summit, which will bring together a number of US enterprises, he said, while refuse to share their names. "The preparation work is being carried on”, Michalak added.

At the age of 70, the former US ambassador still loves to visit Vietnam again and again. “Vietnam is so special to me. Your heartwarm affection, the friendship and hospitability which I have received were awesome. They are what keep me coming back. And I will continue to do it in the rest of my life."/.  

  ( Translated by Phi Yen )
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