Vietnam-UK Network Dinner

120 people attended a lively Vietnam-UK Network Dinner in the House of Lords on 13 June, which marked the Network’s 9th anniversary. After an interruption to this annual event because of COVID restrictions, it was, by general consent, great to be able to meet up once again, and in such prestigious surroundings. A sunny summer’s evening meant that the Terrace, with its iconic view across the Thames, was the perfect spot to network over a glass of wine during the pre-dinner reception.

Dinner began with a general welcome, to faces both familiar and new, from VUKN Chairman Warwick Morris. He drew attention to host Lord Dholakia, President of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, and Sir George Howarth MP, all Committee members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Vietnam. He warmly welcomed HE Mr Nguyen Hoang Long, Vietnam’s Ambassador and his wife, and of course the distinguished Guest Speaker, Prof. Sir Jonathan Van Tam, who received a heartfelt round of applause. After encouraging remarks from our Parliamentary host, guests settled down to eat.

Following the main course, Paul Smith, until recently a Vice-Chair of the Network, introduced Sir Jonathan, touching on his roots in Lincolnshire and love of football. JVT – which Sir Jonathan joked he was considering developing as a brand name – then spoke movingly of his parents, of their emphasis on education, and of his growing up as a mixed-race child in a rural part of England. He paid tribute to them, and to this country, for enabling him to succeed. Comfortable now with his family back-story, he saw himself with the passage of time as something of a bridge between the two countries. He was happy to engage in that capacity, and to keep in touch with the VUKN. A heartening, personal story, it was very well-received by his audience.

Ambassador Long then spoke, with his usual infectious enthusiasm, about work going on to enhance the bilateral relationship, with the return to normality bringing about heightened activity. He underlined how lucky he was to arrive just one year ago, in time for COP 26 which had led to new, shared climate-change goals. His closing message was that the Embassy and the VUKN together formed a ‘team’, with common aims, to keep developing the relationship across the board at both government and non-government level.

Following dessert and over coffee, VUKN Vice Chair, Bao Ha Pham, reminded the audience that the Network, run by volunteers with no government support, attached great value to its sponsor companies, large and small. She urged others to consider supporting the Network, enabling it to keep up its good work. In the presence of JVT and Vietnam Airlines UK GM PT Thang, she then oversaw the draw for two return tickets to Vietnam generously donated by the airline.

In the course of the evening attention was drawn to three other people present. Firstly, Paul Smith, a co-founder of the Network and a Vice-Chair for 9 years, who was stepping away to pursue other interests. With 5 decades of business experience under his belt, including over 20 years involving Vietnam, he has provided great support and leadership to the Network, especially to its trade and investment-related activities. He was warmly applauded for his highly valued input; secondly, Helenita Noble, CEO, Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, who was awarded an MBE in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours for her work with disadvantaged children in Vietnam and Mongolia, and thirdly Britain’s Ambassador-designate to Vietnam, Iain Frew.

As the evening came to a close towards 10.30 pm, Warwick explained that the time was fast approaching for leadership change in the Network. He himself would step down by next spring. A younger leadership, bringing fresh energy and new ideas, was needed to take the Network forwards through its 10th anniversary year and on into the next decade. He asked those interested in knowing more to contact him, Paul Smith or Bao Ha Pham.