By Lee Kyung-sik, publisher of The Korea Post media
In the initial period of the Korean-Vietnamese diplomatic relations re-established in 1992, the first resident envoy in Seoul from Viet Nam was Ambassador Nguyen Phu Binh.
He did a great deal of work bridging gaps between the two countries, especially in the period shortly after the normalization of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Ambassador Phu Binh, in nature, was a very friendly and kind person ready to help anybody and everybody in need. For his own country, Viet Nam, he was especially so. He strongly emphasized the need for increased cooperation as well as friendship between the two countries in the initial period of difficulties not long after the end of the Vietnamese War where Korea, under the rule of the then President Park Chung Hee, Korea sent combat troops there to fight on the side of the United States Forces.
Ambassador Phu Binh used to tell this writer, “We forgive, but we never forget the past!” Ambassador Phu Binh never dwelt on the past, but was always forward-looking and did a marvelous job to heal the wounds of the past between two countries and charting out a bright future of increased mutual cooperation for both nations.
Ambassador Phu Binh proved through his own deeds how much common values the Vietnamese people and the Korean people shared with each other.
While in Korea, Ambassador Phu Binh built a firm, firm bridge of friendship and cooperation between the peoples of Korea and his own country.
This writer recently found the whereabouts of Ambassador Phu Binh thanks to the kind cooperation of Madam Tran Thi Lan Hinh, the spouse of the Vietnamese ambassador in Seoul.
Here are excerpts from the letter of Ambassador Phu Binh:
Dear Chairman Lee,
First of all, I would like to apologize to you for delayed reply to your request.
As I informed you, after retirement from the Foreign Ministry in 2012, I became a Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Vietnam Economic Times. Last week, we concentrated all the efforts for preparations of a special issue for the APEC Summit that takes place in Danang, the city in central part of Vietnam from this week
Thank you very much for your high appreciation of my job as the first Vietnam Ambassador to Korea. That was really difficult time for me, when we established our Embassy in Seoul from nothing, with a very small budged and limited human resources. However, in the hard time, I was lucky to make friends with many Koreans and enjoyed the valuable support and cooperation from them.
I always remember Chairman Lee among many Korean friends. Thanks to the discussions with you and other Korean friends, I got a lot of knowledge about Korea and understood more and more what Korean people were thinking of Vietnam and what Korean people expected for the relations between our two countries. That made me more confident about the bright future of relations between Vietnam and Korea. Looking back to the development of relations in the past 25 years, I think that the mutual standing, mutual trust and mutual benefits helped our two people to overcome the hostile relations in the past and to build friendly and cooperative relations today.
As a matter of fact, the relations have thenceforth developed very fast -- surpassing all the predictions and expectations then.
Even we have been living far from each other for more than 20 year; I always remember you and keep the beautiful memories of you and your magazine, The Korea Post with special issues on the occasion of celebration of Vietnam in every year.
For your question about my activities since I left Seoul in early 1997, I was appointed Director General of the Consular Department of MOFA. One and half year later, I became the Vice Chairman of the Committee for Overseas Vietnamese (belongs to MOFA ) and stayed at the position until 2001, before appointed an Assistant Minister of MOFA . In the year of 2000, I had the great honor to be among the first 10 diplomats who received the tittle "Ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" from H.E. the President of the Republic.
I was appointed as Vice Minister of MOFA in 2002, concurrently Chairman of the Committee for Overseas Vietnamese. During the six years in the position of the Vice Minister in Charge of Northeast Asia, I had a lot of opportunities to discuss and cooperate with Korean Ambassadors in the promotion of bilateral relations into the Strategic Partnership in 2009.
I was appointed the Ambassador to Japan in early 2008 and completed my duty in Tokyo after 4 years.
Even after retirement from MOFA in 2012, I became an adviser of the Strategic Institute of the Academy of Diplomacy, by that, maintaining the link with MOFA where I spent 42 years as a professional diplomat. Just after retirement from MOFA, I was invited to The Vietnam Economic Times as Deputy Editor-in- Chief of the newspaper.
Not only me, but all the former Vietnam ambassadors to Korea have the same warm feelings and close sentiment to Korea and the Korean people. That is why we decided to form the "Group of Former Ambassadors to Korea" and I became the chief representative of the group. Our group has been hosting several friendly events with Korean Embassy and Korean Friends and we are usually invited and taking part in the events hosted by Korean ambassadors or Korean Community and Korcham in Hanoi.
Besides the relations and activities with Korea, I am still active in many fields.
For example, chairman of the association for liaison with overseas Vietnamese and vice president of the Vietnam- Japan Friendship Association.
With my activities and experiences in many fields, from 2004, I became a member of the Presidium and vice chairman of the consultative council for foreign relations and overseas Vietnamese of the Central Committee of the Fatherland Front, the largest politic - social organization in Vietnam.
I hope we will have chances to meet with each other and share the wonderful memories as well as many expectations for our two countries in the future.
I wish you a good health, happiness and many achievements!
With the best regards,
Amb. Nguyen Phu Binh