Ambassador Nguyen Hong Thach: Any individual can serve as a cultural ambassador

Thursday, 2020-03-05 16:57:31
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Former Vietnamese Ambassador to Iran, Syria and Iraq, Nguyen Hong Thach (eighth from left) and artists from the National Puppetry Theatre at a water puppetry show hosted by the Embassy in Iran in 2017 (Photo credit: Nguyen Hong Thach)
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NDO – Previously serving as Vietnamese Ambassador to Iran, Syria and Iraq, and now working as the Editor-in-chief of the Foreign Affairs Magazine under the Party Committee’s Commission for External Relations, Ambassador Nguyen Hong Thach has hosted many practical cultural diplomacy activities.

From his working experience, the diplomat has asserted that cultural diplomacy can be promoted through the activities of every single individual. Thach granted an interview to the Nhan Dan (People) Monthly Newspaper to talk further on his views about cultural diplomacy and how its acceleration in order to raise the country’s image in the eyes of international friends.

Question: As a veteran diplomat, can you tell us about how Vietnamese citizens can do to serve as cultural ambassadors promoting their homeland to international friends during their time visiting foreign countries?

Answer: People in many foreign countries look at tourist behaviour to evaluate the position and culture of the visitors’ home country. Therefore, when Vietnamese people travel to another land outside the country’s borders, the way they behave can transmit a good or bad impression the individuals and their homeland in general to the residents of the host country.

While being abroad, every individual can naturally act as a cultural ambassador without notice. Therefore, during their time abroad, a well-educated man should show his confidence and respect the laws and customs of the host country.

Based on my observations, I would say that the integration of today’s Vietnamese youth into the world is higher than their predecessors. They are equipped with better foreign language skills and improved knowledge; however, they should develop more soft and communication skills.

For such a long time, Vietnam has often been introduced at international events through its traditional costumes of Ao Dai (Vietnamese traditional long dress) and conical hats, its signature dishes of ‘nem’ (spring roll) and ‘pho’, and its folklore arts such as monochord playing and water puppetry performances. Do you think that this is a limitation in terms of cultural diplomacy as Vietnam has more to offer foreigners?

I agree with this viewpoint. It is true that if foreigners might get bored if we continue to overuse images of Ao Dai, conical hats, spring rolls and ‘pho’, and they perhaps might see Vietnam as a poor and backward agricultural country whilst our country has in fact achieved remarkable socio-economic gains thus far over the 30 years of the Doi Moi (Renewal) process. The country has also seen dynamic and upbeat development in the arts.

It is time for us to reach out to the world through chamber music, ballet, fashion, cinematography, sports and contemporary festivals in the same way as many other countries have done in order to attract international friends.


At a water puppetry show hosted by the Vietnamese Embassy in Iran in 2017 (Photo credit: Nguyen Hong Thach)

Can you share us some of your unforgettable memories while implementing cultural diplomacy during your working tenure at the Vietnamese Embassy in Iran, Syria and Iraq?

As we implemented so many cultural diplomacy activities, I have many memories regarding this. I recall an occasion when the embassy invited a Vietnamese quartet to perform in Iran. As we had mentioned above, we often promote Vietnam’s folk musical forms, such as Nha Nhac (Hue royal court music) and monochord, rather than classical music. Notably, two members of the quartet were female, and seldom do female artists perform in Iran as it is an Islamic country.

We also invited Vietnamese water puppetry performers to stage a show at a big arts palace in Iran. The show was fully booked and received enthusiastic applause from the local audience, which made the artists very excited.

These art exchange events have helped Vietnamese artists to gain more experience and explore the tastes of foreign audiences, thereby diversifying their repertoire to make their performances more attractive to viewers.

Do you think that a joint effort of individuals, organisations, businesses and local authorities is needed to promote the work of cultural diplomacy right here in Vietnam?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the Department of Cultural Diplomacy and UNESCO, whose operation has been highly appreciated.

There are many events, activities and other avenues which are effective in promoting cultural diplomacy. For example, when an internationally funded film which is set in Vietnam is broadcast worldwide, it contributes the promotion of the beautiful landscape, customs, and colourful life of our country.

We should not define cultural diplomacy in a closed manner. It can be carried out by every single individual, organisation, sector and local authority. If these actors closely coordinate, we can together boost cultural diplomacy and increase Vietnam’s cultural power in the international arena.

What do you think about the role of social network in deploying cultural diplomacy?

My colleagues and I have joined social networks, which I think are a more effective way for advertisement than traditional communication channels. Social networks can be utilised to raise the image of a user, an organisation, and a country in general, thereby inspiring national pride amongst the community.

Thank you so much for your sharing!