by Pino Cazzaniga

Fukuda’s government moves in accordance with its Vietnamese counterpart. After decades of enmity, the two nations begin a mutually advantageous journey, above and beyond economic interests.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The Japanese government has decided to accept over one thousand Vietnamese students to help them obtain doctorates from Japanese Universities in a project that will span over 23 years. The two nations are due t conclude the deal by the end of March, during a visit by Vietnamese deputy prime minister Nguyen Nhan, who is also minister for education.

The cost of the project amounts to over 20 million Yen and will be funded by the ODA (Official Assistance for the Development). The diplomatic significance of the initiative is such; it leads to the conclusion that we are witnessing a historic turning point in relations between Japan and East Asian nations. Not so long ago Asians accused Japan of deliberately abandoning the family of Asian nations in preference of links with the West. Even Japanese financial aid that allowed many Asian neighbours including China and South Korea, to restart their economies were seen as “check diplomacy” pursued out of pure interest or because of a sense of guilt.

The “doctorate to Vietnamese students” project instead, was discussed and examiner by both governments. The Japanese financial support is just one element. In other words, the two governments are strategic partners. The expression has been taken from economics and applied to diplomacy, indicating that the two governments despite their diverse political systems are acting as allies in an agreed sector.

In our case it is as if an ideological and political wall has collapsed: the two nations after decades of enmity have embarked on a journey of mutual advantage that goes well beyond economic interest. For years now Japan, through massive amounts of financial and technical aid, has been trying to breach the communications gap between the two nations, which the Vietnam War had opened given Japans close relations with the United States. But the rigid communism in power in Vietnam at the time blocked an efficient economic rebirth. The situation started to change in 1986, when the Vietnamese government approved the so-called Doi Moi reform (“renewal”), permitting and then encouraging the birth and development of businesses and a free market. Despite this the brain drain, during and after the war had deprived the country of the Human resources needed to realise the reform.

Paradoxically a similar phenomenon is taking place in Japan: there is a scarcity of candidates for doctorates in the Japanese universities, as a consequence of both the zero birth rate, and the big company’s reticence in accepting “big brains” for fear they destabilise group harmony. Thus many talented students establish themselves abroad before or after their degree,

This is the context in which the project offering scholarships to Vietnamese students was born.

For Japan’s part the protagonist is the Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda: friendship with Asian nations is a priority for his diplomatic programme.

The Japanese government has already aided over 3000 students from south East Asia, but this is the first time that a doctorate programme of scholarships is agreed upon with a single government. Vietnam, which realised an economic growth of 8.7% in 2007, cannot further develop its’ economy because of the lack of highly qualified professionals. This is why Nhan formulated a program which will allow 20 thousand young people obtain a doctorate by 2020. He hopes that half of the chosen candidates will be able to study in Japan, the United States and Europe.

The hopes of the Vietnamese deputy prime minister found immediate support in the Japanese government. Kazuto Tsukamoto, an analyst from the daily newspaper Asahi, writes: “Thus Japan hopes to deepen bilateral relations offering the chance of higher education to young Vietnamese of talent, who in turn will contribute to the advancement of Japanese society”.

For its part, Vietnam expects these students specialise in subjects of use for the further development of the country such as information technology, mechanical engineering, agriculture and medicine.