By Van Khuong – Translated by Anh Quan
At 6 a.m. Friday, the 15th day of the first lunar month, Ly A Ton, 62, woke early to prepare offerings, including fresh flowers, fruit, incense, boiled chicken and fried cakes ( jian dui ) in front of his house on Tran Hung Dao Street in District 5.
Instead of flocking to a Chinese-built pagoda with his offerings and burning incense to the gods as in previous years, Ton stayed home and set up a table to worship the deities for fear of gathering in crowds amid the new Covid-19 outbreak that began in the country in late January.
He then hung red pieces of paper bearing Chinese characters on his walls to pray for peace and good fortune.
“This is the most important ritual during Tet Nguyen Tieu ,” he said, referring to the Lantern Festival, known as the biggest and most important festival of the year for ethnic Chinese, marking the final day of the traditional Lunar New Year ( Tet ) celebration.
It is observed on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the first Full Moon day of the Lunar New Year.
” Tet Nguyen Tieu to us is even more important than Lunar New Year’s Eve and Chinese like us always light incense to deities at pagodas and temples to pray for the removal of bad luck and a year of peace and happiness,” Ton noted.
“But the Covid-19 outbreak forced us to celebrate on a smaller scale this year. I am old and scared of contracting the virus or spreading it to my family members. Therefore, I limit going out and gathering in crowds.”
He also had to cancel a reunion party with his relatives and could not visit his friends during the festival, which is an occasion for reunited families to eat dumplings and floating rice cakes made of glutinous rice flour wrapped around a sweet filling.
Inside the 250-year-old Lady Thien Hau Temple, which is dedicated to worship the Goddess of the Sea, the devout convey their prayers by lighting spiral incense sticks that can burn for weeks. Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh.
Ton is one of thousands of ethnic Chinese in Saigon who have been forced to scrap their plans during their biggest traditional spring festival, normally accompanied with dragon dances, street parades, music performances and large crowds.
The city suspended all non-essential services, shutting down bars, karaoke parlors, cinemas and discotheques, and banned religious events since Feb. 9 after recording a series of community transmissions linked to a cluster at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
Though city authorities allowed the organization of religious events from March 1, gatherings of more than 50 people at a time remain prohibited.
This was the second consecutive year the festival has been suspended due to the pandemic. The Chinatown area on Friday saw no dragon dances and street parades to avoid large crowds.
Without dragon dances, the festival was no longer as busy nor as meaningful as before, A Tieu, a 55-year-old merchant at Soai Kinh Lam Market, said while preparing to up his shutters for a new business day.
Dragon dance is performed by famous troupes in the Chinatown during Tet Nguyen Tieu , 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.
The Chinese community strongly believes these dances would dispel evil and bring luck and success. For this, every family invites a lion dance troupe to visit their homes and business establishments on the first days of the New Year, giving them an envelope of lucky money.
Ly Sy Cuong, a caretaker at Nghia An Assembly Hall where Quan Cong (Guan Yu), an ancient Chinese general, is worshiped for his loyalty, sincerity and integrity, said the number of pilgrims on Friday fell sharply as dragon dances and hat tuong , Vietnamese-Chinese opera, were canceled.
Ethnic Chinese have a long tradition to queue up and crawl under the Chinese general horse called Red Hare once or thrice hoping for a smooth start to the new year.
Vietnam has recorded 837 Covid-19 community transmissions in 13 localities, including Hanoi and HCMC, since Jan. 28 after a 55-day clean streak. Many major spring festivals have been suspended due to travel restrictions, lockdowns and quarantine requirements.
Ethnic Chinese, locally referred to as Hoa people, arrived in the south of Vietnam over 300 years ago, with many cultural traditions and long-standing customs kept alive until now.
For Ton, his best wish during Tet Nguyen Tieu is that all people would be safe amid the pandemic and Chinese Vietnamese businesses would fare better this year.
Hanoi (VNA) – More than 30 consultants and social workers, on February 26, began a three-day Australian-funded course that helps them improve their work toward abused women and children during the current time of pandemic.
Sponsored by the Australia n Government, the course is co-organised by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and Vietnam’s Centre for Women and Development (CWD) as part of a project on emergency response to violence against women and children amid COVID-19 .
Participants are currently working at the CWD in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, as well as hospitals and social centres in the two cities.
During the training session, they will be provided with knowledge and skills to identify symptoms of stress and types of psychological trauma as well as practice some first aid and psychological care methods.
Statistics showed that, in the context of the pandemic, the rate of violence against women and children in Vietnam and in the world has increased by between 30 and 300 percent.
Nguyen Thi Thu Hoai, a social worker at CWD, said amid surging number of calls to a CWD hotline for abused women and children in conjunction with the pandemic happening, knowledge from the course will help her better approach and support the victims to soon ease their trauma./.
|Established in 1831, Generali is present in 50 countries around the world with total premium income of more than €69.7 billion ($85.2 billion) in 2019|
To mark this occasion and leave a tangible and lasting recognition of the bond between the company and the regions where it was born and has prospered, Generali announces Fenice 190, a €3.5 billion ($4.2 billion) investment plan to support the recovery of the European economies impacted by COVID-19, starting in Italy, France, and Germany and to then targeting all European countries in which Generali operates throughout the five years of the plan.
Fenice 190 will make the extraordinary initiatives launched in 2020 to tackle the effects of the pandemic permanent, which included investments in support of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the real economy already surpassing the established objective of €1 billion ($1.2 billion).
|The more than 70,000 employees of Generali will play a leading role in celebrating the milestone of 190 years of the group’s history.|
To add to this initial amount, Generali is pledging an annual commitment of €500 million ($611 million) per year, over the next five years, for sustainable growth through international investment funds focusing on infrastructure, innovation, and digitalisation, SMEs, green housing, healthcare facilities, and education.
“Generali is one of the few companies in the world that can boast such a long history. It possesses an extraordinary wealth of knowledge and experience, thanks to which the group is able to face the challenges of today while contributing to a better future for the communities in which it operates, both as an insurer and a social innovator,” said Philippe Donnet, CEO of Generali Group.
“The 190 th anniversary falls in a decisive year in which we must overcome the most serious global crisis of the post-war era and lay down the foundations for a wide-scale global recovery. With Fenice 190, we want to be a leader in this journey, leaving a concrete legacy for the future, with significant support for the most innovative, sustainable, and strategic sectors for the restart of the European economy, while at the same time encouraging the inclusion of those most heavily impacted by the crisis.”
The Fenice 190 plan is implemented through the Generali Investments multi-boutique platform and is open to third-party funds and institutional investors as well as all companies of the group, that can participate in investment allocation based on their own objectives.
The selection of initiatives is guided by an investment committee of the Asset & Wealth Management Business Unit, led by CEO Carlo Trabattoni, with experts in real assets, sustainability, private markets, credit, and equity. The CEO of Generali Real Estate, Aldo Mazzocco, is in charge of the committee which uses an approach based on compliance with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the specific objective to generate a positive impact on the economic recovery and the real economy in Europe.
To date, 10 investment opportunities have already been identified for a multifaceted commitment of €1.05 billion ($1.28 billion), ranging from support to European SMEs, green housing, and infrastructure with a particular focus on digital, health, and energy transition that share a strong focus on environmental and social sustainability.
Continuing with the tradition of exploring contemporary issues through the language of advertising posters, Generali will give five young Italian and international artists the task of interpreting five key areas for the group with the “This is Tomorrow” project, creating posters capable of representing reality in a new way.
The more than 70,000 employees of the group will also play a leading role in celebrating the milestone of 190 years of history. Through a global initiative they will be asked to tell their personal “story” of Generali on a dedicated platform, combining personal experience with the company’s rich heritage.
The contest will select the best stories, identifying 190 Lions who will be able to actively participate in Generali’s 190 th anniversary initiatives.
On the group’s institutional website, generali.com , a new section dedicated to the anniversary will display the main initiatives as well as a series of editorial content related to the history of Generali.
The candidate vaccine is being developed by the MoH’s Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC).
Speaking at the handover ceremony, Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long spoke highly of the support of enterprises, organizations and individuals for Vietnam’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first “Made-in-Vietnam” ventilators were produced under the collaboration of the ministry and Vingroup, he noted, adding that the machines have been provided to localities nationwide.
Vietnamese scientists have regarded vaccine development as the key factor to contain the pandemic, and the MoH has spared no efforts in the research for vaccine in order to be able to produce the vaccine as soon as possible.
The COVIVAC vaccine project has been rolled out since May 2020.
Results of pre-clinical trials affirmed its safety and efficiency, and the IVAC has been able to produce three batches of vaccine consisting between 50,000 and 10,000 doses each.
Clinical trials of the vaccines are projected to start this March and complete by October, said IVAC Director Dr Duong Huu Thai.
A dose may cost no higher than 60,000 VND and the vaccine is effective against emerging coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 variants originated from the UK and South Africa, he affirmed.
Meanwhile, the third domestic candidate vaccine VABIOTECH developed by the Company for Vaccine and Biological Production No 1, is also set to enter clinical trials in the coming time.
|Projects such as Bunge’s agribusiness are expected to increase in number through stronger US ties. Photo: Le Toan|
In his first few days in office five years ago, President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was a pillar of the Barack Obama administration’s pivot towards Asia. The remaining 11 member states have since reframed the agreement as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and President Joe Biden’s commitment to rebuilding relations with allies has sparked speculation about the US returning to the fold.
Fitch Solutions under global ratings firm Fitch Group told VIR in a statement that Vietnamese trade would receive a surefire boost should new Biden decide to rejoin the CPTPP.
“Biden stated in 2019 that the US should renegotiate parts of the CPTPP and re-assemble a coalition to counterbalance China’s perceived expansionist policies. The Trump administration withdrew from the original deal in 2017 under the pretext that it would harm US workers. A scenario where the US rejoins the CPTPP would deliver substantial tailwinds to Vietnamese exports to the US from lower tariffs in major export categories,” Fitch said.
In fact, the CPTPP may offer great windfalls to the US. Statistics from law firm Duane Morris Vietnam LLC showed that the population of the CPTPP countries exceeded 513 million people as of October 2020. The CPTPP countries account for nearly 45 per cent of US total exports and 37.6 per cent of US general imports in 2014. By cutting over 18,000 taxes in regards to CPTPP, there would be a great benefit for American importers and exporters by enabling them to enter new markets.
As the United States International Trade Commission estimates, the US exports of goods and services to the world would expand by $27.2 billion by 2032 thanks to the CPTPP, while US imports would expand by $48.9 billion.
Oliver Massmann, general director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC, pointed out various benefits for the US if it rejoins the CPTPP. He took public procurement as an example. “Dropping the CPTPP means that the US has lost access to government procurement of other CPTPP countries, which amounts to $1.47 trillion,” he said in a letter recently sent to President Biden.
Massmann cited the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook database in October 2019 as stating that in Vietnam, government procurement’s percentage of GDP in 2019 was 12 per cent or $40.87 billion.
The great advance of the CPTPP will be that even Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, which have not agreed to coverage of their government procurement before and are currently not covered by an existing US free trade agreement or government procurement agreement of the World Trade Organization, have undertaken to do so.
“This is a key export opportunity for US goods producers and services companies. Currently Chinese companies profit the most. About 90 per cent of power, mining, manufacturing, ferrous, and chemical projects of state-owned companies in Vietnam are awarded to Chinese contractors,” Massmann noted.
Early this month, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh held phone talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Both sides agreed bilateral ties have advanced across fields over the past 25 years, and pledged to cooperate in deepening ties “in a more comprehensive manner, with a focus on economy-trade-investment, overcoming war consequences, enhancing maritime capacity, fighting COVID-19, and adapting to climate change.”
It is expected that in 2021, there will be more connections and talks between both nations’ high-level leaders, investors, and enterprises.
Adam Sitkoff, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi (AmCham) told VIR that he expected US-Vietnam trade and investment cooperation to further flourish thanks to several reasons including the US new administration’s positive stance towards both nations’ bilateral ties.
“As major investors here, American companies have an interest in Vietnam’s continued success. It is a new year and we welcome the incoming leaders in both countries,” Sitkoff said. “American investors are optimistic about business prospects in Vietnam and we support efforts to create a modern economy that will attract future investment and high-paying jobs for Vietnamese people. We will continue to work on lowering barriers to trade, to help the Vietnamese government make it easier to do business, and to create a high-standard, transparent, and stable business environment to ensure that all investors have fair access to that opportunity.”
Statistics from Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment showed that as of January 20, US investors registered over $9.51 billion in Vietnam for more than 1,000 valid projects, making the US the 11th-largest foreign investor in the Southeast Asian nation. In January alone, the US ranked fourth in investment in Vietnam, with total newly-registered capital of $122.2 million.
Currently many US firms are exploring opportunities in Vietnam, such as Morgan Stanley, ACORN International, General Dynamics, Nue Capital LLC, BlackRock’s Asian Credit, Lockheed Martin International, Smart City Works, Google, Columbia University, and USTelecom.
Fitch Solutions believed that the incoming Biden administration will have largely positive implications for Vietnam.
“The impact on Vietnam’s trade growth should be positive, given that Biden will take a more pragmatic approach towards Vietnam’s growing trade surplus with the US, which means a lower risk of punitive trade tariffs than under Trump’s currency policies,” the Fitch Solutions statement read.
“Trump-era trade tariffs on Chinese exports and rising geopolitical tensions between China and the West have also set in motion a relocation of manufacturing to Vietnam, which is likely to continue. Should the US decide to join the CPTPP in the coming years, Vietnam would also benefit from accelerated trade expansion with the US.”
Fitch Solutions further explained that Biden is likely to take a more pragmatic view towards trade developments with its economic partners.
“In particular, we believe that the Biden administration will come to understand that Vietnam’s trade surplus with the US will grow as more manufacturers relocate to the Southeast Asian nation due to the ongoing US-China trade war. Furthermore, while there is bipartisan support in the US for a hardline stance on trade with China, we believe that a desire by the Biden administration to rebuild its relations with its allies would see an easing of the trade tensions with allied countries generated by the Trump administration. Therefore, we believe that the Biden administration will entail lower risk of further US tariffs on Vietnamese exports.”
In 2020, total export-import turnover between Vietnam and the US was $90.1 billion, up from $76 billion in 2019.
Hurdles need removing
Sitkoff from AmCham in Hanoi told VIR that though Vietnam and the US have many common foundations to further cement their trade and investment ties, he hoped Vietnam’s government will take more drastic action to remove obstacles currently facing investors.
“It is critical that US companies and investors here in Vietnam encounter an equal, level, and predictable playing field as a solid foundation, not only to attract new investment, but also to maintain and grow the investment that is already here,” Sitkoff said.
“In addition, we recommend that foreign investment limitations, an overly restrictive legal framework, and burdensome administrative procedures should be carefully reviewed and selectively relaxed to encourage increased US investment,” he suggested. “In our view, by opening its market to more US goods and services, Vietnam can help to rectify the growing trade imbalance between the two countries in a manner that benefits both countries.”
According to AmCham, one of the biggest hurdles for foreign firms including US ones in Vietnam is the tax system.
“While Vietnam’s corporate income tax rate of 20 per cent is competitive, data shows that filing and paying taxes in the country is still too high a burden compared to neighbouring countries. Too many companies are also suffering from what seems to be unfair and non-transparent reassessments with penalties and interest,” said an AmCham statement recently sent to the government. “We hope to see real progress on advanced pricing agreements which create the stability and predictability necessary for integrating into global supply chains.”
By Thanh Dat