Hanoi has a rich and intertwined history with France, serving as a hub for cultural exchange and collaboration from the past to the present. Today, the city is taking a leading role in shaping the future of Vietnam-France relations by spearheading initiatives to strengthen local ties.
In 1989, Hanoi and the Ile-de-France Region established a partnership, laying the foundation for the cooperation between Vietnam and France at the local level through the Vietnam-France Decentralization Conference. The first conference was held in Lille, France in 1996.
Over the past three decades, this collaboration has been consistently strengthened and expanded, becoming a model of friendship, tradition, and cooperation between localities in both countries.
Currently, over 30 French localities and 20 Vietnamese provinces and cities participate in cooperative relations under this mechanism through 240 projects, centered around areas that address the needs of Vietnamese communities and utilize the strengths of France, such as culture, language, tourism, conservation of heritage museums, water and environmental sanitation, urban planning, education, research, vocational training, healthcare, sustainable development, environment, agriculture, and rural development.
The cooperation between the localities of Vietnam and France is considered one of the most successful international partnerships at the local level between the two countries, both in terms of the number of partners involved and the level of financial commitment and scope of cooperation.
This initiative is facilitated through regular conferences every three years, providing opportunities for localities from both countries to meet and discuss mutual concerns and promote collaboration in various fields. Several Vietnamese cities have hosted past conferences, including Hue for the 6th conference, Haiphong for the 8th, and Cantho for the 10th. The most recent conference, the 11th, took place in Toulouse, France where the then National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and First Vice President of the French Senate Philippe Dallier, delivered speeches.
This year, the 12th Vietnam-France Decentralization Conference returned to Hanoi from April 14-16, which has a special significance as it coincides with the celebration of two important anniversaries, the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and France (1973 - 2023) and the 10th anniversary of the establishment of strategic relations between the two countries (2013-2023).
Under the theme "Local Cooperation: The Dynamics of Comprehensive Recovery and Sustainable Development after the Covid-19 Pandemic", the conference touches on measures and visions to strengthen cooperation at the local level and share experiences in responding to, coping with, and recovering from health and economic crises caused by the pandemic.
In his opening speech at the conference on April 14, Dinh Tien Dung, Secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee, noted Vietnam-France relations had experienced ups and downs but had finally overcome critical turning points to become close companions and trust each other.
“Local cooperation between the two countries has become a remarkable feature, with France being the only country where Vietnam has a mechanism of regular and rotating inter-local cooperation conferences,” Dung said.
Hanoi is proud to be a pioneer city, initiating the local cooperation mechanism between Vietnam and France from the beginning of the country's doi moi (renewal) in 1986, Dung said.
The cooperation projects include restoring architectural works in the Old Quarter, bilingual classrooms, walking streets, flower gardens, green bus stops, waste treatment, and air pollution control.
The Secretary of the City Party Committee emphasized that the sustainability and cohesion of the cooperation relationship between the localities of Vietnam and France have been created through everyday projects that address the specific needs of the people and the community and developed based on solidarity and volunteerism of the people of the two countries.
Sharing Dung’s view, President of the French Senate Gerard Larcher emphasized that active people-to-people exchanges and local cooperation have become a strong foundation for Vietnam and France relations. Over time, the two countries, both at the national and local levels, have undertaken numerous specific projects ranging from heritage conservation to public transport construction.
Against this backdrop, the 12th Vietnam-France Cooperation Conference reaffirmed the pivotal role of localities in successful cooperation between the two countries.
Localities play a crucial role in coordinating the implementation of new directions and strategies, which was highlighted during the conference. The event also showcases the rich cooperation mechanisms and the spirit of innovation in the friendly atmosphere which are typical of the bilateral relations between Vietnam and France,” Larcher.
To this day, the French architectural influence remains visible throughout Hanoi and is an integral part of the capital’s urban fabric. Prominent examples range from the city’s iconic landmarks, such as the Hanoi Opera House and Presidential Palace, to smaller structures, such as villas, schools, or administrative buildings that feature neoclassical architectural elements of grand facades, decorative moldings, and wrought iron balconies.
Hanoi also bears the marks of French urban planning techniques, especially in the Old Quarter with wide, tree-lined boulevards, large-scale buildings in neoclassical and French Renaissance architectural styles, and an organized grid pattern of streets.
Beyond the architectural style, French language, cuisine, art, and literature have also been integrated into Hanoi’s cultural and artistic scene, leading to the emergence of a unique Vietnamese cultural identity with a blend of traditional Vietnamese elements and French influence.
This contributes to Hanoi’s rich cultural heritage, making it a unique and vibrant city. As such, cooperation on heritage preservation comes naturally as the first of many in the Vietnam-France relations, as highlighted by the Director of the Hanoi Department of Culture and Sports, Do Dinh Hong, during the conference.
For example, the Ile-de-France region helped develop the management plan for the Thang Long Imperial Citadel to apply for UNESCO World Heritage status and sent experts to train staff at the Thang Long-Ha Noi Heritage Conservation Center, and the Management Board of Duong Lam Ancient Village.
In 2016, the Ile-de-France region assisted the Temple of Literature in assessing its activities and developing a master plan for the relic. The region also participated in a consultation on the display of the Hanoi Museum. It supported the Hoan Kiem District People's Committee in implementing the project "Public space planning and ecological green space management experiment in Hoan Kiem District," which includes the embellishment and renovation of Dien Hong Park (Toad Flower Garden) and the renovation of Villa No. 49 Tran Hung Dao into a cultural exchange center for tourism development.
Toulouse and Hanoi have been cooperating since 1996 in conserving, embellishing, and promoting heritage values. Many important projects have been completed, such as the renovation of traditional houses and buildings and the beautification of streets.
With the support of various French organizations, the cooperation has expanded to other fields towards sustainable development and cultural exchange.
Since 2017, French experts have supported several activities to preserve and promote heritage in Hanoi. These include assistance in designing the identity for the Hanoi Museum, Hoa Lo Prison relics, and the Temple of Literature, as well as art and cultural exchange programs between French and Vietnamese artists in Hanoi.
Experts in museology, architecture, and design have also provided regular consultations on display content for the Hanoi Museum. Archives in France have helped to complete the necessary procedures for the use of copyrighted materials for the exhibition at Hoa Lo Prison ruins, the Temple of Literature, and the Hanoi Museum. In October 2019, Hanoi joined UNESCO's Network of Creative Cities in Design, with several French cities in the Network actively sharing their experiences and supporting Hanoi in implementing its design initiatives and commitments.
Hong expressed his desire for continued support from the French side in conserving and promoting heritage values through projects such as the Hanoi Museum, Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison, and cultural creative spaces in Hanoi. He hopes the French side will provide the necessary documents and assist in copyright exploitation and related procedures to ensure diverse and attractive exhibition content and activities for visitors.
In response, Jean-Claude Dardelet, Deputy Mayor of Toulouse and Vice Chairman of Toulouse Urban Community reaffirmed his commitment to accompany Hanoi in the heritage preservation and promotion field. He believes that despite the distance in time, historical sites can bring countries closer together by sharing experiences and ideas in preserving and promoting heritage values towards sustainable tourism for the benefit of the people.
Dardelet stressed that Vietnam and France share the same perspective and ambition in preserving and promoting heritage values, developing sustainable tourism, and using heritage as cultural industry resources to enhance people's living standards and economic development.
The localities of both countries share a common goal of integrating urban planning with the preservation of green spaces, prioritizing the harmonious combination of urban development and environmental quality in their planning efforts, as highlighted by Beaudet Stephane, Vice President of the Ile-de-France Region.
Stephane recognized the close relationship between expanding green spaces and preserving heritage and culture in urban areas of Vietnam, particularly Hanoi, as a means of improving the quality of life for its people. For the time being, the French side has been assisting Hanoi in measuring air quality and welcomed the creation of pedestrian streets around Hoan Kiem Lake as a model for the surrounding area. Hanoi and Ile-de-France also collaborated on a project to renovate the Dien Hong Park or Vuon hoa Con Coc (Toad Flower Garden), as both cities strive to replicate natural spaces in the urban environment.
Similarly, Duong Duc Tuan, Vice Chairman of the Hanoi People's Committee, acknowledged that Hanoi's urban cooperation programs had been implemented at various levels and in diverse forms to address the challenges of urbanization while ensuring harmony between modern values and traditions, environmental protection, economic development, and the integration and preservation of culture to create a more livable city.
By the end of 2022, Vietnam had 88 urban centers estimated to contribute 70% of the country's GDP. However, urban development in the country faces challenges such as limited urban infrastructure, transportation, and healthcare, which were further highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As the cultural, economic, and political center of the country with a population of around 8.5 million people, Hanoi faces challenges such as traffic congestion and complex workloads that require strategic and synchronized urban planning and development,” Tuan said.
To tackle these challenges, Hanoi recognizes the importance of international cooperation with countries that have extensive experience in urban development, such as the Ile de France Region and other French localities known for their world-leading public transport systems, Tuan emphasized the significance of such collaborations.
Tran Quoc Thai, Director of the Department of Urban Development under the Ministry of Construction, shared the experience of major cities in Vietnam's development process, predicting that the trend of new urban development will continue until 2030, potentially adding 10 million people to urban areas. He further highlighted the importance of sustainable urban management in the face of this scenario, as the development of cities directly impacts the country's overall sustainable development.
As stated in the joint declaration of the 12th Vietnam-France Decentralization Conference, the vibrant collaboration between Vietnam and France at the local level serves as a powerful catalyst for sustainable, inclusive socio-economic and cultural development in both countries.
With the participation of 50 Vietnamese localities and 12 French localities, along with numerous public and private organizations from both sides, localities from the two countries focused on ongoing partnerships that address each party's needs, potential, and strengths.
The conference highlighted the significance of environmental issues, water treatment, urban planning and management, sustainable cities, heritage preservation, promotion, culture, tourism, smart cities, and digitalization as areas where Vietnam and France have the expertise and can share experiences.
“Cooperation at the local level is essential for achieving the sustainable development goals under the 2030 Agenda,” the declaration said.
In his closing speech, Chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee Tran Sy Thanh noted that certain areas discussed at the conference had been revisited with a fresh approach, taking into account the changing landscape of Vietnam, France, and the world. This approach aims to find "win-win" solutions while upholding the spirit of solidarity, the foundation of the Vietnam-France local cooperation mechanism.
“It acknowledges the need for renovation while remaining true to the core principles that led to the establishment and growth of this cooperation mechanism,” Thanh said.
Thanh emphasized that the conference's success was further enhanced by the vibrant and festive atmosphere created by the "Colors of Vietnam" and Vietnam’s largest French food festival-Balade en France, or Walk in France.
These events promoted economic, cultural, culinary, and tourism exchanges and fostered warmth, friendship, sincerity, and mutual understanding between Vietnam and France. They have laid a solid foundation for the strategic partnership between the two countries.
The 12th Vietnam-France Decentralization Conference also included activities such as the heritage and monument conservation survey in Hanoi, which resulted from the collaboration between Hanoi and the localities of Toulouse and Ile de France.
“No doubt these activities will leave an indelible mark among the series of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations and the 10th anniversary of the Vietnam-France Strategic Partnership,” Thanh concluded.