France seeks new foothold in Indo-China

THE FRENCH tricolour fluttered once again over Hanoi yesterday as President Francois Mitterrand arrived in Vietnam for the first visit by a Western head of state since the Communist victory in 1975. His four-day trip to the former French colonies of Vietnam and Cambodia is seen not only as a sign of their rehabilitation in the post-Cold War era, but as an attempt to regain Gallic influence in Indo-China.

The past extent of that influence was shown as Mr Mitterrand was greeted by President Le Duc Anh and the Prime Minister, Vo Van Kiet, at the presidential palace in Hanoi, built in colonial style at the turn of the century for the French governors of Indo-China. A military band played the Marseillaise and the Vietnamese national anthem before the leaders went inside for talks.

The Vietnamese had to fight the United States and France for independence, but hold the latter in more affection. Older people in all three Indo-Chinese nations - Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam - retain their respect for the French language and culture. Most of their leaders formed their ideas in France as workers or students, from the father of Vietnam's revolution, Ho Chi Minh, to Cambodia's murderous Pol Pot. Whether this will give France an advantage as Indo-China opens up for business remains to be seen.

Despite more recent and more bitter memories of the US presence in the region, the lifting of Washington's embargo is seen as the key to Vietnam's future prosperity, because it would open the way for lending by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral institutions. France, the third largest aid donor to Vietnam after Japan and Sweden, is helping Hanoi to clear its arrears with the IMF, and has led calls for the embargo to be ended.

Hanoi undoubtedly hopes Mr Mitterrand's visit will add impetus to the campaign, but French businessmen see the trip as a chance to establish a foothold in Vietnam before they face US competition: yesterday the electronics firm Thomson-CSF said it had been selected to supply and install a new air traffic control system at Ho Chi Minh City's airport.

In Cambodia tomorrow, President Mitterrand will meet the former ruler, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who also welcomed Charles de Gaulle to Phnom Penh in 1966. France is the main advocate of a presidential election, which the Prince would almost certainly win, although such a poll is not envisaged in the United Nations peace plan for the country.

France is seeking to use its leading role in the UN process, and its status as a former colonial power, to re-establish itself in Cambodia. It has insisted, for example, that French should have equal status with English in the workings of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, and has set up relay stations to broadcast French radio and television on local channels. The Alliance Francaise in Phnom Penh has been reopened, and a new bakery ensures that croissants are widely available. A Paris bus even plies the streets of the Cambodian capital.

Most of the wine on sale, however, is Australian, and the realities of South-east Asia's geographical position and cultural priorities keep breaking through in other ways. Younger Cambodians overwhelmingly choose to learn English, and Street 184 in Phnom Penh is where they go. The open-air language schools which line its verges have led to it being nicknamed 'English Street', and posters advertising new supplies of English primers have been plastered on the walls surrounding French colonial villas.

'French policy towards Cambodia is in many ways anachronistic and sentimental,' one diplomat told Reuters news agency. 'They do seem to see their language and culture as a way to revive French influence. I think it is an uphill battle, as no one wants to learn French. It's no good for international business in this region, and Cambodians can't afford the luxury of culture at the moment.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future