Tue, Nov 21, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Putin discusses business during Vietnam state visit

AP , HANOI

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Monument to Perished Heroes in Hanoi yesterday. Putin held talks with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet that stressed energy cooperation.

PHOTO: AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin got down to business yesterday as he held talks at Hanoi's Presidential Palace during a state visit that was meant to fortify economic and political ties between the two Cold War allies.

In his first visit to Vietnam in just over five years, Putin held meetings with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet and other top officials yesterday following the end of a weekend summit of Pacific Rim leaders.

Following customary protocol, Putin laid wreaths at Vietnam's memorial to fallen heroes and at the mausoleum of national hero Ho Chi Minh before proceeding to the mustard-yellow palace for official meetings.

In an officially organized welcome, Putin's motorcade was greeted by cheering crowds of Vietnamese, clad in colorful traditional ao dai (tunics) and waving Vietnamese and Russian flags.

The former Soviet Union pumped billions of US dollars into the Vietnamese economy in the 1960s and '70s, building factories and power plants. Those ties unraveled in the economic fallout after the Soviet Union collapsed, and Russia closed its military base in the country in 2000.

The two nations have seen steadily warming ties following a visit by Putin in 2001. Along with trade and economic relations, the two countries have also expanded diplomatic and military ties -- last year, four Russian warships docked in the central city of Danang during a six-day port call.

Russia's economy is now growing at about 7 percent on average per year, and its state banks are ready to fund projects overseas. Russian companies are investing in the areas of finance, oil and gas, hydro and nuclear power plants, equipment manufacturing and satellites.

On Sunday, Putin presided over the launch of a Russian-Vietnamese joint venture bank, the Vietnam-Russia Bank, the only joint venture bank to be licensed in this country in the past decade.

The state-owned Bank for Investment & Development of Vietnam, the country's third-biggest commercial bank, holds 51 percent of the venture and Vneshtorgbank, Russia's second-largest bank holds 49 percent.

The US$10 million venture is meant to facilitate surging trade ties between the two countries.

Russia ranks 20th among foreign investors in Vietnam with some US$280 million worth of investment in 47 projects.

Russia has sought to tap into Asia's surging growth, while also campaigning for membership in the rules-making WTO.

Moscow took a step in that direction on Sunday, when Russian economy minister German Gref signed an agreement with US trade representative Susan Schwab on Russia's entry into the WTO.

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