By Van Khuong – Translated by Anh Quan
Unite here local 19
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./.
|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
|US President Joe Biden(C) leaves Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington,DC on January 24, 2021. Joe Biden has begun his presidency with sharp breaks from Donald Trump in both substance and tone, from climate change to immigration to a general openness to working with the rest of the world.(Nicholas Kamm / AFP)|
Biden will also on Monday extend the ban to travelers who have recently been to South Africa amid warnings that new, more transmissible coronavirus variants are already establishing themselves in the United States, the official said, confirming US media reports.
The new president last week tightened mask wearing rules and ordered quarantine for people flying into the United States, as he seeks to tackle the country’s worsening coronavirus crisis.
Biden has said that the Covid-19 death toll would likely rise from 420,000 to half a million next month — and that drastic action was needed.
“We’re in a national emergency. It’s time we treated it like one,” he said on Thursday.
In his last days in office, Donald Trump announced that a Covid-19 ban on travelers arriving from much of Europe and Brazil would be lifted — but the Biden administration immediately said it would reverse the order due to come into effect on January 26.
Trump had announced an initial ban on January 31, 2020 on non-American travelers entering from China to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The ban was extended to European countries on March 14 as the pandemic entered full force.
More than 25 million Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the US since the pandemic began, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally on Sunday.
The milestone was reached only five days after the US, the world’s wealthiest and hardest-hit nation, recorded 400,000 deaths from the disease.
Biden has made fighting the coronavirus a priority and is pushing for Congress to approve a $1.9-trillion relief package that would include billions of dollars to boost vaccination rates.
The president, who was inaugurated on January 20, has said he wants 100 million people vaccinated within his first 100 days in office, and he has called for Americans to wear masks for 100 days.
The Hanoitimes – Relevant agencies have been asked to exert efforts in ensuring safety for students when they resume going to schools, and enforce strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Hanoi students are set to come back to school on March 2 after one-month break and online classes to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a dispatch issued by the municipal People’s Committee on February 27.
The date applies for students from kindergarten to high school levels, while colleges and centers for vocational training and continuing education will reopen a week later.
Students at Le Quy Don Secondary School in Hanoi wear masks in class and practices mild social distancing. Photo: Van Trong
University student schedules would be determined by the schools themselves, though the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control recommended that they should reopen on March 15 to ensure social distancing measures.
Relevant agencies have been asked to exert efforts in ensuring safety for students when they resume going to schools, and enforce strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
To ensure safety for students, this weekend, schools have disinfected their campuses and prepare materials for the epidemic prevention, in addition to having a clear approach to managing students.
Schools have also regularly disinfected areas, especially those being constantly touched, and vehicles used to carry students.
As on-site classes resume, parents need to take their children’s body temperatures at home, prepare them masks and personal items so they would not have to share them with classmates to avoid infection, the municipal authority said.
Previously, Hanoi students started staying home on February 1, about a week earlier than the expected beginning of the Tet break due to a new wave of Covid-19 sweeping nationwide and new cases of locally-transmitted cases were reported in the city. After the one-week holiday, they continued to study online.
Hanoi had not detected any new Covid-19 infections for 12 consecutive days. In the coming days, the capital city will relax its social distancing measures to help resume normal activities, but will continuously control, inspect and strictly handle violations of pandemic preventive measures.