Shimon Peres on Wednesday began the first visit by an Israeli president to Vietnam, about 18 months after Hanoi postponed the trip following condemnation of Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship.
The visit, until Saturday, aims to expand economic ties between the two nations whose two-way trade totalled only about $220 million last year, according to official Vietnamese media.
“We agree to expand our cooperation in the agricultural sector. Israel is ready to share experiences in fields prioritised by Vietnam,” Peres said after he and his Vietnamese counterpart, Truong Tan Sang, witnessed the signing of a cooperation agreement on sea transport and a document on financial cooperation.
One Vietnamese analyst sees the mission as a good opportunity for Israel to develop economic links with Vietnam and its neighbours, while Hanoi seeks to take advantage of Israel’s high-tech expertise.
“A country of importance like Israel… should develop a relationship with Southeast Asia,” Nguyen Ngoc Truong, a retired Vietnamese diplomat, told AFP ahead of the visit.
Communist Vietnam and Israel established ties in 1993 but Hanoi did not open an embassy in Israel until 2009.
The Palestinians, who backed Vietnam’s wartime struggle against the United States, have been recognised as a state by Hanoi since 1988.
Peres had been scheduled to visit Vietnam in June 2010 but Hanoi sought a delay after Israel’s commandos killed nine Turkish activists on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
The Israeli delegation includes Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz and Agriculture Minister Orit Noked as well as several dozen representatives of high-tech, “security”, agriculture and other firms, said a statement from Peres’ office.
Carl Thayer, an Australia-based Vietnam analyst, said he suspected Israeli defence industries had been quietly supplying Vietnam for years with sensitive technical equipment — though details are vague.
“It’s just so hush-hush, it’s very hard to find out anything about it,” he told AFP.
Vietnam has been trying to upgrade its ageing military hardware.