Vietnamese Mango Ambassador for Japanese Market

Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Quoc Cuong expressed that his three-year tenure as the Vietnamese Ambassador to Japan, spanning from mid-2015 to the end of 2018, remains one of the most remarkable experiences in his illustrious 38-year diplomatic career. Additionally, he fondly recalls the nickname bestowed upon him, "Ambassador of Mango," which adds to the unforgettable memories of his time in Japan.

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When people call you the “Ambassador of Mango and Dragon Fruit,” how do you feel?

During General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to Japan in September 2015, Japan officially agreed to import Vietnamese mangoes. The challenge at that time was how to bring Vietnamese mangoes into Japanese supermarkets and win the hearts of Japanese customers. The Vietnamese Embassy in Japan, with the Trade Office as its focal point, worked with Aeon Supermarket Group to launch a campaign promoting Vietnamese mangoes at the group’s supermarkets in Japan.

I myself learned about the Japanese tradition of giving gifts when visiting each other. Whenever I had the opportunity to meet Japanese ministry and unit leaders, I brought them Vietnamese mangoes as gifts from my homeland. I also sent mangoes to the Office of the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the President of the House of Councillors of Japan. We were delighted that the Japanese leaders happily received the gifts and praised the fragrant and delicious Vietnamese mangoes.

Along with the above story, the images of the Ambassador and staff of the Vietnamese Embassy introducing mangoes to the Japanese people at Aeon supermarkets spread widely on social networks. People started calling me the “Ambassador of Mango,” but I’m not sure when it started. It’s a lighthearted title, but I understand that it recognizes the efforts of the entire Embassy in Japan, which I represent.

Ambassador that Brings Vietnamese Mango to Japanese Market
Ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong at an event promoting Vietnamese products in Japan. (Photo: Nguyen Quoc Cuong)

What are your thoughts on the motto “diplomacy serves development”?

I consider it the top priority task of the entire Embassy.

Grasping the Japanese Government’s policy of encouraging localities to expand outside of Japan, I planned to visit all 47 provinces and cities of Japan and work directly with the leaders and businesses of each province. I also planned to meet, visit, and encourage Vietnamese students, interns, and workers in those localities.

I invited the Governors of the provinces to visit the Embassy every time they came to Tokyo to continue discussions. Through many such meetings, leaders from many Japanese provinces have visited Vietnam, bringing along provincial businesses to explore cooperation opportunities with our localities. Governors from large provinces like Kanagawa, Aichi, Mie, Chiba, Gifu, and Hokkaido brought nearly 100 businesses with them. One year after their initial visit, they returned with an even larger delegation.

Ambassador that Brings Vietnamese Mango to Japanese Market
Ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong and his spouse at the Vietnam National Day Celebration in Japan in 2017. (Photo: Nguyen Quoc Cuong)

The visit of Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to Vietnam has become a milestone in the two countries’ relationship. What special memories do you have about this visit?

It was a historic visit as it was the first time the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited Vietnam, demonstrating the high level of development in the relationship between the two countries. This was also the Emperor’s last official visit to a foreign country before his abdication. Therefore, both sides made thorough preparations for the visit.

The Emperor and Empress of Japan were grateful for the warm and friendly welcome from the Vietnamese leaders and people, from the tea party with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong to meetings and receptions with the Vietnamese President and Prime Minister, and even to the schoolgirls in purple ao dai and the people lining the road, smiling and waving as the delegation visited Hue.

After the visit, the Emperor and Empress held a reception at the palace to thank those who accompanied and served during the visit. They repeatedly expressed their gratitude to the Vietnamese leaders and people for the thoughtful and hospitable welcome. The Japanese Government sent a letter of thanks to the Vietnamese State. From the palace receptionist, we learned that the Emperor and Empress ordered Pho for breakfast at the hotel. I told the receptionist that the Vietnamese Embassy had a good chef and that we wanted to prepare some traditional Vietnamese dishes to bring to the palace.

The Emperor agreed, and so the chefs and ladies at the Embassy had the opportunity to showcase their cooking talents. The next day, we received a thank-you note from the Emperor and Empress, which was very touching.

Following the success of the visit, in 2018, during the Vietnamese President’s visit to Japan to celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations, the Embassy held a grand reception. I sent invitations to the Emperor and Empress. Many people thought it was audacious of me to do such an unprecedented act. However, to my surprise, they happily accepted the invitation to attend the Embassy’s reception. It was an unimaginable success.

At the end of my term, I was deeply moved when the Emperor and Empress of Japan invited my wife and me to a private dinner to bid farewell. They reminisced about their visit to Vietnam and saw us off at the car door. For me, those were the sentiments they wanted to convey to the Vietnamese people, whom we represent. Those are also our unforgettable memories of the Emperor and Empress and of Japan.

Phuong Hang