North Vietnam and Italy officially established diplomatic relations on March 23, 1973, a move seen by many a slap in the face of people in South Vietnam, who, at that time, were struggling hard to protect their freedom from the invasion of communists in the North.

Anyway, it had remained a symbol gesture, rather than something with real effects in the developments of the nations, until the early 1990s when political relations between the two countries began to develop and consolidate. After the official visit to Vietnam by the Italian Foreign Minister G. De Michelis in December 1989, the two countries have maintained a regular exchange of delegations.

Vietnam and Italy have set up the Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation in 2014, chaired by the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Vietnam and the Ministry of Economic Development of Italy. The first meeting took place in Hanoi on November 25, 2014. The second meeting was held in Italy on October 16, 2015. The third meeting also took place in Italia on November 22, 2016 during the visit of Chairman Tran Dai Quang to Italy. The fourth meeting was held in Hanoi in November last year.

Vietnam has become Italy’s largest trade partner in ASEAN, surpassing economic powerhouses such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Two-way trade rose nearly 9 percent annually to US$4.7 billion in 2016.

Both sides are working to lift two-way trade to 6 billion USD for 2017-2018. Vietnam mainly exports footwear, aquatic products, coffee, and apparel to Italy and imports mechanical machinery, transportation vehicles and leather materials.

There are approximately 8000 Vietnamese students are studying at Italian universities, mostly in Architecture and Mechanics. This makes Italy the largest destination for students in Vietnam who wish to study in Europe. Associazione degli Studenti Vietnamiti in Italia, a Vietnamese Student Association in Italia, a state-sponsored organisation, states that it has 4650 members. Last May, it organized a “Students Festival & Cultural Day of Vietnam in Italy 2017” at the University of Calabria, Italy.

Italy is also the largest destination for Vietnamese priests and religious thanks for generous scholarships from Pontifical Colleges and Universities in Rome.

A priest who obtained a licence in theology from the Lateran University, told AsiaNews that Italian language is a major obstacle for those who wish to study in Italy. “The language itself is one of difficult languages to learn, and at the time I prepared to travel to Rome, I could not find any Italian course available in Vietnam”.

“Things have changed. Since October 2016, there is a course run by Uni-Italia and the Italian embassy in Hanoi. It’s a great move”, he added.

Vietnamese authorities allowed the Church to run The Vietnamese College of Catholic Studies. The institute began operating on August 6, 2015 and was headed by Mons. Joseph Đinh Đức Đạo, bishop of Xuan Loc diocese and the chairman of the Catholic Education Commission under the Vietnam Bishops' Conference.

Prior to returning to Vietnam in 2009, Bishop Đạo, who received a doctorate in moral ethics at the Academy Alphonsianum and missionary doctor at the Pontifical Gregorian University - taught at the Department of Evangelism and the Institute of Catechism and Evangelism at the Pontifical University of Urbaniana in Rome.

“Currently, the institute offers only theology, theology and biblical theology. It would be great should it be allowed to have Italian course for priests, religious and seminarians”, Fr. Joseph said believing that Bishop Đạo, and many other bishops and priests who studied in Rome can well take care for such a course.

Before 1975, the Church in South Vietnam owned 1060 Catholic primary schools, 145 secondary schools and four universities. All of them have been confiscated by the regime.