Chrétien betting on resort-casino in Vietnam
As Stephen Harper tries to strengthen ties with China, Jean Chrétien is part of a team wagering on a resort and casino project in another region in Asia.
As part of the largest foreign investment in Vietnam, the former prime minister is involved in building a multibillion-dollar five-star resort and Las Vegas-style casino south of Ho Chi Minh City. The Ho Tram project, located on pristine white-sand beaches on the South China Sea, is the largest foreign investment in the country.
Since stepping down as prime minister in 2003, Mr. Chrétien has had little time for golf or enjoying the Zen garden at his home in Ottawa's tony Rockcliffe Park. Rather, the 75-year-old former politician, who acts as counsel to national law firm Heenan Blaikie, has been travelling the world making business deals and money. Mr. Chrétien has kept up his contacts from his career in politics and the decade he served as prime minister.
Two weeks ago, he was in Kazakhstan; in January, he was in Saudi Arabia, where he gave a speech. He'll be in Berlin and then back in Saudi Arabia in May as co-chairman of the InterAction Council, an independent international organization of former heads of government. It was formed in 1983 and co-founded by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
And last year, Mr. Chrétien visited Vietnam, and met with the Prime Minister and other government officials, as part of the government relations team for Asian Coast Development Ltd. (ACDL), the Canadian company that is developing a $4.5-billion casino-resort project that also features an 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman.
Stephen Shoemaker, ACDL's president, says Mr. Chrétien has been a boon for the project. “Obviously, I think his strong relations with the Vietnamese government officials and that he is somebody who is a very well-regarded individual, it's been extremely helpful for us,” Mr. Shoemaker says.
Relationships with officials in the Communist government are important. It is much like operating in China, where government and business are intertwined.
“He is well-respected,” says David Tsubouchi, a former Conservative cabinet minister in Ontario, who is also a part of the ACDL team. “I will say that as a Tory. Having a prime minister that will stand next to you is not a bad thing.”
Mr. Chrétien, by bent of his former position, opens doors. He was one of the first G7 leaders to visit Vietnam; he attended the Francophonie summit in Hanoi in 1997. He was also leading Team Canada trade missions into China in 2001.
There has been criticism from opposition MPs that the Harper Conservatives have lost four crucial years of trade and investment in China because of their policies. International Trade Minister Stockwell Day is in China now, trying to make amends. Mr. Harper is expected to make his first visit in the fall.
Meanwhile, there are investment opportunities in other countries in the region, such as Vietnam.
Mr. Shoemaker, who is heading back to Vietnam this week, says that the country is a good one to invest in as it is stable and the second fastest growing economy next to China.
He says that despite the difficult economic climate, the development is progressing well and that the gaming aspect of the resort is a “key piece of attracting investment capital.”
Vietnamese are not allowed, by law, to gamble. There has long been suspicion around gambling and gaming. This huge casino represents a big step for the Vietnamese into the world of capitalism, according to earlier newspaper reports.
Mr. Tsubouchi, the former Harris cabinet minister, who is now practising law with the firm, Miller Thomson, said yesterday that Vietnam is where China was 10 years ago, although the leadership is learning quickly that regulating certain practices is important to attract Western investment.
For example, Mr. Tsubouchi, who has a background in gaming regulation, says that the Vietnamese government is consulting with Nevada gaming authorities to discuss how they will make regulations.
“That's pretty important because ... anybody in North America who is going to want to put their money into any type of foreign country, they want to make sure that there is ... a corresponding degree of co-operation between those jurisdictions they are familiar with ...,” says Mr. Tsubouchi. “So that means there has to be an acknowledgment of basically the rule of law of regulated gaming.”
By Jane Taber - The Globe and Mail (.ca) - April 15, 2009