Australia Strengthens Ties With ‘Top Tier’ Partner Vietnam

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese celebrated 50 years of bilateral relations with Vietnam with banh mi and beer in Hanoi while calling the friendship between the two countries “absolutely vital” to addressing the regional challenges.

Focusing heavily on enhancing trade, the prime minister indicated there were plans to upgrade Australia’s relationship with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to signal the trust both countries had in each other as “top tier” partners.

“To eat a Vietnamese banh mi—as I did just this afternoon—knowing the baguette is made from Australian wheat tells you a lot about the complementarity of our economies,” he said.

“Our two-way trade reached more than $22 billion last financial year—up 40 percent from the year before.

“But I know there’s room to do more.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese eats a sandwich at a street vendor’s restaurant during an official visit to Vietnam in Hanoi on June 3, 2023. (Nhac Nguyen/AFP via Getty Images)

Albanese laid a wreath at the mausoleum of the country’s communist party founder, Ho Chi Minh, but refused to comment on Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

“What we’re doing is looking ahead to the future,” he said. “And that’s what governments in Australia have done on a bipartisan basis.”

He also met with Vietnam’s top political leaders, including Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, President of the National Assembly Vuong Dinh Hue, and General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong.

The leaders announced the establishment of official ministerial-level dialogue for trade to reflect the commitment to build on the already expanding two-way trade.

“While I’m a long way from home, it doesn’t feel like it,” he said on June 5. “And that’s because there’s a lot of Vietnam in Australia—350,000, to be precise, the number of Australians of Vietnamese heritage.”

“They brought their culture, their creativity, and their ambition to Australia.”

Attracting Vietnamese workers was also an opportunity to fill widespread skill shortages that many Australian businesses are currently struggling with.

“We want to make sure that when we look at our immigration, that we get the right people in the right places with the right skills, so that focus is on the need of Australia,” Albanese told reporters. “We know that in some of the areas where there are skill shortages, then Vietnam can be of great assistance.”

String of Announcements

Along with an enhancement in trade, both governments also signed several agreements covering education, clean energy investment, increasing the number of direct flights between both countries and increased cooperation and intelligence sharing against money laundering and terrorism financing.

Education links were a major focus of the prime minister’s visit, which he called the “mainstay” of the bilateral relationship.

Albanese launched Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University’s new industry and innovation hub, along with $250 million in investment that includes expanding its Ho Chi Minh campus.

RMIT was the first Australian university established in Vietnam and has since been joined by a number of other Australian universities.

Albanese also announced that Australia would increase its support for Vietnam’s clean energy transition with a $105 million new development package.

This will assist Vietnam’s sustainable infrastructure planning, stimulate private investment in the sector’s infrastructure, and deliver technical assistance in the development phase.

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh (R) and Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (L) arrive for a meeting at government offices in Hanoi on June 4, 2023. (Nhac Nguyen/AFP via Getty Images)

Both countries also affirmed the importance of ensuring peace, stability, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan (called the East Sea by Vietnam).

“Vietnam stands ready to accompany Australia in a new phase of cooperation, elevating our strategic partnership to a new height, with greater substance for the benefit of our two peoples and for peace, stability, cooperation, and development in the region and the world,” Prime Minister Pham said.

While the visit was largely positive, with a focus on numerous future opportunities for both countries, Albanese also raised several issues with the Vietnamese government.

This includes Vietnam’s silence in the global condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the rights of the two Australians currently detained in Vietnam.

“Australia always raises issues of human rights for Australian citizens, and we raise them appropriately and diplomatically in order to try to secure a positive result for Australian citizens,” he said.

One of the detainees is 72-year-old Vietnamese Australian Chau Van Kham, who was arrested in 2019 for charges of “terrorism to oppose the government.”

He was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his membership in the group Viet Tan, which aims to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy in Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communist Party considers Viet Tan, a terrorist organisation.

Regional Challenges Highlighted

Albanese’s trip to Vietnam followed his attendance at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

There, he quoted Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that “big powers have a heavy responsibility to maintain stable and workable relations with one another.”

In comments aimed towards the Chinese Communist Party, Albanese said that without dialogue, there was a greater risk of assumptions turning into “irretrievable action,” referring to the Chinese regime’s refusal to communicate with the Pentagon and U.S. defence officials.

“The consequences of such a breakdown—whether in the Taiwan Strait or elsewhere—would not be confined to the big powers or the site of their conflict, they would be devastating for the world,” he said.

“[We are] making it crystal clear that when it comes to any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force: be it in Taiwan, the South China Sea, the East China Sea or elsewhere, the risk of conflict will always far outweigh any potential reward.”


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