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Home » Now is the Time to Upgrade Vietnam–Australia Relations

Now is the Time to Upgrade Vietnam–Australia Relations

by Deepak Mirza
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Vietnam and Australia celebrated the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations in February 2023. Despite differences in political systems and national interests, bilateral friendly cooperation has developed robustly over the last 50 years in economics, politics and security. Progress has been made in areas including agriculture, education and tourism. The two countries should soon upgrade their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

In March 2023, Vietnam’s Ambassador to Australia Nguyen Tat Thanh commented that over time, Vietnam and Australia have grown closer as partners, neighbours and friends with strengthened strategic trust. Australia’s Ambassador to Vietnam Andrew Goledzinowski was prudent in his assertion that the Vietnam–Australia bilateral ties had never been as strong as they are today.

Economically, Vietnam and Australia are both members of several multilateral agreements, including the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Both sides have also agreed to bring the Australia–­­Vietnam Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy into full play.

Vietnam currently ranks 7th among Australia’s trading partners and Australia is Vietnam’s 10th largest export market. In 2022, Australia exported AU$13.7 billion (US$9.16 billion) worth of goods to Vietnam while Vietnam imported AU$9.3 billion (US$6.22 billion) worth of goods from Australia. In 2021, Australia invested AU$1.98 billion (US$1.32 billion) into 579 projects in Vietnam and Vietnam invested AU$416 million (US$278 million) in Australia. There is potential for further economic integration between the countries in other fields like clean energy, high-tech agriculture and the digital economy.

In 2017, Canberra introduced the Aus4Innovation program worth AU$16.5 million (US$11.04 million) to assist Vietnam in strengthening innovation. In January 2021, the Communist Party of Vietnam also set goals to use advanced technology to achieve sustainable economic development, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, as the county committed to at COP26. It plans to respond to climate change and promote innovation to escape the middle-income trap.

Politically, Vietnam and Australia’s diplomatic relationship was upgraded to a strategic partnership in early 2018, marking an important milestone in their ties. For Vietnam, Australia is a long-standing traditional development partner and a priority partner in foreign policy.

Australia was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam after the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 and one of the first Western countries to resume official development assistance (ODA) to Vietnam. For Australia, Vietnam is an important partner in the region because of its political stability, growing and proactive role and position in ASEAN and the regional security architecture. Though there remain some differences, the two countries also maintain a productive and frank human rights dialogue mechanism to promote mutual understanding.

During early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canberra was Hanoi’s second largest foreign donor, contributing 26.4 million doses of vaccines. Australia has provided Vietnam with generous ODA for human resource development, infrastructure, public health improvement and Vietnam’s UN peacekeeping missions. These are vivid examples of the countries’ strong bilateral ties and how Australia values its relationship with Vietnam.

Socially, Vietnamese Australians are the 6th largest migrant community in Australia. Almost 17,000 Vietnamese international students study in Australian educational and training institutions. Vietnamese alumni who graduated in Australia and returned to Vietnam to work have created a strong connection between the two countries and peoples.

Strategically, Vietnam and Australia agree on the maintenance of regional peace and security and promoting multilateralism and freedom of navigation in line with international law.

Australia and Vietnam maintain strong defence–security cooperation. This manifests in defence–security dialogues, human resource and language training and the establishment of the Vietnam–Australia Joint Transnational Crime Centre in 2010.

On 22 February 2023, Vietnam and Australia organised the third deputy-ministerial-level security dialogue in Canberra. Leaders of the Ministry of Public Security of Vietnam and the Australian Department of Home Affairs discussed ways to strengthen cooperation in law enforcement, mutual legal assistance, extradition requests and security. Non-traditional issues under discussion included topics such as irregular migration, data and cybersecurity, drug trafficking and money laundering.

Vietnam and Australia are at a critical juncture where they can promote their national interests by deepening their cooperation. Both sides benefit from working with each other. It would be the right time to upgrade to a comprehensive strategic partnership, given the maturity of bilateral ties and the convergence of strategic interests.

Though it is not a question of whether Canberra and Hanoi will upgrade bilateral ties that is important but rather the demonstration of the strength of bilateral relations. Both countries must work to meet each other’s needs to deepen and substantiate the strategic partnership.

Australia is interested in upholding the rules-based international order and boosting exports to Vietnam. As well as the protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity, Vietnam needs to promote digital-intensive and high-tech manufacturing sectors, with which Australia can help.

In 2021, Vietnam set a target to become an upper-middle income developing country with modern industry by 2030 and to become a high income developed country by 2045. Given Vietnam and Australia’s mature bilateral relationship, Canberra should continue to be Hanoi’s ‘first’ partner to realise these development objectives. There remains wide scope for deeper Vietnam–Australia cooperation.

Source : EastAsiaForum

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