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Australia-Vietnam Relations: Enhancing the Comprehensive Partnership By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0082/ 2015


This paper provides an overview of Australia-Vietnam relationssince the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam in 1973 to the present. The paper is divided into four parts. Part 1 provides a brief overview of bilateral relations between 1973 and 2008. Part 2 covers the period from 2009, when Australia and Vietnam agreed to a Comprehensive Partnership, to 2013. This section focuses on the ‘three pillars’ that underpinned the comprehensive partnership and the Plan of Action (2010-13) to implement this agreement under three headings: 1) political and security cooperation; (2) economic cooperation; and (3) people-to-people cooperation. Part 3 focuses on the period from September 2013, when the Liberal-National Coalition Government took power to March 2015, when Australia and Vietnam agreed to enhance their Comprehensive Partnership through a new Plan of Action (2015-17) and work towards a strategic partnership in the future. Part 4 concludes by noting that Australia-Vietnam relations are indeed comprehensive.

Part 1 Background 1973-2008

Australia and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) were protagonists during the Vietnam War. In February 1973, Australia and the DRVformally established diplomatic relations after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements (Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring the Peace in Vietnam) the previous month. The Paris agreement did not bring peace and the Vietnam War continued until April 30, 1975 with the fall of Saigon. Vietnam was formally reunified the following year under the new name Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

With the exception of the Scandinavian countries, Australia was one of the first western countries to recognize the DRV. The Whitlam Labor Government provided development assistance and scholarships for students to study in Australia.[1] Relations soured during the Cambodian conflict (1979-89) when, for the first time in Australia’s history, the government cancelled an aid program for political reasons and joined in the international trade and aid boycott of Vietnam.[2]

Bilateral relations picked up with the re-election of the Labor Government under Bob Hawke in 1983. Vietnam’s withdrawal of military forces from Cambodia in September 1989 set the stage for a comprehensive political settlement two years later. Australia played a major role as facilitator of a settlement of the Cambodian conflict under the leadership of Foreign Minister Gareth Evans.

Australia quickly responded to these developments by shoring up its economic relations with Vietnam. In the space of three years three major agreements were signed: Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (1990), Agreement on Investment Promotion and Protection (1991) and a Double Taxation Agreement (1992). Development assistance was restored on the eve of the signing of the Cambodian peace accords in October 1991 in Paris. An Air Services Agreement was reached in 1995 and a Consular Agreement signed in 2003.

The sections below summarise the accomplishments in bilateral relations up to 2008.

High-level visits.Between 1991 and the end of 2008 Australia and Vietnam exchanged thirty-two high-level official visits. This list includes those with ministerial rank and/or members of the Vietnam Communist Party Politburo. Tables 1 and 2 below set out the details of these visits. Of note is the fact that these data reveal four visits by Vietnam’s prime minister, two by the party secretary general and one visit by Vietnam’s state president to Australia. Only two Australian prime ministers visited Vietnam in this period.

In addition, Australia and Vietnam have conducted a regular series of exchanges between the Parliament and National Assembly including presiding officers, deputies and members of staff. The Australian side of the program for Members of Parliament and staffers comes under the auspices of the Australian Political Exchange Council.

Tables 1 and 2 show that both countries have paid high-level political attention to the bilateral relationship and the Australia-Vietnam relationship developed depth in four main areas: development assistance, education and training, trade and investment, and defence and security.

Table 1 High-Level Vietnamese Visits to Australia, 1993-2008Year of VisitRank and Name of Visitor1993Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet1995Secretary General Do Muoi1999Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and Minister of Planning and Investment Tran Xuan Gia2000Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Manh Cam and Minister of Sport Ha Quang Du2002Politburo member Truong Tan Sang and Minister for Science, Technology and the Environment Chu Tuan Nha2003Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Minh Hien2004Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Dy Nien2004Minister of National Defence Pham Van Tra2005Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Minh HIen2006Vice President Truong My Hoa and Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Nguyen Thi Hang2007Minister of Planning and Investment Vo Hong Phuc2007President Nguyen Minh Triet, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pham Gia Khiem and Minister of Industry and Trade, Vu Huy Hoang2007Minister of Public Security Le Hong Anh2008Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Thien Nhan2008Chairman of the National Assembly Nguyen Phu Trong2008Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong2008Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Minister of Transport Ho Nghia Dung

Table 2 High-Level Australian Visits to Vietnam, 1994-2008Year of VisitRank and Name of Visitor1994Prime Minister Paul Keating1999Minister for Justice and Customs Amanda Vanstone2000Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer2001Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Minister for Trade Mark Vale, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Philip Ruddock2002Minister for Family and Community Services Amanda Vanstone2003Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Minister for Trade Mark Vale, Minister for Family and Community Services Amanda Vanstone2004Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Amanda Vanstone and Minister for Family and Community Services Kay Patterson2005Minister for Defence Robert Hill and Minister for Family and Community Services Kay Patterson2005Minister for Vocational and Technical Education Gary Hardgrave2006Parliamentary Secretary (Trade) De-Anne Kelly2006Minister for Health and Ageing Tony Abbott2006Treasurer Peter Costello2006Minister for Small Business and Tourism Fran Bailey2006Prime Minister John Howard, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Minister for Trade Warren Truss2008Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith

Development assistance. In the financial year 2006-07 Australia granted Vietnam A$ 81.5 million in overseas development assistance (ODA); this was raised to A$ 93.1 million in 2007-08. During this period Vietnam was the fourth largest recipient of Australian aid and ranked among the top ten bilateral donors to Vietnam. Australia’s aid program aimed to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable economic and social development. Vietnam also benefited by Australian aid to regional programs, non-governmental organizations and emergency assistance.

Australia’s Vietnam Country Program Strategy for 2003-07 set two major objectives: (1) to contribute to broad-based economic growth by strengthening governance in institutions involved in developing a competitive market economy and (2) improving productivity and links to markets for the rural poor in the Mekong Delta and central coastal regions. A major symbol of Australia’s assistance was funding for the construction of the My Thuan bridge in the Mekong Delta that was completed in 2000. Valued at $ 91 million, this was the largest ODA project undertaken by Australia. This bridge carries over five million vehicles per year.

Development assistance gave priority to rural and agricultural development. Australia played an important role in water management, essential water delivery systems and support for agricultural research institutions. Other areas of development assistance include health, energy, anti-corruption training and private sector people-to-people projects.

Australia provided funds to the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Support Credit program that benefited Vietnam’s official economic reform program. Australia has also provided technical support to Vietnam to assist it in meeting obligations following membership in the World Trade Organization in January 2007.

Australia and Vietnam have held regular human rights talks since 2002.In 2006, Australia initiated a new program of technical cooperation in human rights involving Australian institutions with human rights expertise and the Vietnam Women’s Union, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice. Under the auspices of this program AusAID has organized seminars and training courses on human rights issues for Vietnamese departments and organizations and opened links between relevant agencies of the two governments.Australia also sponsored a human rights course at the elite Ho Chi Minh Political Academy in Hanoi. Many of these programs are funded under the Human Rights Small Grants Scheme.

Education and training. Education and training comprised a key element in bilateral relations. Australia provided scholarships for tertiary study under its Development Scholarship and Leadership Awards programs. The scholarships were specifically aimed at education and training that met Vietnam’s development needs. About 150 Vietnamese students commenced study in Australia each year under the former program, and 26 scholarships were awarded annually under the latter program. In 2008 an estimated 700 Vietnamese were on government scholarships studying in Australia.

In 2008 it was estimated that between 10,000 and 13,000 Vietnamese students were studying in Australia at all levels and that a further 10,000 were studying at Australian institutions in Vietnam. These were mainly self-funded.

In February 2008, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Julia Gillard and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education and Training Nguyen Thien Nhan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on further cooperation in education.

Trade and investment. Australia and Vietnam manage their economic relations through a Joint Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee established in June 1990.[3]

Two-way trade between Australia and Vietnam rose from US$ 32.3 million in 1990 to US$ 4.56 billion in 2007 (A$ 6.9 billion). Two-way trade reached US$ 6 billion in 2009. At this time Australia was Vietnam’s third largest export market and seventh largest trade partner. Vietnamese exports include: oil (70% in 2009-10), fish, furniture, fruit and nuts, footwear, crustaceans, machinery and transport equipment. Australia exports to Vietnam include: wheat, copper, aluminum and ferrous waste and scrap.

In June 2008, Australia invested in 174 projects in Vietnam with a capitalization valued at US$ 1.01 billion. Major Australian companies doing business in Vietnam include Qantas/Jetstar;[4] Santos (oil production sharing contract), BlueScope Steel (flat steel metallic coating and painting); QBE Insurance; Commonwealth Bank of Australia, ANZ Bank; and RMIT University. Other companies working in Vietnam include: Baulderstone-Bilfinger Berger (Phu My bridge, Saigon); Strategic Marine (shipyard, Vung Tau), Arrow Energy (production sharing contract, northern Vietnam), and Origin Energy Australia (LPG joint venture).

Defence and security cooperation. Australia and Vietnam inaugurated a senior level Regional Security Dialogue in 1998 involving both civilian and defence officials. Formal defence relations were established in February 1999 when Australia posted a Defence Attaché to Hanoi. Vietnam posted its first Defence Attaché in Canberra in September 2000. Prior to 1999 defence contacts were quite limited and included two visits by a delegation from the Joint Services Staff College (1996 and 1998) and preliminary discussions on cooperation in anti-malaria research.

Since 1999, Australia and Vietnam have exchangedreciprocal visits by their defence ministers and other high-level delegations such as service chiefs. Royal Australian Navy (RAN) warships make regular visits to Vietnamese ports (see Table 3), and Australia has become a major provider of professional military education and training to officers from the Vietnam People’s Army through its Defence Cooperation Program (DCP).

Table 3 Royal Australian Navy Ship Visits to Vietnam, 1999-2008YearRAN ShipsPort4/1999HMAS Perth and HMAS AruntaHo Chi Minh city5/2000HMAS ANZACHo Chi Minh city2001No ship visit9/2002HMAS AdelaideHo Chi Minh city7/2003HMAS SuccessHo Chi Minh city10/2003HMAS Tobruk and HMAS AruntaHo Chi Minh city5/2004HMAS Diamantina and HMAS HuonHo Chi Minh city2005No ship visit9/2006HMAS NewcastleDa Nang4/2007HMAS SuccessDa Nang8/2008HMAS ANZACHo Chi Minh city

The first Australia-Vietnam Defence Cooperation (DC) talks were held in Hanoi in April 2001 and convene annually. The DC Program (DCP) includes funding for the “train the trainer” program for Vietnamese English language military instructors,[5] long-term professional development courses at the Australian Defence College, and ten to twelve annual Defence Scholarships for higher studies in Australia. Areas of training include: Defence and Strategic Studies, Command and Staff Operations, Army General Officer training, Hydrographic Surveying, and post-graduate studies (engineering and information technology). Mobile Training Teams visit Vietnam for short periods.

Australia also provides funding for Vietnamese defence personnel to attend a number of seminars and short-courses including: Defence Management seminars; RAN Seapower Centre conferences; Common Training, Tactics and Procedures seminar; Revolution in Military Affairs conference; Chief of Defence Force Regional Conference; Australian Defence Force Warfare Centre Peacekeeping seminar; Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) Mine Countermeasures conference; Defence Intelligence Research and Analysis course; Standard Combat Survivability course; Civil Military Cooperation course, Maritime Air Surveillance course; Maritime Law and Security seminar; and Emergency Management seminar. By 2009 two hundred and fifteen Vietnamese defence personnel conducted training through Australia’s Defence International Training Centre.

In 2004-05 Vietnam and Australia exchanged visits by their respective Defence Ministers. In April 2005, during the visit to Vietnam by Defence Minister Senator Robert Hill, Australia pledged to continue funding expanded training for Vietnamese military officers and national defence students. In March 2007, Australian and Vietnam agreed to intensify defence cooperation during the visit to Canberra by Deputy Minister for National Defence, Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huy Hieu.

In the ten-year period the DCP has been in effect over 150 Vietnamese Defence students have studied in Australia, including sixty who attended Australian military colleges (Australian Command and Staff College and the senior course at the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies).[6] Among the sixty over 40 Vietnamese officers studied at Masters level at Australian universities. Australia also provided language training to 96 Vietnamese defence personnel in Vietnam during this same period. In summary, over the decade that the DCP has been running approximately 1,000 Vietnam People’s Army officers have received training in Vietnam and Australia combined.

Law enforcement cooperation.In 2006, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in border security, transnational crime and non-traditional security issues.

The AFP maintainstwo Law Enforcement Liaison Offices one in Hanoi and the other in Ho Chi Minh City. The AFP Commissioner accompanied the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Amanda Vanstone, to Vietnam in 1999 and made two further visits in 2001 and 2006. The AFP works with the Ministry of Public Security, inter alia, on combating human trafficking and drug smuggling.

Part 1 provided an overview of the major components of Australia’s bilateral relationship with Vietnam up to 2008. In 2008 Vietnam and Australia celebrated the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations. This provides a convenient benchmark for the discussion that follows on the formal declaration of the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership the following year.

Part 2 Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership

Bilateral relations between Australia and Vietnam developed considerable breadth and depth, particularly in the decade of the 1990s after the resolution of the Cambodian conflict. Sometime in 2008 Vietnam reportedly approached Australia and suggested they formally raise their bilateral relationship to “strategic partners.”

The term “strategic partners” has been used increasingly by Vietnam to designate countries with which it has a close and comprehensive relationship, such as Russia, India, China and Japan.[7] Reportedly Prime Minister Kevin Rudd rejected the term “strategic partners” as inappropriate for two reasons. First, Rudd did not favour a term that was merely symbolic but wanted it to have practical connotations. Second, Rudd felt that the term strategic should be reserved for close allies, such as the United States.[8]

In the end Australia and Vietnam agreed to a comprehensive partnership. This was announced during the visit of Vietnam Communist Party Secretary General Nong Duc Manh to Canberra in September 2009.[9]  Manh’s visit stands in contrast to that of his predecessor Secretary General Do Muoi who visited Canberra in 1995. At that time the Opposition boycotted his visit. The welcoming dinner was held in the small members’ dining room upstairs in Parliament House. Manh, in contrast, was given red carpet treatment including a 19-gun salute on arrival. He met with the Governor-General and was given a lavish dinner in the Great Hall at Parliament House. Both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition welcomed him.

During Secretary General Manh’s visit, on September 7, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem signed a joint statement declaring their bilateral relations to be a Comprehensive Partnership.[10] This statement highlighted six major areas of cooperation: political ties and public policy exchanges; economic growth and trade development; development assistance and technical cooperation; defence and security ties; people-to-people links; and global and regional agenda. The joint statement indicated that this declaration would be followed up with an Action Plan.

On December 17, 2009, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Copenhagen. During their conversation Dung suggested that Vietnam and Australia should formulate a program of action to implement the joint statement on comprehensive partnership. Rudd agreed that both should work hard on a program of action so it could be signed in 2010.

According to Rudd, the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership was composed of three pillars: political and security cooperation; economic cooperation; and people-to-people cooperation “through the great bridge of education.”[11] The sections below will discuss each of these three pillars in turn.The Plan of Action to realize the Comprehensive Partnership for the years 2011-13 was finally agreed in October 2010.

Plan of Action. Although the Plan of Action (2010-13) was not made public it is possible to discern that Australia had six priority areas.

First, Australia wanted the political relationship to focus more on public policy and governance issues. The Joint Statement on Comprehensive Partnership declared:

Exchanges on economic planning including public finance, budget management, economic reform and taxation, investment policy, competition policy and infrastructure as well as policy dialogue in areas of HIV/AIDS, education, science and technology management, gender equality, social welfare and services, especially for women and children, will assist closer cooperation and will help contribute to strengthening growth in key sectors.

Specifically, Australia committed itself to assisting Vietnam (1) in developing appropriate policy on the management of foreign workers in Vietnam and the management of foreign workers migrating to Vietnam (2) addressing educational management and vocational training needs and capacity and (3) countering corruption by party and state officials.

Second, Australia wanted to refocus economic cooperation on transparency, competitiveness, trade liberalization and the implementation of obligations under the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area and World Trade Organisation. Specifically, Australia pressed for increased trade and investment in the following key sectors: infrastructure and urban development; mining and energy; manufacturing; agriculture; and financial, and educational services.

Third, Australia promoted new priorities in development assistance and technical cooperation to include natural resources management, human resource development, clean and renewable energy, collaboration in science and technology, and radiation and nuclear safety.

Fourth Australian priorities in defence and security included cooperation in developing a credible regional security architecture; increased cooperation by a range of relevant agencies to address transnational crime (human trafficking and people smuggling, narcotics, money laundering), counter-terrorism, maritime and aviation security (anti-piracy) and counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Specifically, Australia pressed for an early conclusion of an agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons and a bilateral treaty on extradition and mutual legal assistance.

Fifth, under the heading of people-to-people links Australia’s priorities included (1) a short-term youth work and holiday arrangement; (b) improvement in consular services including the expansion of the Australian Consulate-General in Ho Chi Minh City; and (c) the development of further links in culture, sports, tourism and people-to-people diplomacy. Specifically, Australia worked to strengthen and expand the Australian Network television service to Vietnam including the use of Vietnamese language subtitles and the provision of English language education materials.

Sixth, Australian priorities to advance the global and regional agenda included enlisting Vietnam in promoting collective action to address the global economic crisis (including reform of global financial institutions), climate change,[12] WMD proliferation, natural disasters, pandemics, food security, and reform of the United Nations and the UN Security Council.

Political and Security Cooperation. The first pillar of the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership is political and security cooperation. This cooperation takes place bilaterally as well as multilaterally through consultations at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ASEAN Regional Forum or ARF), the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus), the East Asia Summit and other institutions.

High-level visits. Australia and Vietnam have accorded priority to their bilateral relations by exchanging high-level visits by government leaders. Tables 4 and 5 below set out the list of high-delegations exchanged between Vietnam and Australia between 2009 and 2014. In six-year period the Secretary General of the Vietnam Communist Party, two Deputy Prime Ministers and eight ministers visited Australia, while Australia’s Governor-General, Prime Minister and nine ministers visited Vietnam.

Table 4 High-Level Vietnamese Visits to Australia, 2009-14Year of VisitRank and Name of Visitor2009 Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai2009Secretary General Vietnam Communist Party Nong Duc Manh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Gia Khiem, Minister of Planning and Investment, and Minister of Industry and Trade2010Vice President National Assembly Uong Chu Luu2010Minister of Planning and Investment Vo Hong Phuc2010Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Welfare Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan2012Deputy Foreign Minister Pham Quang Vinh and Deputy Minister of National Defence Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh2012Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc; and Prosecutor General Supreme People’s Procuracy, Minister of Justice, Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Welfare, Minister and Inspector General Government Inspectorate2012Minister of Finance Vuong Dinh Hue2013Minister of National Defence General Phung Quang Thanh2013Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang2014Minister of Justice Ha Hung Cuong

Mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation. Australia and Vietnam conduct their political-security cooperation through several bilateral mechanisms including the Australia-Vietnam Defence Cooperation Senior Officials’ meeting; the Joint Foreign Affairs/Defence Australia-Vietnam Strategic Dialogue (which superseded the 1998 Regional Security Dialogue in February 2012),and the Annual Defence Ministers’ Dialogue that was inaugurated in March 2013.

Table 5 High-Level Australian Visits to Vietnam, 2009-14Year of VisitRank and Name of Visitor2009Speaker of the House of Representatives Harry Jenkins2009Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Evans2009Minister for Trade Simon Crean2009Vice Chief of the Australian Defence Force Lt. Gen. David Hurley2010Minister for Defence Stephen Smith2010Prime Minister Julia Gillard for East Asia Summit and bilateral meetings2010Minister for Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd2011Governor-General Quentin Bryce2011Minister for Trade Craig Emerson2012Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr2012Minister for Defence Stephen Smith2012Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Joe Ludwig2012Special Representative of the Prime Minister Angus Houston2013Speaker of the House of Representatives Anna Burke2014Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop2014Speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop

In August 2009, Lt. General David Hurley, then Vice Chief of the Defence Force, visited Vietnam to discuss exchange visits and cooperation in training, military medical services, counter-terrorism and the search for soldiers missing-in-action during the Vietnam War.[13] RAN ships continue to pay goodwill calls to Vietnam (see Table 6 below).

In December 2009, when Prime Minister Rudd met with Prime Minister Dung in Copenhagen, Rudd suggested upgrading their existing regional security dialogue by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) setting up a dialogue mechanism for national defence and security.

Table 6Royal Australian Navy Ship Visits to Vietnam, 2009-2014YearRAN ShipsPort9/2009HMAS DarwinHo Chi Minh city2010No ship visit10/2011HMAS Huon and HMAS YarraHo Chi Minh city10/2012HMAS SydneyHo Chi Minh city8/2013HMAS BallaratHo Chi Minh city9/2014HMAS LarrakiaHo Chi Minh city

In October 2010, the Defence Ministers from Australia and Vietnam, Stephen Smith and General Phung Quang Thanh, signed an MOU on Defence Cooperation on the eve of the inaugural ADMM Plus meeting in Hanoi. The MOU provides a framework for “enhanced practical cooperation between Australia and Vietnam in areas including strategic level policy dialogue, military training and exercises, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”[14]The two ministers agreed to establish an Annual Defence Ministers’ Dialogue. The first meeting was hosted in Canberra on March 19, 2013.

In February 2012, the Regional Security Dialogue was upgraded to the Joint Foreign Affairs/Defence Australia-Vietnam Strategic Dialogue at deputy secretary/deputy minister level.  The inaugural meeting was held in Canberra at this time. The second meeting of the “2 + 2” Joint Foreign Affairs/Defence Strategic Dialogue was held in Hanoi in November 2013.

On September 9, 2014, Brigadier John Mackenzie, acting Assistant Secretary of the Defence Department’s International Policy Division, visited Hanoi for discussion with the Foreign Relations Department of the Ministry of National Defence. The two parties reviewed bilateral defence cooperation and set targets for 2015. Brig. Mackenzie later met with Deputy Minister for National Defence Senior Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh. General Vinh suggested the two sides should cooperate in UN peacekeeping operations, humanitarian mine action, intensify bilateral defence dialogue mechanisms, and closely coordinate in multilateral fora especially at the ADMM Plus.[15]

Late in September 2014, Australia’s Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Timothy William Barrett, visited Hanoi and met with Admiral Nguyen Van Hien, Deputy Minister of National Defence and Commander of the Vietnam People’s Army Navy and Senior Lt. Gen. Do Ba Ty, Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army. Admiral Hien proposed that the two navies cooperate in exchanges of delegations at all levels, training courses for Vietnamese naval officers, submarine rescue operations and enhancing the capability of Vietnam’s naval air force.[16]

Senior Lt. General Do Ba Ty visited Australia in November 2014 and met with Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, Chief of the Defence Force. The two reviewed the 2010 MoU on Defence Cooperation and discussed activities for the future. The two sides agreed to continue defence dialogue and consultation as well the exchange of delegations.

On November 20, 2014, Australia and Vietnam held their third Foreign Affairs and Defence Strategic Dialogue in Canberra.[17]Gillian Bird and Peter Baxter and the Vietnamese counterparts Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ho Xuan Son and Deputy Minister of National Defence Senior Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh attended the meeting. The two sides discussed future activities including the exchange of high-level visits, and giving priority to expanding cooperation in politics, economics, security, defence, education, training, science and technology.  They agreed step up cooperation to deal with non-traditional security issues such as pandemics, climate change, human trafficking and cyber attacks.

They also discussed tensions in the South China Seaand agreed that to ensure peace and stability in the region it was necessary to ensure freedom of navigation and aviation security and adherence to international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The also agreed disputes should be resolved peacefully without resort to threat or use of force. They further agreed on the strict implementation of the 2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the signing of a Code of Conduct as soon as possible.

Parliamentary exchanges. In 2011, Australia and Vietnam exchanged their fifteenth delegationbetween the Parliament of Australia and the National Assembly of Vietnam. An Agreement of Partnership between the National Assembly of Viet Nam and the House of Representatives of the Parliament of Australia provides for closer contacts and linkages.

Human rights dialogue. In December 2010, AusAID and Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored a joint seminar on international conventions on human rights and implementation mechanisms in Hanoi. Australia also has assisted in issuing and revising several laws relating to the protection of human rights.

In February 2011 Australia and Vietnam conducted their eighth bilateral human rights dialogue. Australia remains concerned at the imprisonment of people for the peaceful expression of their political, religious or other beliefs and has communicated these concerns to the Vietnamese government at this dialogue.[18]

Security and judicial cooperation. In August 2009, the Australian Federal Police and Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the exchange of immigration information.[19]

On March 30, 2010 a joint Transnational Crime Centre opened in Ho Chi Minh City. This Centre will process information on terrorism, illegal drugs, money laundering, human trafficking, smuggling and child sex tourism. Under the 2009 MOU the AFP and MPS will increase cooperation on border security through liaison between their respective customs departments and between the AFP and Vietnam’s border guards and sea police (Viet Nam Canh Sat Bien).

In September 2009, the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia Michel Black visited Hanoi to meet with the Chief Judge of Supreme People’s Court, Truong Hoa Binh. They signed an MOU juridical cooperation. Australia assisted Vietnam in developing a judge’s handbook.

Consultations in regional multilateral institutions. Australian and Vietnamese diplomatic officials consult and cooperate in a number of international organizations and multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN Regional Forum, ADMM Plus, Asia Europe Meeting process (ASEM) and the East Asia Summit.[20] Bilateral cooperation addresses a number of issues including: environmental protection, climate change, prevention of natural disasters and pandemics, counter-terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational crime including people smuggling.

Both countries have given diplomatic support to each other. For example, Vietnam supported and assisted Vietnam in its application for membership in the World Trade Organisation and non-permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council (2008-09 term). Australia is currently assisting in negotiations involving membership in the Trans-Pacific Strategic and Economic Partnership (or TPP).

Vietnam has provided diplomatic support for Australia in its dealings with ASEAN, particularly during the period when Mahathir was Prime Minister of Malaysia. Vietnam supported Vietnam’s inclusion in the East Asia Summit (along with India and New Zealand) and Australia’s inclusion in the ASEM process. Vietnam also gave diplomatic support to Kevin Rudd’s Asia-Pacific C/community initiative. And, in reciprocation, Vietnam has agreed to support Australia’s bid for non-permanent membership on the UN Security Council for 2013-14.

Economic Cooperation.Economic cooperation constitutes the second pillar of the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership.This section reviews three areas of cooperation: trade, investment and development cooperation.

Trade. The Australia-Vietnam Joint Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee. Established in 1990, is the formal inter-governmental body that considers trade and investment cooperation.

According to Graeme Swift, Australian Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, in 2011 Vietnam was now one of Australia’s most important and valued trade partners in the Asia Pacific region.[21]In the five years up to 2011 Vietnam was Australia’s fastest growing trading partner in ASEAN.In 2011,Australia was Vietnam’s seventh largest trading partner and fourth biggest export market. Bilateral trade increased as a result of Vietnam’s quick ratification of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (NZFTA) that came into force on January 1, 2010.[22]

The Australia-Vietnam Joint Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee held its 9th meeting in Melbourne on June 25, 2010. It was co-chaired by Minister for Trade Simon Crean and Minister for Planning and Investment Vo Hong Phuc. This meeting took note of the encouraging five-year trend in the growth of two-way trade in goods and services, despite a decline in goods trade in 2009. This meeting identified four key areas of potential growth: education and training, infrastructure, resources and environment.

Trade issues have featured prominently in high-level meetings since the announcement of the Comprehensive Partnership. For example, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd discussed ways to boost trade under the NZFTA when he met his counterpart, Pham Gia Khiem in Hanoi in April 2011.

The following month senior Vietnamese leaders raised trade issues with Governor-General Quentin Bryce when she visited Hanoi. On May 9, President Nguyen Minh Triet suggested that Australia and Vietnam should boost the import of seafood and farm produce from each other and tap NZFTA to raise trade and investment. When Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung suggested to the Governor-General that both sides should step up economic, trade and investment cooperation, Governor-General Bryce replied that Vietnam should create better conditions for Australian businesses to make-long term investments in Vietnam.

Over the decade up to 2014, Australian exports to Vietnam increased by 16 percent annually. According to Vietnam’s Ambassador to Australia, “Vietnam is Australia’s fastest growing trading partner among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.”[23]Two-way trade increased from US$ 32.3 million in 1990 to US$ 4.2 billion in2010 to US$ 6 billion in 2014. According to figures from Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, Vietnam’s exports to Australia reached US$ 3.99 billion up 13.7 percent from 2013. Vietnam imported US$ 2.06 billion form Australia giving it a surplus of US$ 1.93 billion in 2014.

Vietnam’s exports included crude oil (46 percent of total value), agricultural products seafood as well as steel, electric cables, transport vehicles and spare parts, garments, bags, umbrellas and hats, computers, electronic products and components, and phones and components.[24]  In December 2014, Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced it would temporarily suspended the import of thirty-eight varieties of Australian fruit over concerns over fruit fly infestation commencing January 1, 2015.  The value of the produce affected was placed at A$ 40 million. [25]

Currently Australia is working with Vietnam regarding membership in the Trans Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation grouping for free trade area in Asia Pacific.

Investment. In 2010, Australia invested in 224 projects in Vietnam with disbursed Foreign Direct Investment of US$ 224 million. As of April 2010, Australia ranked 20th in overall direct foreign investment in Vietnam. By 2014, Australian foreign direct investment in Vietnam reached US$ 1.65 billion.

Both sides are exploring how to raise investment under the $ NZFTA. President Nguyen Minh Triet told Governor-General Quentin Bryce during her visit in May 2011 that Vietnam was expecting an increase in Australian investment in oil and gas, mining, and coal. In May 2010, the Australian Mining Mission, comprising ten companies, made its second visit to Vietnam to explore investment prospects. The first Mission visited in 2009.Australia currently ranks as Vietnam’s 17thlargest foreign investor.

Development cooperation. Australia’s aid program to Vietnam comes under the framework of the Australia-Vietnam Joint Aid Program Strategy for 2010-15.  This program has three priority areas: economic integration, human resource development (including scholarships) and environmental sustainability.

Australia is Vietnam’s sixth largest development assistance donor and ranks among the top ten bilateral donors of the thirty donor countries and agencies working in Vietnam. Australia’s ODA to Vietnam increased over the five-year period: A$ 100 million (2008-09), A$ 106 million (2009-10), A$ 127.4 million (2010-11), A$ 137.9 million (2011-12), A$ 147.8 (2012-13) and then declined by A$ 8.9 million toA$ 138.9 million (2013-14).

Undoubtedly Australia’s decision to finance construction of the Cao Lanh bridge, Dong Thap province, in the Mekong Delta is one of the most important developments. In October 2013, Australia committed $ 160 million for construction. The Cao Lanh bridge is part of the Central Mekong Delta Connectivity project to develop a new road infrastructure to provide market access in this region to five million people. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd estimated that both the My Thuan and Cao Lanh bridges would benefit nearly nine million persons.

On December 17, 2009, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Copenhagen and urged Australia to finance Cao Lanh bridge. Rudd replied that Australia would initially fund the design phase of the bridge subject to a feasibility study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Rudd also stated that Australia was interested in constructing the bridge and would discuss funding with the ADB.[26]

After due consideration Australia decided to go ahead with the project. In October 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, while in Hanoi, officially announced that Australia would provide $ 160 million towards the design and construction of the Cao Lanh bridge. Work was due to commence in 2012. The Cao Lanh bridge ranks as Australia’s biggest aid project in Vietnam.

The second major development after the Comprehensive Partnership was announced has been Australia’s increased support to Vietnam to address environmental and climate change issues. Australia has been assisting Vietnam in environmental protection and climate change adaptation including training personnel and organizing workshops on hydrometeorology and climate change issues. Additionally, Australia provided funds to the Centre for International Agricultural Research to conduct research on rice strains that can tolerate salty conditions likely to accompany sea level rise in Mekong Delta

On December 17, 2009, Prime Ministers Nguyen Tan Dung and Kevin Rudd agreed at a meeting in Copenhagen to cooperate in the exchange of weather forecasting technology and provide results of research into climate change in the Asia-Pacific. As Foreign Minister Rudd called for enhanced cooperation with Vietnam in dealing with natural disasters and climate change during his visit in April 2011.

These declarations took concrete form when Australia and Germany agreed in March 2010 to team up to provide Vietnam with assistance to manage environmental problems arising from climate change. On June 3, 2011, AusAID announced it would provide US$ 24.3 million to continue funding the Climate Change in Coastal Ecosystems Program. This program is being carried out in An Giang, Bac Lieu, Ca Mau, Kien Giang and Soc Trang provinces. The new funding will be provided over five years to assist these provinces in managing and protecting coastal eco-systems to cope with climate change by restoring mangrove forests, protecting coastal forests, managing sea dykes and adopting new farming methods.[27]

Australian assistance in meeting public health needs also featured in this period. Governor-General Quentin Bryce announced during her May 2011 visit to Vietnam that Australia wouldcontinue to provide assistance in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Australia is co-chair of Ambassadors/UN Heads of Agency Informal HIV Co-ordination Group.

Australia’s ODA program covers a wide variety of areas. The list below is indicative of the range of projects and programs that benefit from Australian funding:

  1. Vietnam-Australia Agricultural Cooperation Program aimed at strengthening Vietnam’s sanitary and phyto-sanitary capacity.

  2. A five-year agreement signed on January 13, 2011 between the State Audit Office of Vietnam and Society of Certified Practicing Accountants of Australia (CPA Australia) to exchange experience and information via seminars, workshops and professional network expansion and staff training courses in Australia.

  3. Australian support forVietnam’s trade reform agenda through provision of trade policy training.

  4. Australian supportforadministrative reform and good governance training programs including anti-corruption.

  5. Australian cooperation in public health and agriculture research.

  6. Australian funding to build roads, irrigation, electricity schemes, health centres and cultural houses.

In February 2014, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Hanoi to meet with her counterpart Pham Binh Minh. The two ministers announced that the joint Plan of Action for 2010-13 had been implemented and that they would “quickly finalize” the Plan of Action for 2015-16. Minister Bishop also met with the Minister of Public Security and the Prime Minister.

Minister Bishop announced two major initiatives to support the empowerment of Vietnamese women. [28]

The first involved a commitment of A$ 4.2 million for two projects to be conducted in partnership with the Vietnam Women’s Union. Half of this amount was to assist 2,000 women from ethnic minority and poor small holder families to increase vegetable production in Lao Cai province. The remainder would be used to combat gender-based violence under the Australian Government Partnerships for Development program.The first initiative was designed to improve the lives of women and increase household incomes by linking farmers and traders with urban markets. The second initiative was a commitment to provide A$ 2.1 million through the Australian Centre for Agricultural Research for joint agricultural research.

People-to-People Cooperation.People-to-people cooperation constitutes the third pillar of the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. Kevin Rudd correctly emphasized the importance of “the great bridge of education” as the centre piece of people-to-people cooperation.

Before turning to this aspect it is important to note the informal everyday interaction between Australia and Vietnam. Australia’s 2011 Census 221,114 persons claimed Vietnamese ancestry. This number is estimated at 300,000 today. An estimated230,000 Australians visit Vietnam annually. As noted by the two governments, “[t]hese [people-to-people] links exist across all levels of society and across a broad spread of business, academic, media, cultural, non-government agencies, friendly and sporting organizations.”[29]

Educational cooperation. In 1994, the Australia and Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Education and Training. This agreement was renewed in October 2013 under the framework of the Comprehensive Partnership Plan of Action. A Joint Working Group on Education and Training was set up and its has met three times, most recently in Canberra in April 2014.

Education and training represents Australia’s largest services export to Vietnam.In 2001, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) was the first foreign university to be established in Vietnam. It has graduated 2,500 students over the last decade. In October 2010 RMIT opened a new campus in Hanoi, while in April 2011 expanded campus facilities for 6,000 students were opened in Ho Chi Minh City.It is estimated that there are about 10,000 Vietnamese students undertaking Australian education and training courses in Vietnam annually.

Between 2007 and 2013, thirty-three Australian students went to study in Vietnam under the Endeavour Scholarship or Fellowship program. Between 2008 and 2013, 13,331 Australian students travelled to Vietnam to participate in short-term and exchange study opportunities under the Mobility Programs for Asia.

In addition, in 2015 it was estimated that there were nearly 30,000 Vietnamese students currently enrolled in schools, technical colleges, English education and universities in Australia.[30] They are overwhelmingly self-funded. The Vietnamese government provides 100 scholarships for study in Australia. Vietnamese students make up largest international student community in Australia.

At the same time Australia is the largest provider of scholarships to Vietnam worldwide. Each year several hundred higher education scholarships are provided for high performing Vietnamese students to study in Australia under the Australia Asia Awards.[31]Since 2007, 349 Vietnamese students accepted an Endeavour Scholarship or Fellowship to study in Australia. In 2010, Vietnamese won three of the Prime Minister’s ten Australia Asia Endeavour Awards for study, research and professional training in Australia.  By 2013-14 the number of Vietnamese who were Australia Awards alumni stood at 4,419.

In 2011-12, Australia made available up to 400 scholarships for applicants from Vietnam. In 2013, 482 Australia Awards were offered to Vietnamese students, including 272 long-term and 210 short-term awards.

As a result of the signing of the Australia-Vietnam Plan of Action (2010-13), a Joint Working Group on Education and Training was set up to enhance education cooperation. It held its first meeting in Canberra in March 2011. The following month, Foreign Minister Rudd announced that Australia would increase the number of scholarships for university students undertaking PhD programs and officials to study management, international law and English. Nevertheless, Vietnam has pressed for more educational assistance. In May 2011 President Nguyen Minh Triet told Governor-General Quentin Bryce that Vietnam would like to see Australia increase scholarships for Vietnamese students and create more favorable conditions for Vietnamese who are studying and working in Australia.

On August 26, 2014 the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop announced that Vietnam was included in the expanded New Colombo Plan. Fifteen Vietnamese universities and institutions have partnered with Australian counterparts to co-host students from both countries. Over 160 Austrlaian students are expected to study in Vietnam in 2015. The first group of students, from the Swinburne School of Design, spent three weeks in Vietnam in January 2015 with the support from the Hanoi University of Busniess and Technology and the Ho Chi Minh University of Architecture.

There are numerous other forms of people-to-people interaction that could be mentioned in this survey. For purpose of illustration two examples are discussed. The first concerns the role of private charities and non-government organizations, the second concerns an initiative by two veterans of the Vietnam War.

In May 2011, the Governor General visited Thua Thien-Hue where the Fred Hollows Foundation is providing public eye care. The Governor General also visited the Be Van Dan Primary School in Da Nang where the Alliance for Safe Children and Royal Life Saving Society Australia are sponsoring a swimming training program for children.

Two Australian military historians, Bob Hall and Derrill de Heer (who are also Vietnam War veterans) and other colleagues,[32] have found documents in the files of the Department of Defence that have enabled them to identify the names and burial sites of more than 3,800 communist soldiers killed in combat against Australia during the Vietnam War.[33] Using Australian records they have identified the names of more than 400 soldiers buried at sites in Ba Ria-Vung Tao and Dong Nai provinces. They have initiated a project to gather photographs, letters, official certificates and diaries that might have been taken from the bodies to assist in identifying the remains.

Australian Vietnam Veterans have been asked to assist by coming forward with any such material in their possession (www.vv$ The historians have also been in contact with veterans of 33rd Regiment, Vietnam People’s Army, who fought in the Australian Army’s area of responsibility (particularly at the battle of Binh Ba on June 6-7, 1969). The Vietnamese kept meticulous records and have handed over the names of their war dead and date and place of engagement. By combining this information with information contained in Australian war diaries the historians have been able to determine where the Vietnamese are buried and thus assist Vietnam in the recovery of its own wartime missing-in-action.  The entire project has been named Operation Wandering Soul.

People-to-people links continue to be affected by legacies of the Vietnam War. When the Australian veterans organization Returned and Services League (better known as the RSL) attempted to negotiate a MOU with the Vietnam Veterans’ Association to promote rapprochement this provoked a backlash among some veterans including the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia and the Vietnamese Community in Australia. The RSL dropped its proposal.[34]

Part 3 Enhancing the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung made an official visit to Australia at the invitation of Prime Minister Tony Abbott from March 16-18, 2015.[35]According to the official joint communiqué issued after their discussions, the two leaders witnessed the signing of the Declaration on Enhancing the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership and agreed to establish a Strategic Partnership in the future.

According to “Declaration on Enhancing the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership,” the “Enhanced Comprehensive Partnership… reflects the current dynamics of our region and a more mature bilateral relationship. A second Plan of Acton will deliver new and refocused priority areas of cooperation.”

The Declaration on Enhancing the Comprehensive Partnership is divided into five sections in addition to a preamble. The preamble declares:

“Australia and Vietnam have mutual interests in regional security, stability, and economic growth. Both countries benefit from a secure and stable regional environment that respects sovereignty and international law. Both countries recognize there remain significant challenges to achieving a stable, peaceful and prosperous region.”

The preamble notes that Australia and Vietnam “will continue to work in partnership to shape the future of the region and broader global environment” through multilateral institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

The preamble also commits Australia and Vietnam to implement the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, and complete a “balanced and comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).”

Section 1 of the joint declaration is the longest of the four sections and focuses exclusively on bilateral relations. Point 1.2, for example, commits both sides to increase the “exchange of high-level visits and working-level dialogue between the Communist Party, Government and National Assembly of Vietnam and the Parties, Government and Parliament of Australia.”

Point 1.3 commits both sides “to engage in dialogue and cooperation on defense and security matters, navigation and aviation security and safety in the region, law enforcement and transnational crime.”

Point 1.4 addresses the issue of human rights and pledges continued support for the Australia-Vietnam Dialogue on International Organisations and Legal issues, Including Human Rights.[36]

Points 1.5-1.9 address people-to-people linkages, the Vietnamese community in Australia, science and technology cooperation, education and training and legal cooperation, respectively.

Points 1.10 to 1.12 identify three new areas of cooperation: (1) food standards and safety, quarantine and agricultural research, (2) environmental protection and climate change, and (3) “finance, information and communication, natural resources and environment and consular matters.”

In Section 2, Regional and International Cooperation, Australia and Vietnam pledge to work together to develop the Indo-Pacific region’s multilateral architecture, including the East Asian Summit “as a Leader-led forum to discuss issues of common interest, including security, economic cooperation and development in the region.”

The joint communiqué states that the leaders shared a commitment to strengthen the strategic and security mandate of the East Asia Summit.

Point 2.4 directly addresses shared security concerns over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Both parties agreed on “the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region, and ensuring security, safety and freedom of navigation and aviation, in accordance with international law… without resorting to the threat or use of force.” This reflects a major Vietnamese concern and a convergence on interests between Hanoi and Canberra.

Point 2.4 also incorporated ASEAN boilerplate policy statement on the South China Sea:

“Both countries call on all parties to exercise self-restraint and refrain from actions that could increase tensions in the region. Both countries agree on the urgent need to conclude a code of conduct for the South China Sea.”

The joint communiqué reiterates these policy statements on the South China Sea.

Point 2.6 commits Australia and Vietnam to promote “sustainable development of the Mekong sub-region.”

Section 3 “Economic growth, trade and industry development,” encourages a greater role for the private sector in nineteen specific areas ranging from mining and energy to electronics and telecommunications. Both sides further agreed to exchange information on import and export regulations to reduce unnecessary duplication of controls.

Australia and Vietnam also gave their support for more open trade and investment through participation in the World Trade Organisation, APEC, Asia-Europe Meeting and the Cairns Group.

The joint communiqué announced that Australia’s Minister for Trade and Investment would lead a trade delegation to Vietnam later in the year to promote further trade and investment.

Section 4 focused on development assistance and included an Australian pledge to support Vietnam in “its stated goal of becoming a basically modern orientated-industrial country by 2020” by assisting Vietnam “to implement its Socio-Economic Development Strategy (2011-2020), including through the three breakthrough areas of promoting human resources and skills development; improving market institutions; and infrastructure development.”

Point 4.4 identified a new area of cooperation – economic diplomacy. Both sides agreed to implement economic diplomacy “through sharing experiences and capacity building activities.”

Section 5, Defense, Law Enforcement and Security Ties, contained six points. Point 5.1 committed both sides to continue dialogue and cooperation on defense and security matters, including through the EAS, the annual Australia Vietnam Defense Ministers’ Meetings, Australia Vietnam Strategic Dialogue, Australia-Vietnam Defense Cooperation Talks, and the Australia-Vietnam Defense 1.5 Track Diaogue.

Point 5.2 committed both parties to “foster greater openness and cooperation… through personnel exchanges, officer training, and ship visits… (and) exchange views on regional and security issues of mutual concern by maintaining a programme of regular consultations and visits at civilian official and military levels.”

Under Point 5.3 Australia and Vietnam pledged to work together to advance shared security goals through the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus, the Expanded Maritime Forum and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Point 5.4 committed both parties to work together in “aviation and maritime security, peacekeeping, counter-terrorism, special forces and war legacy issues.”

During Prime Minister Dung’s visit a Memorandum of Understanding on war legacy issues and a Memorandum of Understanding on Peacekeeping Cooperation were signed.

Point 5.5 dealt with cooperation to address “the significant and increasing threat of transnational crime (human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, money laundering and cyber crime)” through increased sharing of information and intelligence

Point 5.6 committed Australia and Vietnam to work bilaterally and through international fora to address “food insecurity, natural resource management, and the risk of disease, pandemics and natural disasters.”

Part 4 Conclusion

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam in 1973 bilateral relations have passed through four major periods. During the first period from 1973-78 Australia extended development assistance to Vietnam and offered scholarships for Vietnamese to study in Australia. The first period saw both countries turn from enmity to a degree of amity.

Bilateral relations soured as a result of Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia (December 1978-September 1989). This marked the second period of Australia-Vietnam relations. Australia terminated its aid program and joined ASEAN in supporting a withdrawal of Vietnamese forces and a comprehensive political settlement. The withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia in September set the stage for a normalization of relation.

Vietnam’s withdrawal from Cambodia and the Paris settlement of the Cambodian conflict set the stage for Australia to re-engage Vietnam. This marked the third state in Australia-Vietnam relations, 1991-2009. After 1991, Australia-Vietnam relations quickly developed across a number of areas including political-diplomatic relations, economic (trade and investment), education and defence-security. In July 1995 Vietnam became ASEAN’s sixth member; this provided an additional context for Australia-Vietnam relations.

In 2009 Australia and Vietnam agreed to formalize their bilateral relations into Comprehensive Partnership. This agreement marked the fourth phase in Australia-Vietnam relations (2009-2014). The agreement of a Comprehensive Partnership was a political decision to give recognition to what had become in fact a extensive bilateral relationship in breadth and depth.

The joint statement on Comprehensive Partnership provided a coherent framework for the management and prioritizing of bilateral relations. According to the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the Comprehensive Partnership was based on three pillars: political-security; economic cooperation; and people-to-people with education as key.

The following year Australia and Vietnam agreed to a Plan of Action covering the period 2010 to 2013. Six major areas of cooperation were set out: political and public policy; economic growth and trade development; development assistance and technical cooperation; defence and security; people-to-people links; and global and regional agenda.

For reasons that are still unclear, the Plan of Action was not immediately renewed when “used by date” expired in 2013. At that time the Labor Government experienced a turnover in leaders. On June 27, 2013 Julia Gillard was replaced as prime minister by Kevin Rudd. On September 13, 2013 the Liberal-National Coalition won the federal elections and Tony Abbott became Prime Minister. The new government set a goal of bringing the federal budget into balance and this resulted in a large cut in funding for Australia’s overseas development assistance. This impacted on Vietnam.

The fourth and current period of Australia-Vietnam relations was inaugurated with the visit of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to Australia in March 2015. At this time bilateral relations under the 2009 Comprehensive Partnership had led to a growing convergence of outlook between Australia and Vietnam on political, diplomatic, economic, development, and security and defense issues at a time of change in the geo-strategic environment, particularly China’s rise and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister’s Dung’s visit led to a renewed impetus in bilateral relations. The two prime ministers witnessed the signing of the Declaration on Enhancing the Comprehensive Partnership. This document spelled out commitments and aspirational goals in five areas: bilateral relations; regional and international cooperation; economic growth, trade and industry development; development assistance; and defence, law enforcement and security. The two sides will now draw up a second Plan of Action for the period 2015-17.

Both leaders agreed to consider raising bilateral relations to a strategic partnership in future. If and when this takes place, Australia-Vietnam relations will enter a new and fifth period of development.

The development of Australia-Vietnam relations since 1991 demonstrate the wisdom of Vietnam’s policy of “multilateralizing and diversifying” its external relations adopted that year. At the last national congress of the Vietnam Communist Party in 2011, Vietnam set the goal of proactively seeking international integration. Australia has played a key role in assisting Vietnam achieve this objective. Vietnam is now a lower middle income country that is playing an increasingly constructive role in regional and global affairs. The Declaration on Enhancing the Comprehensive Partnership also underscores that Australia, as a middle power, is a valuable contributor to regional security, stability, and economic growth in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region as well.


[1] For a review of Australia-Vietnam relations during this period consult: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Australia and Vietnam, 1950-1980, Part II, From Conciliation to Condemnation, 1972-1980,” Dyason House Papers[Australian Institute of International Affairs], (March 1980), 6(3), 5-12; Carlyle A. Thayer, “Australia and Vietnam: Trade, Investment and Aid,” Paper presented to the 1st International Symposium on The Countries of Indochina and International Economic Co-operation: Potentialities and Prospects, organized by the Association of Soviet Indo-Sinologists and the International Centre for Scientific and Technical Information, Moscow, Russian Federation, April 13-17, 1992 and Carlyle A. Thayer, “Avstraliia i V’etnam: torgovlia, investitsii, politika,” in E. P. Glazunov, G. G. Kadymov, V. M. Mazyrin and E. A. Fomicheva, eds., Strany Indokitaia v mezhdunarodnom ekonomicheskom sotrudnichestve: vozmozhnosti i perspektivy (Moskva: Mezhdunarodnyi Tsentr Nauchno-tekhnicheskoi Informatsii i Assotsiatsiia Indokitaistov, 1993), 56–63.

[2] Carlyle A. Thayer, “Australia and Vietnam, 1950-1980, Part II, From Conciliation to Condemnation, 1972-1980,” Dyason House Papers[Australian Institute of International Affairs], 6(3), March 1980, 5-12.

[3]Agreement on Trade and Economic Co-operation between Australia and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Hanoi, June 14, 1990. Department of Foreign Affairs and Traxe, Australian Treaty Series 1990, No. 18. The treaty entered into force on June 14, 1990.

[4] In 2009 two Jetstar Pacific executives were prevented from leaving Vietnam for their alleged role in fuel hedging losses. The Jetstar case also involved complaints about its branding prompted by Vietnam Airlines concern over Jetstar’s inroads into Vietnam Airlines’ market share. In January 2011, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith called on Vietnam to speed up their investigation so the executives could return to Australia. Vietnam Airlines is now reported by be in negotiations to become a majority stakeholder in Jetstar Pacific. See: Steve Creedy, “Smith urges Vietnam to send Aussies home,” The Australian, January 20, 2010; Deutsche Presse Agentur, “Vietnam orders Jetstar Pacific airline to change logo,” June 30, 2010; Matthew Sullivan, “Secret cables shed light on Qantas pair’s Vietnam release,” The Sydney Morning Herald, July 4, 2011; Matt O’Sullivan, “Qantas duo rescued from Vietnam,” The Sydney Morning Herald, July 30, 2010; Ben Bland, “Jetstar looks for closer ties with Vietnam Airlines,” Financial Times, October 18, 2011; Andrew Cleary, “Hanoi airline alliance set to give Qantas a lift,” The Australian Financial Times, October 21, 2011; and Leithen Francis, “Vietnam Airlines May Buy Majority Stake in Jetstar Pacific,” Aviation Week, October 25, 2011.

[5] The Australian English Language Course is conducted by Unit 871 of the Vietnam People’s Army that has responsibility for Vietnam’s defence cooperation training programs. See: Nguyen Ngoc Hung, “Friendship through Training,” People’s Army Newspaper Online, February 23, 2009.

[6] Kevin Rudd, “Australia and Vietnam: Partners in shaping our region for the 21st century,” Speech to RMIT University, Ho Chi Minh City, April 13, 2011.

[7] Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam On the Road to Global Integration: Forging Strategic Partnerships Through International Security Cooperation,” in Vietnam on the Road to Integration and Sustainable Development, The Fourth International Conference on Vietnamese Studies. Hanoi: Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences and Vietnam National University, 2012. 206-214.

[8] “Uc-Viet thuc day quan he doi tac,” BBC Vietnamese, September 7, 2009.

[9] Secretary General Manh was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Planning and Investment, and the Minister of Industry and Trade.

[10] “Australia-Viet Nam Comprehensive partnership,” September 7, 2009.

[11] Kevin Rudd, “Australia and Vietnam: Partners in shaping our region for the 21st century,” Speech to RMIT University, Ho Chi Minh City, April 13, 2011.

[12] On most measures Vietnam is among the top ten countries likely to be severely impacted by climate change including sea level rise; see: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam,” in Daniel Moran, ed., Climate Change and National Security: A Country-Level Analysis. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011. 27-41.

[13] “Australian Army delegation visits Vietnam,” Voice of Vietnam News, August 3, 2009 and “Hop tac giua QDND Viet Nam va Luc luong quoc phong O-xtray-li-a,” Quan Doi Nhan Dan, August 4, 2009. On the eve of General Hurley’s visit the Vietnamese announced they had found the remains of the last two Australian soldiers who died during the Vietnam War. See: “Last two Australian soldiers; remains found in Vietnam,” Voice of Vietnam News, August 3, 2009.

[14] “Australia and Vietnam deepen Defence Cooperation,” Minister for Defence, Media Release MR12/10, October 11, 2010 and Ngoc Hung, “Australia and Vietnam sign MoU on Defence Cooperation,” People’s Army Newspaper Online, October 12, 2010.

[15] “Vietnam and Australia armes to strengthen ties,” People’s Army Newspaper Online, September 9, 2014l

[16] “Vietnam and Australia boost defence cooperation,” People’s Army Newspaper Online, September 27, 2014

[17] “Vietnam, Australia discuss maritime issues in defense dialogue,” Tuoi Tre News, November 21, 2014.

[18] In October 2010 an Australian citizen, Hong Vo, was arrested for joining an anti-China protest in Vietnam. She was released ten day later. Mrs. Vo was a member of the pro-democracy Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan) which Vietnamese media characterize as a terrorist organization. “Aussie arrested,” The Adelaide Advertiser, October 12, 2010; Deutsche Presse Agentur, “Vietnam charges Australian woman with terrorism,” October 14, 2010; Helen Clark, “Consular visit for arrested Australian,” Australian Associated Press, October 16, 2010; Deutsche Presse Agentur, “Vietnam releases Australian woman for protesting against China,” October 21, 2010.

[19] The MOU was signed by the AFP and the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship and “relevant agencies” of the Vietnamese government, presumably police, customs, immigration, border contro/guards, and security and intelligence officials.

[20] The future of the East Asia Summit, including expanded membership to include the Russian Federation and the United States, featured when Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd visited Hanoi in April 2011 for discussions with his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Gia Khiem.

[21] Graeme Swift quoted in Tuong Thuy, “Aussie representative: It was a busy year to cement bilateral relations,” Saigon Giai Phong English Edition, January 28, 2011.

[22] “ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, “$ nzfta/index.html.

[23] Luong Thanh Nghi, “Time to bolster ties with Vietnam as the region transforms,” The Australian, March 16, 2015.

[24] “Vietnam scores big trade surplus with Australia,”  People’s Army Daily Online, February 7, 2015.

[25] “VN suspends Australian fruit imports,” Vietnam Government Portal, December 18, 2014 and Sarina Locke, “Vietnam ban on $ 40 million worth of Australian fruit and vegetable imports now likely in January 2015,” ABC Rural, December 15, 2014.

[26] When former Prime Minister Paul Keating met with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in July 2010, Dung lobbied Keating to encourage the Australian government to fund the construction of the Cao Lanh bridge and to support the Thanh Long Royal Citadel as a UNESCO heritage site.

[27] Voice of Vietnam, June 3, 2011.

[28] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Australian support for Vietnam’s economic reforms,” Media Release, February 19, 2014; Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Supporting women in Vietnam,” Media Release, February 19, 2014; and “Australian Government commits funding to women’s empowerment in Vietnam,” Australian Network News, February 19, 2014.

[29] “Australia-Viet Nam Comprehensive Partnership,” September 7, 2009.

[30] Luong Thanh Nghi, “Time to bolster ties with Vietnam as the region transforms,” The Australian, March 16, 2015.

[31] Sources vary, with figures ranging from 150 to 300 to 400 scholarships awarded annually. The BBC reported on May 12, 2011 that Australia will grant Vietnam more than 300 graduate and post-graduate scholarship in 2011-12. Of the winners, 48 Vietnamese scholars and professionals were selected to receive scholarships worth $6.7 million in 2010.

[32]Hall and de Heer are attached to Hall and de Heer are attached to the School of Humanities and Social Science, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.

[33] Mark Dodd, “Tool to help uncover Vietnam’s war dead,” The Australian, March 5, 2010; “Australian veterans help Vietnam find its war dead,” Thanh Nien News, March 13, 2010; Mark Dodd, “Vietnam vets find ‘wandering souls’,” The Australian, July 20, 2010; “Australian vets create virtual map of Vietnam’s ‘wandering souls’,” Thanh Nien News, August 13, 2010; David Ellery, “Search goes on for Vietnam’s MIAs,” The Canberra Times, January 19 2011; Tom Hyland, “Diggers offer peace at last for ‘wandering souls’,” The Sydney Morning Herald, April 24, 2011; Tom Hyland, “Peace at last for souls lost in war,” The Sunday Age, April 24, 2011; “One Good Turn…,” Vietnam Veterans Peacekeepers & Peacemakers: Official Journal of the Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia, September 2001, 20-21; and “More beloigings of fallen soldiers returned to Vietnam,” People’s Army Daily Online, November 22, 2014l

[34] Ian McPhedran, “Vietnam veteran fury over RSL’s ‘betrayal’.” The Daily Telegraph, October 18, 2011; Sean Nicholls, “RSL plan outrages Vietnam veterans,” The Sydney Morning Herald, October 18, 2011; Mark Dodd, “Digger fury forces RSL to retreat on Vietnam,” The Weekend Australian, October 22023, 2011; “RSL abandons Vietnam agreement,” The Sydney Morning Herald, October 26, 2011; and “Vietnam-Australia veterans link dumped.” Australia Network News, ABC Asia Pacific News Centre, October 26, 2011.

[35] This section is based on Carlyle A. Thayer, “Australia and Vietnam Enhance Their Comprehensive Partnership,” The Diplomat, March 17, 2015.

[36] The most recent Australia-Vietnam dialogue on human rights was held in July 2014; see; “Vietnam, Australia to compare notes on human rights,” ABC Radio Australia, July 28, 2014. For a critical view see: Elaine Pearson, “Abbott has a habit of honouring authoritarians. Will Vietnam be different?,” The Guardian, March 17, 2015.

(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. This article is text of  Keynote Paper II presented to International Conference on Australia-Asia Relations under Prime Minister Tony Abbott sponsored by the National Cheng Chi University Taipei, Taiwan, March 31-April 1, 2015.

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