Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has delivered a strong endorsement of the importance of the country’s relationship with Vietnam, while speaking in Hanoi overnight.
In 2023, Australia and Vietnam will celebrate 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations, which has seen a vital partnership flourish after dark beginnings between the two nations, a point the Prime Minister touched on during his speech in Hanoi.
"Here we are, two different societies; two different political systems; two nations who were once in terrible conflict; but who now work together on so many fronts," Prime Minister Morrison noted.
"As our countries have changed, we have worked to understand each other better and build a lasting relationship. That is why I am here. The relationship we have, the relationship we are building.
"A relationship that speaks strongly to the future of our region. Partners for a stable, peaceful, prosperous and independent Indo-Pacific region. A region of sovereign interdependent states, resistant to coercion but open to engagement on the basis of shared interests. The change we see in the connections between our countries is underpinned by the changes that have been occurring in Australia for many years."
In 2017, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced, at APEC in Da Nang, the elevation of Australia and Vietnam to a strategic partnership, which was signed off nearly six months later.
One of the key elements of that strategic partnership was defence and security, with a reaffirmed commitment to annual Defence Ministers' Meetings in order to "explore further defence co-operation, including in education and training, maritime and aviation security, peace keeping training and support, counter-terrorism, war legacy issues and other areas".
For a country that borders China, a country that appears set on the coercion in the Indo-Pacific region that the Prime Minister noted in his Hanoi speech, it's an important and brave statement to make with Australia, one of the stronger powers in the region.
Australia's formal defence relations with Vietnam began just over two decades ago, with the opening of a defence attache Office at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi, and was shortly followed by Vietnam's first defence attache to Australia taking up his appointment in Canberra the following year.
An example of the defence co-operation between the two countries taking place earlier this year was the Australian Defence Force's Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE 19) Joint Task Force visiting Vietnam, with HMA Ships Canberra and Newcastle making a port call in Cam Ranh Bay.
At the time, Commander of the IPE 19 Joint Task Force, Air Commodore Rick Owen, AM, said the visit was an important opportunity to increase defence co-operation between the two countries: "Our defence engagement with Vietnam only started in 1998 but in the intervening years we have become important partners in helping to ensure the region remains safe, secure, open and prosperous."
In 2010, the nations signed a bilateral MOU on defence co-operation at the inaugural ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus, which now sees regular Australian Defence Force ship visits to Vietnamese ports; training of Vietnamese military officers in Australia under the bilateral Defence Cooperation Program; and visits between Australian and Vietnamese senior Defence Force officials.
An area that will also continue to see growth between the two countries is in trade and investment, with Australia and Vietnam setting their two-way trade record last year, valued at $14.6 billion.
That trend is set to continue, with Australian merchandise exports to Vietnam in the first half of 2019 increased by 37 per cent compared with the same six months last year.
It's a potential that Australian shipbuilding company Austal has already realised, with the establishment of its Vietnam subsidiary, appropriately named Austal Vietnam, which commenced operations in March last year.
That's also flourishing.
Late last year, Austal announced that it expected its new shipyard would be profitable in its first year of operations, and signalled its intent to expand to over 450 people, after beginning with 100.
"It’s more important than ever before that we remain open and connected and maintain a regional focus with a global perspective," Prime Minister Morrison said in Hanoi.
"We know that in south-east Asia we need security and peace to maintain our prosperity. I’m sure many of you have noticed the developing mutual trust between our countries, particularly in areas like economic development, defence, immigration and law enforcement.
"We are working together in a very practical way, building closer connections. Australia’s support for Vietnam’s development and growth, which has helped build these strong foundations, has evolved into a genuine economic partnership which is strong and vibrant."