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Vietnam and Australia – 50 years of partnership and prosperity
Australia, the first industrialized nation to establish relations with Vietnam following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, continues the support Vietnam to put their relationship on an extraordinary journey in which Vietnam is now one of Australia’s most important partners.

Today, February 26, 2023, Vietnam and Australia celebrate our 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations. This milestone is an occasion to reflect on our partnership’s many achievements.

Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Andrew Goledzinowski. Photos: Embassy of Australia in Hanoi 

Establishing diplomatic relations with Hanoi was one of the first foreign policy acts by the new Government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam elected in 1972. Australia was the first industrialized nation to establish relations with Hanoi following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, opening our Embassy in the Thong Nhat Hotel (now the Metropole) in 1973. As one of only a handful of foreign embassies in Hanoi then, the Australian Embassy served as an early bridge between Vietnam and other developed nations. In 1994, Australia opened a Consulate-General in Ho Chi Minh City.

From the very beginning, Australia has been a vocal supporter of Vietnam’s international integration. We knew that our region and the international community would be stronger if Vietnam were fully engaged. In 1977 Australia was one of only a few developed countries to support Vietnam’s admission to the United Nations (UN). In the mid 1990’s, we applauded Vietnam’s admission as a fully-fledged member of ASEAN and supported its accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2007. We have been heartened to see Vietnam playing an ever more active role on the global stage. Cooperation in multilateral forums has become a hallmark of our relationship.

High-level engagement began early. In 1974, Australia welcomed its first senior Vietnamese visitor, Minister for Foreign Trade of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Phan Anh, who signed our first bilateral trade agreement with Australian Minister for Trade, Dr Jim Cairns. In 1990, Australia was the first developed nation to host a visit by the Chair of the National Assembly, Le Quang Dao. This ushered in further visits to Australia in the 1990s, including Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet in May 1993 and CPV General Secretary, Do Muoi, in 1995. A year earlier, Paul Keating became the first Australian Prime Minister, and only the second leader of a developed nation, to visit Vietnam.

 Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong during her visit to Vietnam in June 2022.

Today, our dynamic and growing economic relationship is a cornerstone of our bilateral ties. We partner with Vietnam not only across traditional sectors such as agriculture and education, but also in new and emerging sectors, such as digital transformation and climate change. Australia is proud of our pioneering investor role during Vietnam’s early economic opening in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Telstra built the first undersea cable and enabled the first direct international phone calls. RMIT was the first foreign university. ANZ was the first international bank and introduced ATMs into Vietnam. And the first foreign law firm was Phillips Fox (now called Allens).

Great strides to unlock the significant potential of our highly complementary economic partnership continue. In 2021, we launched the jointly drafted Australia-Vietnam Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy (EEES). Results are already strong: in 2022, Australia became Vietnam’s 7th largest trading partner with two-way trade rising to almost US$16 billion. A standout in this story is our flourishing trade in agriculture, fisheries and forestry products. In 2022 two-way agricultural trade reached $6 billion, more than doubling over the preceding two years.

Education is a foundational pillar of our relationship. Over 80,000 Vietnamese students have studied in Australia over the past 50 years; more than 6,500 on Australian Government scholarships. Reflecting the high standing of Australia’s world class schools and universities, around 20,000 students from Vietnam study in Australia each year. Australia has been instrumental in strengthening Vietnam’s education sector. RMIT remains the only true branch campus of a foreign university in Vietnam. Today, there are over 100 agreements between Australian and Vietnamese universities, including more than 20 that deliver Australian qualifications in partnership with Vietnamese counterparts.

Our defense cooperation has also grown rapidly since formal defense relations were established in 1998. Our defense officials regularly share strategic perspectives. Built on education and training, our militaries conduct a wide range of practical military and skills exchanges. More than 3000 Vietnamese officers have undertaken Australian-sponsored English language training. Over 500 Vietnamese officers have attended training courses in Australia; 170 completing Masters degrees.

Australia has proudly supported Vietnam’s peacekeeping journey since 2014 when its first officers deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan. Vietnamese peacekeepers deploying on Australian aircraft powerfully demonstrates our close cooperation and strategic trust.  We have so far supported over 300 Vietnamese peacekeepers with specialist training, UN qualifications, and equipment.

Australia is proud to have played a key role in supporting Vietnam’s development through our bilateral development cooperation program, to date providing $3 billion to Vietnam. This includes historic infrastructure investments unlocking significant economic opportunities in the Mekong Delta, such as the My Thuan bridge (Vietnam’s first bridge over the Mekong river), and the Cao Lanh bridge, Australia’s largest aid project in mainland Southeast Asia. Our development cooperation is genuinely flexible and collaborative. So when Covid struck we swung in behind Vietnam’s successful response as its second largest COVID-19 vaccine donor, supplying over 26 million doses. I’m delighted our development assistance to Vietnam is still increasing, growing 18% this year to $92 million.

Another great example is the role that the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) plays in supporting Vietnam’s agricultural sector. Since 1993, ACIAR has completed 243 projects valued at more than $157 million. The calculated cost-benefit ratio of ACIAR-supported projects is 1:84, so every dollar invested creates 84 dollars for Vietnam.

 Australia supports airlift rotation 4 to Vietnam’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan in April 2022.

Looking forward, we are deepening our collaboration in science, technology and innovation to prepare for industry 4.0’s challenges and opportunities. We are working with the government, academia and the private sector here to support research and development in key innovation sectors, such as artificial intelligence, and enhance Vietnam’s innovation system. I am pleased we will extend our flagship Aus4Innovation program until 2028, doubling our investment.

The urgent global challenge of climate change and energy transition will be a growing shared focus. We face remarkably similar challenges and, as trusted partners, we can learn from each other, exchanging knowledge and innovative solutions. We can work on clean energy supply chains – building on Australia’s comparative advantages in mineral resources and Vietnam’s in manufacturing and labor.

Our relationship has been on an extraordinary journey and Vietnam is now one of Australia’s most important partners. Last year I had the great honor to accompany the President of the National Assembly, Vuong Dinh Hue, on his visit to Australia where he and my Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced our intention to elevate our ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This year I had the pleasure to jointly open, with Professor Dr Nguyen Xuan Thang, the Vietnam Australia Centre, embedded within the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics. This will become our flagship institution for collaborative leadership, training and exchange.

We are looking forward to our 50th anniversary celebrations and to enhancing cooperation, seizing new opportunities and addressing emerging challenges. We are excited about the future of our relationship. Chúc mừng kỷ niệm 50 năm quan hệ ngoại giao Australia – Việt Nam!

TAG: Vietnam Australia peacekeeping Paris Peace Accords
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