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Thayer Consultancy Background Brief

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Australia-Vietnam Strategic
Partnership: Convergence of
Interests
March 17, 2018

We are writing a report on the new relationship between Vietnam and Australia. We
request your assessment of the following issues:
1 - What opportunities arise from the Strategic Partnership framework for Australia
and Vietnam?
ANSWER: The two major opportunities opened up by the Strategic Partnership are (1)
deeper economic cooperation and (2) defence, law and justice, intelligence and
security cooperation.
The Strategic Partnership established a new bilateral mechanism, the annual
ministerial-level Economic Partnership Meeting. This mechanism will co-ordinate
trade, investment and development cooperation between Australia and Vietnam. This
mechanism now replaces the Joint Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee. In
addition to bilateral ties, Australia and Vietnam will cooperate to face the challenges
of implementing the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership and
negotiating final agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the six dialogue
partners that already have a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN.
Under the 2009 agreement on Enhanced Comprehensive Partnership provision was
made for cooperation in defence and security. This has now been expanded to include
law and justice and intelligence cooperation. This will mean annual meetings between
defence ministers and an annual Security Dialogue at vice-ministerial level. Finally,
there will be greater sharing of intelligence and information and cooperation in
capacity building.
Defence cooperation includes five areas: education and training, maritime and
aviation security, peacekeeping training, counter-terrorism, and addressing war
legacy issues.
Cooperation between law enforcement agencies is focused on transnational non-
traditional security threats including people smuggling, human trafficking, narcotics
trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime and recovery of criminal proceeds,
2 - Will Australia play an increased role in South China Sea through co-operation with
Vietnam and ASEAN at a time when the intentions of the Trump Administration are
not clear?
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ANSWER: Australia and Vietnam, and Australia and ASEAN will cooperate politically
and diplomatically on South China Sea issues. Australia and Vietnam agreed to call for
the implementation of international legal obligations in good faith. This is a reference
to the Arbitral Tribunal’s Award in the case brought by the Philippines against China.
ASEAN prefers to use the expression “legal and diplomatic processes.” Basically, in
their joint statements that China will ignore. They agree that disputes should be
settled peacefully in accord with international law, without the threat or use of force,
the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in
the South China Sea (DOC), and the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC). On
the latter point the parties differ on whether the COC should be legally binding.
3 - What does the Australia-Vietnam Strategic Partnership mean?: Will Australia and
Vietnam conduct joint patrol in South China Sea? Will Australia sell arms to Vietnam?
ANSWER: The Strategic Partnership includes cooperation in five major areas including
political cooperation, economic cooperation and development; defence, law and
justice, intelligence and security cooperation; education, science and technology,
labour, social affairs, people-to-people links; and regional and international
cooperation. In other words, the Strategic Partnership is much broader than defence
and security issues.
Cooperation in maritime and aviation security, is likely to focus on capacity building.
Arms sales are not likely to feature because Australia is not a major arms seller at
present though it has plans to step up weapons sales in the future. Vietnam acquires
its weapons from Russia (over eighty percent), Ukraine and Israel. Vietnam will
continue to host friendly port visits by the Royal Australia Navy but bilateral freedom
of navigation patrols are unlikely. The Australian government is not keen to provoke
China. Vietnam and Australia, however, are cooperating together in India’s Milan
Exercises where, besides Vietnam, six other members of ASEAN are participating
(Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia)
4 - What kinds of collaboration do you expect to see between Australia and Vietnam
ANSWER: The longest section in the agreement on Strategic Partnership between
Australia and Vietnam focuses on regional and international cooperation to promote
an open, inclusive and rules based regional order. Australia and Vietnam will
cooperate and co-ordinate their approaches in multilateral settings, particularly
ASEAN-led bodies such as the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, and ASEAN
Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus.
Australia and Vietnam have identified a very wide range of issues to be addressed, in
addition to the transnational non-traditional security issues mentioned above; they
will cooperate to address: terrorism, environmental protection, climate change, illegal
unreported and unregulated fishing, energy security, maritime safety and security,
food and water security, infectious diseases, quality infrastructure, narrowing the
development gap, digital economy, economic growth and promoting trade and
investment liberalization.
5- What is the convergence of national interests between Australia and Vietnam with
respect to security issues?
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ANSWER: The very first sentence in the Australia-Vietnam Joint Statement on the
Establishment of a Strategic Partnership notes that “converging security and economic
interests… anchor our bilateral relationship and cooperation.” Security cooperation
will be based on “respect for the United Nations Charter, international law and each
other’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and respective political
systems.” Security cooperation will involve more intensive interaction at annual
meetings of the relevant ministries and the 2 + 2 Strategic Dialogue involving foreign
affairs and defence. Specific joint actions will be identified in a new Plan of Action to
take effect after the current Plan of Action expires in 2019.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Australia-Vietnam Strategic Partnership:


Convergence of Interests,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, March 17, 2018. All
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
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