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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Australia’s Prime Minister to
Visit Vietnam and the U.S.
Carlyle A. Thayer
August 8, 2019

There are recent reports that the Australian Prime Minister will visit Vietnam this
month. Given the tense situation between U.S-China as well as the strained
relationship between Australia and China (Chinese interference in Australia, the new
encounter between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Australian counterpart
Marise Payne at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting, and Australia’s joining in
condemning Chinese acts...), we request your assessment of the following”
Q1) Is Prime Minister Morrison’s visit a new and unexpected one or is it planned
before?
ANSWER: According to my understanding, the visit by the Australian Prime Minister
to Vietnam was long-planned and reciprocates the visit of Prime Minister Nguyen
Xuan Phuc last year. Since Phuc’s visit, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was replaced
by Scott Morrison and the Coalition Government then went on to win a general
election.
Q2) What will be the focus of the visit? Regarding defense what could Australia offer
Vietnam?
ANSWER: The focus of the visit will be how to advance the strategic partnership
agreed last year through a multi-year Plan of Action. This agreement included five
major areas of cooperation; (1) political, (2) economic cooperation and development,
(3) defence, law and justice, intelligence and security, (4) education, science and
technology, labour, social affairs and culture, and (5) regional and international
cooperation (UN Sustainable Development Goals, Climate Change and ASEAN).
Obviously, the South China Sea and China will feature in discussions between the two
prime ministers. Both will call for the implementation of international law and the
settlement of disputes by peaceful means. The two leaders will also discuss how they
can assist each other when Vietnam assumes the ASEAN Chair at the end of the year.
Three issues are likely to feature in defence cooperation: training related to UN
peacekeeping, maritime security and cyber security.
Q3) The U.S just confirmed its plan to deploy missiles systems in Asia Pacific. Australia
immediately denied any intention of becoming involved. Do you think that Australia
has any intention to join later and this is only a move not to anger China?
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ANSWER: It is a well-recognized norm in U.S.-Australian relations that officials on one


side do not make a formal request without first knowing what the answer will be. It is
clear the Trump Administration is going ahead with plans to develop intermediate
range ballistic missiles and station them in Asia. Neither Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo nor Secretary of Defense Mark Esper made any formal approach to Australia
during their recent visit. Both Prime Minister Morrison and Defence Minister Linda
Reynolds have stated publicly that no request was made.
It is an open question, however, whether President Donald Trump will break the long-
standing norm and press Prime Minister Morrison to accept U.S. missiles during
Morrison’s forthcoming official visit to The White House. Australia will likely try to
head off this request by joining an international coalition led by the U.S. to escort ships
through the Straits of Hormuz instead.
Strategic analysts point out that missiles based in northern Australia could only strike
southern China. U.S. intermediate range ballistic missiles are better positioned on
Guam, South Korea and Japan.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Australia’s Prime Minister to Visit Vietnam and
the U.S.,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, August 8, 2019. All background briefs
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.