Visiting Fellow Article for the AVPI

I find myself feeling great joy as I write this article to reflect on my time as Vietnam’s Ambassador to Australia from November 2020 to December 2023. During this posting, I have been proudly involved in a range of significant events. From responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic to celebrating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Representing Vietnam during this important period and concluding my time during this golden year has been remarkable.

It has been a privilege to act as Vietnam’s bridge to Australia, a responsibility I will cherish for years to come. Australia and Vietnam are good mates, with our relationship moving from strength to strength. Particularly, as we seek to upgrade the relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). What a great foundation we have cultivated to build on as we look to the next chapter of our relationship.

Before I reflect on my time further, I would like to acknowledge Australia’s rich culture and deep history. I have been fortunate to travel and work across the country and experience firsthand the warm tropical climates in the north, the crystal blue beaches in the west, and the varying landscape from the east to the south. The communities I have met and the stories I have heard have been deeply moving, particularly with the First Nations people.

Initiatives strengthening the bilateral relationship

Australia at both federal and state levels is now looking to the region and placing a greater importance on its relationships with the Asia-Pacific. As Australia looks to play a greater role with its neighbours, I have felt a dynamic change in the country engineered partly by ASEAN’s welcome and push. Take Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040 as an example. There is great energy and desire amongst government, business, and industry at both federal and state levels to better engage and invest in the region.

Vietnam, is central to this energy.

The Australia Vietnam Policy Institute (AVPI) was established in February 2022 and from its inception, I have had the pleasure to work closely with the Institute. From attending the AVPI’s key events such as the Institute’s launch, the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations celebration held in Melbourne, the Business Champions trade and investment roundtable, and many more.

In its first year alone, the AVPI consulted over 150 organisations across Australia and Vietnam to discuss opportunities to strengthen two-way links. This level of engagement continues to cultivate greater connections as the AVPI’s consortium network grows to 22 Knowledge Partners and counting.

One of the founding partners of the AVPI, the Australia Vietnam Leadership Dialogue (AVLD), has cemented itself as the leading initiative supporting emerging leaders in the bilateral relationship. I have enjoyed engaging with the AVLD and advocating for the importance of young people for the future of the two countries.

I would also like to highlight my gratitude to RMIT University, for being a key leader in the bilateral relationship for over 23 years.

Stronger diplomatic ties

Like Australia, Vietnam is increasingly playing a greater role on the global stage. Vietnam continues to advocate for a peaceful, stable, and prosperous region. Our ‘bamboo diplomacy’ includes an international outward looking focus guided by resilience, solidarity, and strength.

These qualities are not only reciprocated by Australia, but also harnessed and encouraged. In the past two years alone, we have seen a greater number of diplomatic visits from and to Vietnam exemplifying the upgraded nature of our relationship.

In December 2022, National Assembly President Vương Đình Huệ announced the intention to elevate the relationship to a CSP with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra. Continuing this theme of senior political visits to Australia, in October 2023 His Excellency Trần Tuấn Anh, member of the Politburo, Chairman of the Central Economic Commission visited Australia for the 50th anniversary. Another member of the Politburo, His Excellency Nguyễn Xuân Thắng is also expected to visit Australia soon.

Since 2022, we’ve seen two visits to Vietnam from Foreign Minister the Hon Penny Wong as well as official visits by Governor General David Hurley and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier this year. Additional high-level visits to Vietnam included the Economic Partnership Meeting in April from the Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell and Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing the Hon Tim Ayres.

These increased two-way visits exemplify Australia and Vietnam’s mateship and shared outlook for our diplomatic efforts in the region. I am confident these visits will continue to grow as we look to the Australian-ASEAN 50th diplomatic anniversary next year and beyond.

Vietnam and the region

As Southeast Asian nations develop quickly, so too does the importance of ASEAN. Vietnam is deliberately increasing its strategic partnerships in ASEAN and pursuing elevated partnerships with important member states.

While I reflect on the bilateral relationship between Australia and Vietnam, it would be a missed opportunity to not touch on the trilateral cooperation driven between Australia, Laos and Vietnam, one of my my pet projects over the last three years. It is evident that while impact can be driven between two nations, greater impact can be achieved trilaterally and multilaterally. As our economy gets more momentum, we are better positioned to join partners like Australia in development efforts in Mekong and other regions.

Trade boom to lead to greater investment and people-to-people links

Our economic and trade cooperation continues to be a highlight of the Australia-Vietnam relationship, with bilateral trade currently stronger than ever. In 2021, the Australia-Vietnam Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy was released with the aim to double two-way trade and investment and for both countries to become top ten trading partners. In 2022, we achieved the latter earlier than planned with Vietnam ranking 10th among Australia’s trading partners and Australia ranking as Vietnam’s 7th largest export market. Last financial year, Australia’s trade with Vietnam grew by 40 per cent reaching over $25 billion AUD.

This increased trade will only bring more opportunities for greater people-to-people links. In Australia alone, the Vietnamese diaspora are made up of over 350,000 people. Our communities across the nation present a great resource for business and industry to leverage an often-untapped talent pool with bicultural fluency and in turn greater Asia capability.

While investment has yet to catch up to trade, I believe its momentum will mirror that of trade in the coming years. For the first time in history, Australia and Vietnam have increased access to direct flights via Vietnam Airlines and VietJet Air to five capital cities in Australia. With greater opportunity to connect at people’s fingertips, alongside greater economic awareness of Vietnam, I trust this mechanism will support investment to rise.

But to look ahead, we must also appreciate the past. I would like to thank Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination diplomacy efforts. The more than 26,4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccination delivered early to Vietnam is deeply appreciated.

Looking ahead

To sum up my posting of 3 years is no easy feat. I have enjoyed my time as Vietnam’s Ambassador to Australia and there is plenty more that I could reflect on. While Vietnam’s friendship with the country grows stronger, so too does my personal relationship with Australia.

The 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations and the strong foundations we have built provide both countries with solid platforms to expand and deepen for the next 50 years and beyond. I see great strength in the relationship, from mates bilaterally, to shared multilateral networks and friendships. There is immense opportunity for us to grow together in security and defence, energy transition, the blue economy, tourism, green development, education and labour, in addition to trade and investment, culture and sports.

If I think about the next 50 years, there are three things I would like to see in the bilateral relationship. One, Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040 implemented in full with increased involvement from Vietnamese diaspora in Australia. Two, greater people-to-people links, including closer collaboration between Australia’s First Nations people and Vietnam. And three, a successful Australia-ASEAN 50th diplomatic anniversary next year as our two countries continue to promote peace and stability in the region.

Together as neighbours, we are stronger.

Publication Date
Tuesday 19th December, 2023
Your Authors
His Excellency Mr Nguyen Tat Thanh
Former Ambassador of Vietnam to Australia