Background Briefing

:
Building a Comprehensive
Partnership: Forty Years of
Australia-Vietnam Relations
Carlyle A. Thayer
February 25, 2013
I arrived in Australia in November 1971 and have been a privileged observer of the
development of ever closer relations between Australia and Vietnam since then. The
first stirrings of change came with the election of the Whitlam Labor Government in
December 1972. The Australian Labor Party had opposed the Vietnam War and one
of its first acts in government was to withdraw the remaining Australian military
advisers from South Vietnam.
In January 1973, the Vietnam War was
brought to an end formally with the
signing of the Agreement on Ending the
War and Restoring the Peace in Vietnam.
The Whitlam Government responded to
this development by extending
diplomatic recognition to the Democratic
Republic of Vietnam (DRV) on February
26, 1973. Australia was one of the first
western countries to recognize North
Vietnam. On October 25, 1973 members of the then Australia-Indochina Society
welcomed the arrival of Mr. Nguyen Dy Nien, the DRV’s first diplomatic envoy to
Australia, at the Canberra airport. This was a fortuitous appointment as Mr Nien
later became Foreign Minister.
Unfortunately the Paris agreement did not bring peace to Vietnam and internal
conflict continued until April 30, 1975. The Whitlam Labor Government attempted to
treat the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) and the DRV equally. For example,
Australia extended development assistance and offered scholarships for students
from North Vietnam to study in Australia.
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123


Mr. Nguyen Dy Nien and Mr. Nguyen Huu Ngan arrive
at Canberra Airport on October 25, 1973.
Betty Hartnup, Pam Cohen and Bob Gingold, members of the
Australia-Indochina Society, hold welcome banner at Canberra Airport.
Dr Colin Mackerras welcomes Mr.
Nguyen Dy Nien, Charge d’Affaires


2
Vietnam was formally reunified in 1976 under the name Socialist Republic of
Vietnam. The initial positive trend in Australia’s relations with Vietnam was
interrupted during the Cambodian conflict. It should be noted, however, that the
Coalition Government under Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser concluded that nothing
could be gained by ostracizing and isolating Vietnam.
In August 1981 I was privileged to visit Hanoi for the first time. I was received by
Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach who convinced me that it was in Vietnam’s
interests to withdraw from Cambodia. Mr Thach facilitated the first of several trips I
made to that country during the 1980s. I duly reported my assessments to the
Department of Foreign Affairs.
Bilateral relations between Canberra and Hanoi resumed their upward course with
the election of the Labor Government under Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1983.
Foreign Minister Bill Hayden sought to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
His successor, Gareth Evans, carried Hayden’s early initiative forward and proactively
sought to facilitate a comprehensive political settlement of the Cambodian conflict.
Vietnam unilaterally withdrew from Cambodia in September 1989. Australia-
Vietnam relations have not looked back since. In the space of three years three
major agreements were signed: Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (1990),
Agreement on Investment Promotion and Protection (1991) and a Double Taxation
Agreement (1992). Development assistance was restored on the eve of the signing of
the Cambodian peace accords in Paris in October 1991. An Air Services Agreement
was reached in 1995 and a Consular Agreement signed in 2003.
In 2008, Vietnam and Australia celebrated the 35th anniversary of diplomatic
relations. This provides a convenient benchmark to summarize the state of bilateral
ties. Between 1991 and 2008 Australia and Vietnam exchanged thirty‐two high-level
official visits by ministers or senior members of the Vietnam Communist Party.
During this period Vietnam’s prime minister visited Australia four times and its state
President once. Australia’s prime minister visited Vietnam twice.
Of particular significance was the first visit by the party Secretary General Do Muoi
to Australia in 1995. The official dinner for Do Muoi was hosted in the upstairs dining
room at Parliament House.. I was privileged to witness this historic event from my
vantage point on table no. 2, sitting alongside the head of the Vietnam Steel
Corporation and Australia’s Ambassador to Vietnam, Sue Boyd.
In 2008 Vietnam and Australia began discussions about formalising their bilateral
relationship. The results of these diplomatic discussions were announced during the
visit to Canberra by party Secretary General Nong Duc Manh in September 2009.
Nothing could indicate better development of bilateral relations than this visit.
Secretary General Manh was given red carpet treatment including a 19 gun salute on
arrival. He was received by the Governor General and given a lavish dinner in the
Great Hall at Parliament House. The Secretary General was welcomed by both the
Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Once again I had the privilege of
witnessing history in the making from my vantage point on table number two seated
between Duncan Lewis, the national security adviser to the PM, and the Ambassador
of Myanmar.


3
During Secretary General Manh’s visit, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and
Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem signed a joint statement declaring a
Comprehensive Partnership between their two countries. The joint statement set
out six major areas for future cooperation: political ties and public policy exchanges;
economic growth and trade; development assistance and technical cooperation;
defence and security ties; people‐to‐people links; and global and regional agenda.
In October 2010, Australia and Vietnam agreed to a Plan of Action to realize the
Comprehensive Partnership for the years 2010-13. According to the then Prime
Minister Kevin Rudd, the comprehensive partnership was composed of three pillars:
political and security cooperation; economic cooperation; and people‐to-people
cooperation “through the great bridge of education.”
Over the past forty years, the relationship between Australia and Vietnam has grown
to become truly comprehensive in scope and depth. This brief essay has focused on
foreign relations. Diplomats from both countries regularly consult and cooperate in a
number of international organizations and multilateral institutions such as the
United Nations, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN Post-Ministerial
Conference, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus,
Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the East Asia Summit.
It is worth noting that Australia and Vietnam share many convergent foreign policy
interests including: environmental protection, climate change, prevention and
mitigation of natural disasters and pandemics, counter‐terrorism, disarmament and
non‐proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and transnational crime including
trafficking in drugs.
Both Australia and Vietnam have given diplomatic support to each other. For
example, Australia supported and assisted Vietnam in its application for membership
in the World Trade Organisation and non‐permanent membership on the United
Nations Security Council (2008‐09 term). Australia is currently assisting in
negotiations involving membership in the Trans‐Pacific Strategic and Economic
Partnership (or TPP).
Vietnam has provided diplomatic support for Australia in its dealings with ASEAN,
particularly during the period when Mahathir was Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Vietnam supported Vietnam’s inclusion in the East Asia Summit (along with India and
New Zealand) and Australia’s inclusion in the ASEM process. Vietnam also gave
diplomatic support to Kevin Rudd’s Asia‐Pacific C/community initiative. And Vietnam
supported Australia’s bid for non‐permanent membership on the UN Security
Council for 2013‐14.
The occasion of the 40
th
anniversary of Australia-Vietnam diplomatic relations is a
time to look back with satisfaction at how far the relationship has developed. It is
also a time to look forward to map out where Australia and Vietnam should take
their relationship in the future under a second Plan of Action to further develop the
comprehensive partnership.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Building a Comprehensive Partnership: Forty Years of Australia-
Vietnam Relations,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, February 25, 2013.
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