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Australia and Vietnam - partners for the future: speech to the Australian Chamber of Commerce, Hanoi.

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Speech by

Stephen Smith MP

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Australian Chamber of Commerce, Hanoi

Australia and Vietnam - Partners for the Future


2 July 2008

(Check Against Delivery)



Thank you for that introduction and for your warm welcome.

I’m delighted to be in Vietnam and to have the opportunity to

meet President Triet, Prime Minister Dung, Deputy Prime

Minister and Foreign Minister Khiem and Minister of Planning

and Investment Phuc.

This is my first visit to Vietnam. It’s something I’ve wanted to

do for some time. And, can I just say, that, on what I have been

able to see so far, Hanoi is as charming, picturesque and

dynamic as I have been told to expect.

I’m also pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the

Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi.


I’d like to congratulate all of you who live and work in Vietnam,

and AusCham, for your contribution to continuously broadening

the already strong ties between our two nations.

Our two-way trade and investment relationship has been at the

core of the remarkable growth in our relations.

The Australian business community - and the Chamber - has a

great deal to be proud of.

I was delighted to learn in the run-up to this visit that Australis

Aquaculture, has had recent successes in this market.

I congratulate Australis on their achievement and for the new

life that brings to our commercial relations.

Let me say too how much I value the contribution AusCham

makes - along with our missions in Vietnam - to further

Australia’s trade and investment opportunities in this market


Ladies and gentlemen.

Five minutes’ drive from Parliament House in Canberra - in the

tree-lined suburb of Griffith - there’s a little Vietnamese

restaurant frequented by politicians, including me.

The setting is nothing flashy, but the host is friendly and the

food is inexpensive and always excellent.

A little quirk about this place is that guests - particularly

politicians and journalists, and others of their ilk with a lot to

say - are invited to leave messages on paper to be stuck on to

the wall.

Mostly the messages compliment the food.

But there are a couple which pay tribute to how much our

country has benefited from hardworking people - like those


from Vietnam - who have chosen to make Australia home, and

who - over the decades - have broadened our tastes and our

outlook and enriched our nation.

There are some 174,000 people of Vietnamese birth living in


Reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit for which Vietnamese are

famous, many have set up successful businesses.

This community - as well as the Australia community here in

Vietnam -play such an important role in broadening social,

cultural and business contacts between our countries.

This year we’re celebrating our 35th year of diplomatic relations

with Vietnam. It’s an important number - not just because

3+5= 8 - and eight is a lucky number here in Vietnam - but also

because it demonstrates the long-standing nature of our



For me as Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, the length

and significance of our relations is a legacy of which I am both

conscious and proud.

It was just over 35 years ago - on 26 February 1973 - that

another new Australian Labor Party Foreign Minister, Gough

Whitlam, who of course was also Prime Minister, established

diplomatic relations between Canberra and Hanoi.

There’s powerful symmetry in the fact that I stand here, a new

Labor Party Foreign Minister, as we commemorate this

important milestone in a bilateral relationship to which I accord

great significance.

In 1973 Australia placed a single officer - a Chargé d’Affaires -

in Hanoi.


Today our official presence in Vietnam comprises our Embassy

in Hanoi and a Consulate-General in Ho Chi Minh City - with a

combined staff of more than 170 people.

From a modest start 35 years ago, together Australia and

Vietnam have laid the foundations for a broad-ranging bilateral


We now cooperate closely on issues ranging from defence to

development, to education, law-enforcement, human rights and

trade and investment, and on an array of transnational

challenges, both regional and global.

These challenges include cooperation to combat pandemic

threats such as Avian influenza and HIV/AIDS, and

transnational crime, including drug trafficking and people



Australia and Vietnam signed our first trade agreement in 1974

and we have developed a strong trading and investment


Two-way trade between our two countries has more than

doubled over the past five years and is now worth nearly $7


Education has been a standout performer. There are now about

10,0001 Vietnamese students studying in Australia, more than in

any other English-speaking country. Some 10,0002 more are

studying through Australian institutions in Vietnam.

Over time, these links through education are building up a rich

network of alumni with knowledge and experience of Australia.

1 Figures provided and confirmed with DEWR and AEI at post

2 Figures provided and confirmed with DEWR and AEI at post


I am planning during this visit to catch up with some of them,

and to hear their stories about what an Australian education has

meant to them.

Prominent among our alumni, of course, is Deputy Prime

Minister Khiem - who studied in Canberra in the 80s - and

we’re very proud to claim him as such!

Our alumni are a huge asset to our relationship. Long

Ambassadors and Foreign Ministers have come and gone, they

remain sources of advice and guidance for Vietnamese wanting

to know more about Australia.

Development assistance has long been an important part of our


Vietnam is Australia’s fifth largest destination for overseas

development assistance. Our total assistance in 2008-09 is

estimated at $104.4 million.


Ladies and gentlemen

The significance Vietnam places on our bilateral links is

underlined, I believe, by several very high level visits to

Australia this year by senior Vietnamese leaders.

These have included:

-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Training,

Dr Nhan in February, where he joined with my colleague

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a 35th anniversary

celebration in Melbourne,

-the President of the National Assembly, Mr Trong, whom I had

the pleasure of meeting in March - and who had the good sense

to include my home State of Western Australia in his itinerary! -


-Deputy Prime Minister Trong in May


My colleagues and I in the Rudd Government welcome warmly

the contribution which these visits have made to cementing

relations between us.

Much has changed in our two countries over the past 35


Vietnam has been one of the best performing developing

economies in the world and one of the fastest-growing

economies in Asia, with average annual GDP growth of 7.2 per

cent over the past 10 years.

This strong economic growth - combined with Government-led

poverty reduction intervention - has seen 30 million people

lifted out of poverty over the past decade.3

Vietnam has also transformed itself from rice importer to the

third largest rice exporter in the world.

3 World Bank website - Slide show presentation onVietnam


Australia strongly supported Vietnam’s accession to the World

Trade Organization in January 2007.

This milestone in Vietnam’s progressively stronger engagement

with the global economy has opened up many opportunities, as

well as creating some short-term challenges.

The growth of the private sector has been a significant feature of

economic development and it will support Vietnam’s goal of

becoming an industrial country by 2020.

Of course, globally there are now some dark clouds on the

horizon. It’s clear that the world economy is facing

considerable challenges.

None of us is immune.


Inflation and high food and fuel prices are taking their toll in

Vietnam, as indeed they are around the world, including in


We wish the Government of Vietnam well in its attempts to

tackle inflation and we welcome this month’s decision to lift the

temporary ban on new rice exports4.

Our Government has been emphasising is that further openness

to trade will also offer protection against the economic


Now is not the time to lose confidence in the economic reform


Global problems need global solutions.

4 Bloomberg, 20 June reporting of decision by Nguyen Tan Dung.


So the Australian Government is doing all we can to bring

around a successful conclusion to the WTO Doha Round of

negotiations this year.

We see many opportunities - not only on trade - but also more

broadly, arising from cooperation within our region.

Vietnam can play an important role in our region.

It enjoys a strategic situation in the Greater Mekong Subregion,

which serves as a land bridge connecting the markets of China,

Southeast Asia and also South Asia.

Vietnam’s increasing profile in international affairs, including as

host of APEC in 2006, immediately ahead of Australia, and its

current term on the UN Security Council, reflect its growing

strategic importance in our region and beyond.


Australia values its dialogue with the Vietnamese Government

on regional and international issues of concern to us both.

And given Australia and Vietnam both stand to gain from

further regional integration we look forward to working closely

on integration initiatives within regional fora.

Vietnam will chair ASEAN and the East Asia Summit in 2010.

ASEAN - the oldest of our regional organisations - serves as a

model of how regional cooperation and dialogue can be built.

Australia has been a long-standing supporter of ASEAN: in

1974, we became its first dialogue partner, and we have worked

to build this partnership ever since.

We’re negotiating a comprehensive ASEAN-Australia-New

Zealand Free Trade Agreement, to add to the bilateral FTAs

already in place or being considered.

The region’s primary multilateral security forum is the ASEAN

Regional Forum (ARF) which contributes to regional efforts to


meet our shared counter-terrorism and non-proliferation

interests and to maritime security capacity building.

With the strong support of a number of our close friends in the

region, including Vietnam, Australia became a founding

member of the East Asia Summit (EAS).

Our Government is committed to the EAS, and I look forward to

attending my first EAS Foreign Ministers’ meeting, ASEAN-Australia PMC and ASEAN Regional Forum meetings in

Singapore next month.

The EAS is a major regional forum that has the potential to

make a significant contribution to East Asian community


Already it has developed momentum on a range of priority

issues including finance, energy security, avian influenza ,

education, disaster management and the environment.

I applaud the fact that later this year Vietnam will be hosting the

first ever meeting of EAS environment ministers.

Vietnam and Australia sequentially hosted APEC 2006 and



This body - which Australia is proud to have helped found - has

a strong track record of forging regional prosperity and security.

APEC is doing excellent work in its core areas of focus, which

are trade and investment liberalisation and business facilitation.

It is now focusing on structural reform behind borders, as well

as the possibility of a Free Trade Area for the Asia Pacific.

We are bolstering APEC’s human security agenda,

strengthening its institutional capacity and we want to bring

India into the fold.

Our Government firmly believes that APEC, ASEAN and the

East Asia Summit processes can and should continue to develop

in a complementary fashion.

They each make a unique contribution to regional relations and

regional cooperation.

All of them act as useful conduits and catalysts for common



They have gone some way to creating an overarching sense of

an Asia-Pacific community.

Australia has begun to think about how Asia’s regional

organisations might evolve to meet future challenges and

opportunities, whether they be security, economic or political.

That’s why, consistent with our stated goal of engaging

comprehensively with the Asia-Pacific region, we have recently

started discussing the concept of an Asia Pacific community.

The Asia Pacific community vision is about encouraging a

conversation about where our region wants to be in 2020.

It’s about the idea of creating a regional body that would:

span the Asia- Pacific, and include the US, Japan, China,

India, Indonesia and other states in the region;

be able to engage in the full spectrum of dialogue,

cooperation and action on economic and political matters,

including security and;


encourage the development of a genuine and

comprehensive sense of community whose habitual

operating principle is cooperation.

We have made it clear that the start of this conversation doesn’t

mean the diminution of existing regional bodies.

They will continue to play important roles.

They will form the building blocks of an Asia Pacific


But, as currently configured, we believe none is comprehensive

enough in membership, scope or purpose.

I look forward to discussing the Asia Pacific community

concept with the senior Vietnamese with whom I am meeting

during my visit.

My counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Khiem and I have

already begun last evening what I hope will be a rich dialogue

on these issues as we get to know each other better..


Ladies and gentlemen.

In conclusion, the relationship between Australia and Vietnam

has come a long way over the past 35 years.

The long-standing and broad-ranging relationship we now enjoy

will serve as a great foundation for the future as we continue to

strengthen our partnership.

It is a relationship that has benefited both our countries and will

continue to do so.

As I said to the National Assembly Chairman, His Excellency

Mr Trong, when we met in Canberra on 13 March, Australia’s

relations with Vietnam are good but, in my Government’s view,

could be further strengthened.

My visit is a timely opportunity to take stock of what is

important in our relationship, and for us to begin developing


together a vision of the shape which it should take into the


I want to assure you and also my hosts for this visit - the

Government of Vietnam - that Australia will be around for

Vietnam for the long-term - during the good times and the more

difficult one.

Australia is no fair weather friend.

I thank the Australian Chamber of Commerce for the invitation

to speak today and congratulate you again on the commitment

you continue to show in building an ever stronger relationship

between our two nations.

Thank you.