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Regional security dominates Vietnam-Australia talks

Stability and peace in the Asia Pacific, especially in the South China Sea, have dominated talks between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Vietnamese counterpart.

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The pair have met in Canberra, the first visit by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung since 2008.

Trade and deeper defence ties were also on the agenda.

The two leaders have signed agreements on a working holidaymaker scheme and combating human trafficking, as well as on peacekeeping and war-legacy issues.

Tony Abbott has described the signing of the comprehensive partnership as a historic moment in relations between the two nations.

Mr Abbott says the visit underscores the strength and breadth of the Australia-Vietnam bilateral relationship.

“The relationship is going from strength to strength. The trade relationship is strong and growing stronger all the time, and it will be very much enhanced should the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations be finalised as we hope sometime later this year. The people-to-people relationship is strong and growing stronger all the time. And in the case of Australia, it is seasoned by the presence of some quarter-of-a-million Australians of Vietnamese heritage who make a marvellous contribution to the life of our country.”

Vietnam is Australia’s fastest-growing trade partner within South-East Asia.

And Australian firms have invested in Vietnam in 230 projects collectively valued at more than billion dollars.

They are mainly in industry, construction, services, agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Mr Dung says the deepening ties between the two nations bode well for the future of the relationship.

“We took stock of the bilateral cooperation between the two countries and agreed that the bilateral relations between Vietnam and Australia are growing very well. Both sides place much importance on strengthening the bilateral cooperation and committed to working closely to further push and deepen the friendship and comprehensive cooperation between our two countries.”

Territorial tensions in the South China Sea were high on the meeting’s agenda.

China claims about 90 per cent of the South China Sea, displaying its reach on official maps with a line stretching deep into the maritime heart of South-East Asia.

That includes seas around Vietnam.

Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters crossed by key global shipping lanes.

Mr Dung says he and Mr Abbott discussed greater cooperation between the two nations’ special forces.

And he says they agreed on the need for maritime security and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

“We agreed on the importance of the assurance of peace, stability, maritime security and safety and freedom of navigation and of flight in the South China Sea, in compliance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, (and to) exercise self-restraint and refrain from actions that may escalate the tension in the region, including the use of force to unilaterally change the status quo.”

The South China Sea is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.

It is becoming increasingly crowded, so any armed conflict between the countries involved would be a disaster for economies in the region.

Mr Abbott says Australia is committed to peace in the region.

“Anything which disturbs that stability is something that we would mutually deplore and mutually work to ensure didn’t happen. We both support freedom of navigation by air and by sea in the South China Sea. We both deplore any unilateral change to the status quo. We both think that disputes should be resolved peacefully, in accordance with international law.”

The meeting also resolved that Vietnamese military forces will train alongside the Australian military.

In all, 120 Vietnamese military personnel will receive training and be involved in joint exercises in Australia.

A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Parliament House during Mr Dung’s visit to tell him he was not welcome.

 

 

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