New Zealand, Vietnam strengthen defense ties, maritime security cooperation

New Zealand, Vietnam strengthen defense ties, maritime security cooperation

Tom Abke

Deepening defense ties and shared commitments to international law, maritime security cooperation and joint peacekeeping operations were among the topics at the third Vietnam-New Zealand Defense Policy Dialogue in December 2020.

The online event, pictured, was co-chaired by Vietnamese Deputy Defence Minister Senior Lt. Gen. Hoang Xuan Chien and New Zealand Secretary of Defence Andrew Bridgman. It focused on areas of defense cooperation covered in the nations’ Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed in July 2020, according to the Vietnam Ministry of National Defence. These included delegation exchanges, education and training, and participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

The parties agreed to hold annual meetings between defense ministers beginning in 2021, the Vietnam Defence Ministry said. They will also establish a three-year plan to progressively elevate defense cooperation, beginning in 2022.

The parties also agreed on the importance of respecting international law, resolving disputes by diplomatic means and not using or threatening force, mirroring the language of the SPA.

In their joint statement for the SPA, the nations named the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea as the accord governing freedom of navigation and overflight. Indo-Pacific nations have expressed rising concern over the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) aggressive activities in the South China Sea, which persist despite an international tribunal rejecting the PRC’s territorial claims.

“We express continued concerns over developments in the South China Sea, including disruptive activities, and underscore the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoidance of actions that may further complicate the situation or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” the statement said.

The joint statement also highlighted the nations’ shared commitment to “ASEAN Centrality” in safeguarding the sovereignty and interests of all Indo-Pacific states regardless of size, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Vietnam chaired in 2020.

The SPA expands upon the comprehensive partnership agreed to by New Zealand and Vietnam in 2009 and their memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation signed in 2013.

During the December 2 discussion, both parties were keen to emphasize joint participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions as an area of defense cooperation. According to U.N. documents, armed forces personnel from New Zealand and Vietnam have worked together in peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.

Under the leadership of New Zealand’s David Shearer, head of the U.N. mission in the African nation, Vietnamese Army personnel have been managing and staffing a field hospital near the U.N. camp in Bentiu, South Sudan, since November 2019. In recent months, the hospital has played a crucial role in providing quarantine and treatment facilities for COVID-19 patients to meet U.N. requirements, reported Hanoi-based Voice of Vietnam.

At the December meeting, Chien also thanked New Zealand for contributing humanitarian aid to central Vietnam communities affected by severe flooding and landslides in October 2020.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.