Australia, Vietnam deepen defense ties, including peacekeepers airlift

Australia, Vietnam deepen defense ties, including peacekeepers airlift

Tom Abke

Australia and Vietnam have approved a three-year defense cooperation plan that encompasses a variety of sectors, following Australia’s reaffirmation in November 2021 to provide airlift services for Vietnamese troops operating with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in 2022.

“Vietnam is an important defense partner for Australia, consistent with our strategic partnership,” a spokeswoman for Australia’s Defence Department told FORUM. “We share a firm commitment to an open, inclusive and resilient region, with ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] at its core.”

The plan was confirmed during the bilateral Fifth Defense Policy Dialogue held via videoconference December 1, 2021. In addition to peacekeeping, the two nations’ defense partnership includes collaboration in education and training, maritime security and the defense industry, the spokeswoman said. The plan, which covers 2022-24, reflects those areas of cooperation, she added.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton declared his nation’s commitment to airlift Vietnam’s UNMISS peacekeepers during his November 11, 2021, online meeting with Vietnamese Minister of National Defense Gen. Phan Van Giang, according to the Australian Department of Defence.

Since 2018, Australia has contributed strategic airlift assistance for Vietnam’s three previous UNMISS rotations, the Defence Department reported. (Pictured: Australian and Vietnamese diplomatic and military personnel pose in front of a Royal Australian Air Force transport plane used to airlift Vietnamese peacekeepers.)

“This support reflects the strength of our strategic partnership and our shared commitment to an open, inclusive and resilient region that actively supports global security,” Dutton said.

The defense policy talks also included Vietnamese Deputy Defense Minister Senior Lt. Gen. Hoang Xuan Chien and Peter Tesch, Australia’s deputy defense secretary for strategy, policy and industry, according to Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense. Their discussion emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and stability, freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and resolving maritime disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The partners agreed to enhance defense cooperation in areas including delegation exchanges, particularly high-level exchanges, training, U.N. peacekeeping operations and military medical, the Vietnamese Defense Ministry announced.

Tesch said Australia will deploy Vietnam’s level-2 field hospital to UNMISS in 2022 and will donate equipment to boost the capabilities of Vietnam’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Hoang expressed his government’s gratitude for Australia’s assistance.

Australia’s support for Vietnam’s peacekeepers is funded through its Vietnam-specific Defence Cooperation Program, according to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The program also supports reciprocal military personnel training, including short- and long-term professional development courses for Vietnamese troops at Australian defense institutions and mobile training team trips to Hanoi, as well as English-language training, counterterrorism cooperation and maritime security, such as annual ship visits.

Defense relations between the two countries were formalized in 1999, when an Australian defense attache was posted to Hanoi, according to the Australian Embassy in Vietnam. The relationship has grown significantly since the nations signed a memorandum of understanding for defense cooperation in 2010.

Engagements between the Australian Defence Force and Vietnam People’s Army include joint training for navy and special forces personnel.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.