Reflecting on my last Australia Day

Update: January, 26/2016 - 09:59
Preserving history: Australian Ambassador Hugh Borrowman (third right) and Vice Chairman of Ha Noi Le Hong Son (third left) unveil a panel of the World Heritage-listed Thang Long Citadel early this month. — Photo courtesy of the Embassy

For Hugh Borrowman, Australian Ambassador to Viet Nam, his fourth and final Australia Day in Viet Nam is a good opportunity to reflect on some of the key milestones and developments in the bilateral relationship, and explain where the relationship now stands.

When I arrived in Ha Noi in May 2012, our two countries already had a strong and friendly relationship – underpinned in particular by our strong people-to-people and education links. In February, we had just held our first ever bilateral strategic dialogue, led jointly by senior officials of our foreign and defence ministries. Our two-way trade was worth around A$6.5 billion (US$4.5 billion). We were approaching the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1973, which we duly marked with a vigorous programme of activities.

Little did I know how much our relationship would grow in the course of my four years here – nor did I anticipate the rate of development and change in Viet Nam itself. But I am pleased to report that our bilateral relationship has adapted strongly and flexibly to the changes.

Last year, in particular, has seen noteworthy developments in the relationship. In March, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Australia, leading one of the largest ever Vietnamese delegations on an overseas trip. During his visit, he and then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott oversaw the signing of the Declaration on an Enhanced Australia-Viet Nam Comprehensive Partnership.

Our trade relationship has grown strongly, particularly in the agriculture sector, and was worth over A$10 billion in 2014. Of particular significance was the commencement of lychee exports from Viet Nam to Australia in June 2015. While the first shipments were relatively small, I have every confidence that this will grow in the years ahead.

Underpinning our political and economic relationship, however, are our deep people-to-people links. Over 200,000 people in Australia have Vietnamese ancestry. As of October 2015, there were 28,500 Vietnamese student enrolments in Australia. And some 5,300 Vietnamese have benefited from Australian Government scholarships to study in Australia. In the other direction, the Australian Government's last year launched its New Colombo Plan, designed to bring Australian undergraduates to the Asia-Pacific, to learn more about the region and to build people-to-people links. In 2015 some 160 Australians came to Viet Nam under this programme; in 2016, this number has grown to around 260 – small when compared with the number of Vietnamese studying in Australia, but nevertheless an important start.

But our people-to-people links are not only through study. Viet Nam is an enormously popular tourism destination for Australians, with over 300,000 Australians visiting Viet Nam in 2015. Australia is also closely engaged in the cultural sector in Viet Nam. Just last week, I officially handed over to Ha Noi a series of introductory panels about the Thang Long Citadel to promote knowledge and understanding of this important historic and cultural site.

But to return to Australia Day... in his Australia Day Message released just a few days ago, Australia Day Committee Chairman Ben Roberts-Smith emphasised the benefits of diversity and what this has brought to Australia. This includes Indigenous Australians; European descendants; recently arrived migrants; refugees; and others. The Vietnamese population in Australia form an important part of Australia's diverse mix of people and make an important contribution across all sectors of society – in politics, business, academia, the arts... So on my last Australia Day in Viet Nam, I would like to say "Happy Australia Day" to everyone in Viet Nam, and with Tet just around the corner, to wish everyone a happy and prosperous Year of the Monkey. — VNS