Australia — Interview with Vietnamese media at the ASEAN Defence Ministers meeting plus, Hanoi Vietnam

Ques­tion: ASEAN is mod­ernising its defence capa­bil­i­ties. What are Australia’s inter­ests in this area? 

Stephen Smith: ASEAN both as a region­al organ­i­sa­tion and its con­stituent coun­tries is very impor­tant to Aus­tralia. Aus­tralia was ASEAN’s first dia­logue part­ner some 30 years ago and ASEAN has now devel­oped from a region­al organ­i­sa­tion of sev­en or eight coun­tries to now a group of ten coun­tries, but also with impor­tant ASEAN-relat­ed region­al archi­tec­ture.

The East Asia Sum­mit and the ASEAN Region­al Forum and the Defence Min­is­ters plus meet­ing is a very impor­tant addi­tion to the ASEAN-relat­ed architecture. 

As we all know it is pro­posed that the East Asia Sum­mit be expand­ed by two, with the inclu­sion of the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia. The ASEAN plus Defence Minister’s Meet­ing cov­ers those same 18 coun­tries so into the future we now have the prospect that those 18 coun­tries, the ASEAN ten plus the eight will meet at Pres­i­den­tial and Prime Min­is­te­r­i­al lev­el, will meet at For­eign Min­is­ter lev­el and will also meet at Defence Min­is­ter lev­el. This is a very impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion in Australia’s view to peace and secu­ri­ty in our region. ASEAN is cen­tral to that, so we are very pleased that we are here for the inau­gur­al meet­ing, very pleased that the ini­tia­tive has been effect­ed and we see this as being a very impor­tant and valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to prac­ti­cal peace­ful secu­ri­ty arrange­ments into the future. 

Ques­tion: We have had a few region­al secu­ri­ty struc­tures that you have just men­tioned, so why do we need this new one [struc­ture]?

Stephen Smith: Quite quick­ly after that we see the invi­ta­tion of the ASEAN Defence Min­is­ters to eight oth­er Defence Min­is­ters to meet ini­tial­ly at Min­is­te­r­i­al lev­el and sub­se­quent­ly at offi­cials’ lev­el. That is a very good thing because there are a range of prac­ti­cal mea­sures that can arise from meet­ing at either min­is­te­r­i­al or senior offi­cials’ lev­el. First­ly, the mere fact of the meet­ing builds con­fi­dence and trust, sec­ond­ly capa­bil­i­ty build­ing and capac­i­ty build­ing can be effect­ed but there is also, in our view, the poten­tial for prac­ti­cal out­comes to arise out of this ini­tia­tive. In that respect it is dif­fer­ent for exam­ple from the ASEAN Region­al Forum, which has 26 or 27 mem­bers but doesn’t have the same focus on prac­ti­cal out­comes or capac­i­ty or capa­bil­i­ty building. 

Ques­tion: Mar­itime Secu­ri­ty is one of the five pri­or­i­ties of this Defence Minister’s Meet­ing pro­posed by ASEAN. How does Aus­tralia con­tribute to this area? 

Stephen Smith: We are of course an island con­ti­nent, so we are a mar­itime nation and mar­itime arrange­ments, reg­u­la­tions and laws are very impor­tant to us. So, peace­ful rights of pas­sage … of inter­na­tion­al sea lanes are very impor­tant to Aus­tralia. As a con­se­quence of that, Aus­tralia has put its name for­ward as a pos­si­ble co-chair of the Mar­itime Secu­ri­ty Expert Work­ing Group. We have done that as one of the plus eight coun­tries and Malaysia has done the same, putting its name for­ward as a co-chair from ASEAN. So, we think that is a very good oppor­tu­ni­ty for Aus­tralia, we think it reflects our exper­tise and our knowl­edge as a mar­itime nation. Of course it is entire­ly appro­pri­ate an ASEAN Plus gath­er­ing would regard mar­itime secu­ri­ty as being impor­tant, just as dis­as­ter relief man­age­ment, counter ter­ror­ism, and the like of the five areas that have been high­light­ed are also very impor­tant and areas where there is a need for region­al cooperation. 

Ques­tion: Viet­nam is the first host of ADMM+. What do you think about Vietnam’s role in region­al security? 

Stephen Smith: We con­grat­u­late Viet­nam very much on being the inau­gur­al chair of the Defence Minister’s Plus meet­ing and we wel­come very much and we are very grate­ful for Viet­nam sup­port­ing Aus­tralia as on of the plus eight mem­bers. That fact, plus the fact that I have just signed with Gen­er­al Thanh a Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing bilat­er­al­ly between Aus­tralia and Viet­nam in the defence coop­er­a­tion area, very much reflects the fact that our view is that the rela­tion­ship between Aus­tralia and Viet­nam could not be better. 

We have just for­malised and enhanced coop­er­a­tion in defence areas which are strong­ly sup­port­ed by Viet­nam in terms of being one of the eight plus coun­tries, we are very strong­ly sup­port­ive of Viet­nam in its role as ASEAN Chair and we look for­ward to work­ing close­ly with Viet­nam both in a bilat­er­al sense but also as mem­bers of ASEAN Defence Minister’s plus. 

All of this of course fol­lows on very close­ly from the recent vis­it to Aus­tralia of the Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al [of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty of Viet­nam] which was a very suc­cess­ful vis­it. We are very pleased with the strength and the warmth of the rela­tion­ship that Aus­tralia and Viet­nam have. 

Ques­tion: Are there any spe­cif­ic areas of coop­er­a­tion mea­sures in the MOU

Stephen Smith: In many respects it for­malis­es some of the things that we have been doing to date but the mere fact that we are com­fort­able with each oth­er now to form a mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing in the defence coop­er­a­tion area is a good thing. We have been very keen over the recent peri­od to do what we can to assist in train­ing and devel­op­ment of Viet­namese Army per­son­nel, both through Eng­lish lan­guage train­ing, but also through schol­ar­ships, so help­ing to build capa­bil­i­ty and capac­i­ty of indi­vid­ual defence per­son­nel and offi­cers is a very good thing. We are inter­na­tion­al­ly very well regard­ed for our train­ing and I have a strong per­son­al view that the award­ing of schol­ar­ships to cit­i­zens of coun­tries in our region is a very good thing for Aus­tralia to do. That capa­bil­i­ty build­ing plus the fact that we have now var­i­ous exten­sive peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­tacts between Aus­tralia and Viet­nam I think under­pins the strength and the warmth of the rela­tion­ship. We see this very much as the state of the rela­tion­ship is in a very good place but we think there is more that we can do and that is what Min­is­ter Thanh and I spoke about. It was very much look­ing for­ward to that bilat­er­al­ly but also in the con­text of ASEAN Defence Minister’s Meet­ing plus. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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