Trade to be focus of Australian PM's visit to Vietnam

Clay Curtis
August 25, 2019

Vietnam has been protesting the presence of a Chinese surveying ship along with Coast Guard escorts in oil-producing waters off Vietnam's coast.

Vietnam and Australia have expressed concern about China's activities in the South China Sea, where Vietnamese and Chinese vessels have been in a standoff in Vietnamese-controlled waters.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has wrapped up a visit to Vietnam to make his way to France where he will attend the G7.

China's actions also demonstrate its disregard for the rights of countries to undertake economic activities in their EEZs under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, Ortagus said.

"It is about ensuring that each and every nation in the region can have confidence in its own independence and sovereignty", he told reporters.

But both leaders stopped short of explicitly naming China, continuing to call out the behaviour rather than the perpetrator.

The deployment of a government-owned survey vessel with armed escorts "is an escalation by Beijing in its efforts to intimidate other claimants out of developing resources in the South China Sea" and forcing them "to work only with China's state-owned enterprises", Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement on Thursday.

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Morrison said that the principles of global law should be upheld.

Phuc said that the countries were united in their position on the South China Sea, where China has rattled smaller neighbors by constructing seven man-made islands in the disputed waters and equipped them with military runways and outposts.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, in response to the U.S. statement, said Washington was "sowing division and had ulterior motives". Vietnam's navy, which has participated in exercises with China and other countries, has never participated in drills with the U.S., Hang said.

"We are carefully calibrated with what we say but most important, respectful", he said.

He didn't rule out an individual free trade agreement with Vietnam, hinting there could be movement on a deal in the future. "Today, to use Australian parlance, we've gone from friends to mates", he said.

Xuan Phuc and Morrison also agreed to hold the first ministerial meeting on the Vietnam-Australia Economic Cooperation Association as soon as possible in order to promote trade, investment and cooperation in various areas.

Australia and Vietnam signed five memorandums of understanding across a range of areas including combating drug and human trafficking, trade and digital transformation.

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