Scott Morrison has pledged to bolster economic and security ties with Vietnam during an official visit to the southeast Asian nation.
He will be the first Australian prime minister to make a stand-alone visit to Vietnam since 1994 when he touches down in Hanoi on Thursday.
“Our focus will be on strengthening economic, security and people-to-people co-operation between our two countries,” Mr Morrison said.
“We will also be discussing the importance of protecting our oceans, including against plastics pollution and illegal fishing.”
Mr Morrison will attend back-to-back business events in Hanoi on Thursday evening and Friday morning.
Two-way trade reached a record high of $14.5 billion in 2018, the same year Australia and Vietnam upgraded to strategic partners.
Australian university RMIT, which has campuses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, ANZ Bank and logistics giant Linfox will be represented at Thursday’s dinner.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Huong Le Thu said Australian products were hugely popular among Vietnam’s growing middle class.
The country has a population of 97 million, expected to soon grow to 100 million.
“If the Australian higher education market is looking to diversify from its over-dependency on Chinese students, obviously Vietnamese students would be one of the key markets to tap into,” Dr Le Thu said.
On Friday, Mr Morrison will get an official ceremonial welcome before a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Rising tensions in the South China Sea are expected to be discussed, with China inflaming the situation by sending an oil explorer to Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.
Dr Le Thu said Australia had form in standing up to China after a 2016 international tribunal rejected its claims to territorial waters in the sea.
“There’s no reason why it can’t speak up this time around,” she said.
Acting Labor leader Richard Marles noted Vietnam’s concerns about freedom of navigation.
“It is important Australia is asserting freedom of navigation and the UN convention on the law of the sea around the world,” he told reporters in Brisbane on Thursday.
UNSW Canberra emeritus professor Carl Thayer said the trip could give the two countries a chance to advance the strategic partnership.
“Hopefully they will announce either a three-year plan of action, or they’ll give us an indication that it will be finalised,” he said.
Professor Thayer also expects the leaders to agree to annual meetings on the sidelines of APEC and other summits.