Vietnam's Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai, was received in Canberra, Australia today by Prime Minister John Howard. Each PM has a very clear goal. For the Vietnamese, it is economic. For the Australians, it is political. While former enemies, their current objectives have created an interesting possibility for a new relationship.
Australia wants membership to ASEAN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations, but does not want to be bound by their regional "Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia" (Feb. 24, 1976), which states nations cannot interfere with one another. The nations that make up ASEAN are:
- Myanmar (former Burma)
- Papua New Guinea has observer status
ASEAN would benefit substantially from Australian membership. Vietnam, on the other hand, wants Australian support to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in exchange for their public support. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:
"A former enemy, the communist government of Vietnam, has pledged to press for Australia to be admitted to the East Asia summit.
Vietnam's Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai, gave the undertaking yesterday after meeting the Prime Minister, John Howard, at Parliament House in Canberra.
Mr Khai said Australia should not be forced to sign the regional non-intervention treaty in order to be invited. The summit is intended to link the Association of South-East Asian Nations with other countries - including China, Korea, Japan and India. Mr Howard has criticised the treaty and has said Australia will not sign it.
This stance is being reviewed, but sensitive negotiations lie ahead, and Vietnam's backing for Australia to have a place at the summit is expected to be helpful.
Mr Howard yesterday gave conditional support to Vietnam's attempt to conclude a 10-year campaign for entry into the World Trade Organisation.
Before the talks a Vietnamese official linked the two issues. "It can be like kids - you give me some ice-cream and I'll give you some candy," the official said."
Deputy Sec. of State Robert Zoellick has the Thais on board for helping ASEAN attempt to keep its respectability. That, no doubt, has to be helpful to the Australians. The Financial Times reports:
"Thailand yesterday suggested that military-ruled Burma could skip its turn to take the alphabetically rotating chairmanship of the Association of South East Asian Nations, amid concerns that Rangoon's leadership could diminish the stature of the bloc.
"As Asean grapples to prevent its image being tainted by Burma's generals, Kantathi Suphamongkhon, the Thai foreign minister, said 'one of the possibilities' was for Rangoon to back away from the group's leadership.
"Mr Kantathi's comments came after Robert Zoellick, US deputy secretary of state, said Washington would face 'severe limitations' on its engagement with a group led by the Rangoon junta, which severely represses its population and keeps Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest."
Kudos to the United States for working with its friends and allies to deter repressive regimes with poor human rights records. The US and Australia are making substantial overtures to Vietnam, their former enemy. It is an impressive strategic move, and I wish both nations success in their diplomatic efforts.