He told Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc that he remained committed to independence and sovereignty as the Vietnamese navy is engaged in a standoff with Chinese vessels inside its territorial waters.
China has rattled Vietnam, the Philippines and other smaller neighbours by constructing seven artificial islands and equipping them with military runways and garrisons.
“It isn’t about picking sides,” the hawkish Australian leader said. “It’s about ensuring each and every nation in this region can have confidence in its independence and sovereignty.”
Neither Morrison and Phuc named China.
The countries formalised a bilateral “strategic partnership” earlier this year.
“We are deeply concerned about the recent complicated developments in the East Sea and agree to co-operate in maintaining peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight,” said Phuc, using Vietnam’s name for the South China Sea.
Vietnam’s Communist government is normally more guarded when discussing Chinese expansionism.
Washington said it was deeply concerned that China was continuing to interfere with Vietnam’s oil and gas drilling inside its exclusive economic zone
China’s Haiyang Dizhi 8 was surveying Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone alongside at least seven other Chinese ships, Marine Traffic reported.
Vietnam’s Russian-built Quang Trung frigate is purportedly among the vessels shadowing the Chinese flotilla.
Bilateral trade rose 19.4 per cent last year to US$7.72 billion, Hanoi reported.
Australia is the largest coal importer to Vietnam, which is increasingly reliant on the environmentally ruinous fossil fuel for power supplies.
An estimated 36 per cent of the world’s energy is still produced by coal, although it is the largest contributor to climate change, and responsible for around 46 per cent of global carbon-dioxide emissions.
Hanoi has failed to invest sufficiently in renewable sources like solar power in the sun-kissed country or hydro, tidal and wind power along his extensive coastline and in the broad River Mekong.
Coal shipments from Australia to Vietnam more than tripled this year from 2018 to 8.51 million tonnes, according to Vietnamese customs.
Morrison said he hoped his visit would further boost trade.
“Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and I are friends, Australia and Vietnam are friends,” he said. “Today, to use an Australian phrase, we have gone from friends to mates.”
The Australian navy is increasingly considering the South China Sea. Picture credit: Wikimedia