Last week, during the visit of a high-ranking Canadian official to Vietnam, both sides indicated that they may formalize a new defense policy dialogue to advance security cooperation. The proposal highlighted the continuing efforts by the two sides to further boost their defense collaboration.
As I have observed previously in these pages, though Canada has in fact been one of the longest-serving ASEAN dialogue partners, there has been a notable effort by the country to further boost its engagement with Southeast Asian states. Ottawa is a key partner on issues such as terrorism and disaster relief but remains left out of key political-security fora. Vietnam is among the states Canada is eyeing closer ties with, and the past year has seen some advances in the defense realm, from the visit of Canadian vessels to the inking of a memorandum of understanding formalizing Vietnam’s participation in Canada’s Military Training and Cooperation Program, which had officially started in 2017.
Last week, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the spotlight again with the visit of Derek Joyce, the director of international security policy of Canada’s defense ministry, to Hanoi. Joyce was there for a prearranged trip that effectively constituted the first such high-level interaction between the two sides in 2019.
Joyce’s trip included a series of interactions, including meetings with Vietnamese defense and foreign policy officials. There was also a reception held in his honor on January 24, where he held talks with Vietnam Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh.
According to the Vietnam defense ministry’s account of the talks held between Joyce and Vinh, Vinh indicated that there was much room to develop the defense relationship further. Among the areas cited for further advancement included personnel training, UN peacekeeping operations, and defense industry. There were also references to more general shared priorities, including support for multilateralism, with Canada looking to participate in the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), of which Vietnam is already a member. Hanoi will chair ASEAN in 2020.
But of the various outcomes, perhaps the most interesting one was Vietnam’s reaffirmation of its readiness to establish a new defense policy dialogue mechanism with Canada. The new defense policy dialogue mechanism, which would be held at the deputy defense minister level, is along the lines of a similar mechanism Vietnam has with a long list of key partners and would help create a regular forum to advance defense collaboration.
As of now, few additional details have been publicly disclosed about the new defense policy dialogue mechanism, including when the first iteration will be held and some of the key agenda items. That is important because there is a big difference between indicating interest in such a mechanism and actually setting it up and fitting it into a busy calendar for officials on both sides. Nonetheless, the reaffirmation of the interest in the idea is a suggestion that there is a degree of mutually shared interest to further pursue such collaboration into the future.