Last week, we witnessed the first-ever visit by a sitting Vietnamese defense minister to Canada. The interaction spotlighted some of the ongoing activity in the bilateral defense relationship and the efforts the two countries are continuing to make to advance security cooperation between them.
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 in recent years in particular. As of now, on the defense side, Ottawa is a key partner on issues such as terrorism and disaster relief but remains left out of key political-security regional 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 headlines with the visit of a high-ranking Vietnamese military delegation to Canada led by Vietnam Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich. Lich’s visit constituted a significant interaction in that it was the first-ever visit by a Vietnamese defense minister to Canada since the establishment of bilateral ties in 1973.
The eight-day official visit, made at the invitation of Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, began on May 4 and comprised a series of interactions. This included an official reception ceremony and meetings between the two sides held in Ottawa.
Per the official account of the meeting between the two delegations by Vietnam’s defense ministry, the two sides discussed the state of the bilateral relationship – including personnel training and the sharing of expertise in areas such as UN peacekeeping operations – as well as regional and global issues of mutual interest, including the South China Sea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which Vietnam will be chairing in 2020.
They also discussed potential ways to advance their defense relationship further. Areas discussed included cybersecurity, disaster relief and rescue, war legacy issues, defense industry, and maritime security, including specific references made to expanding law enforcement between the two coast guards and the welcoming of Canadian naval ships for visits and search and rescue drills. The two defense ministers also signed a memorandum of understanding of defense cooperation to provide a legal basis for furthering that collaboration.