'Behind-the-scenes' stories of vaccine diplomacy in Australia: Vietnam Ambassador

2/12/2021| 17:14

Just three days after talking by phone with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, on May 28, 2021, Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent a letter affirming Australia's commitment to vaccine support for Viet Nam by the end of this year or early next year.

'Behind-the-scenes' stories of vaccine diplomacy in Australia: Vietnam AmbassadorVietnamese Ambassador to Australia Nguyen Tat Thanh attends an online meeting with Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt. (Photo: Embassy of Viet Nam in Australia)

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne committed an additional 2.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Viet Nam while meeting Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on November 9 during her official visit to Viet Nam. The commitment increased Australia’s vaccine donation to Viet Nam to more than 7.8 million doses.

Sharing with reporters, Vietnamese Ambassador to Australia Nguyen Tat Thanh disclosed "behind-the-scenes" stories during the Embassy's implementation of vaccine diplomacy.

Mr. Ambassador, how do you assess the relationship between Viet Nam and Australia, especially in the healthcare sector?

The Viet Nam-Australia relations have developed continuously over the past 50 years. Since Viet Nam's renewal ('Doi moi') and integration, the two countries' ties have become multi-faceted, in which the healthcare sector has always been given priority. Australia's support for Viet Nam's national vaccine rollout is the latest demonstration of the increasingly close relationship between the two countries.

During his official visit to Viet Nam in August 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison used the Australian word "mateship" to describe the bilateral relationship between Viet Nam and Australia with ever closer connections.

In 2020, Viet Nam had provided various medical supplies to assist a number of countries, including Australia, with their fight against COVID-19. During the last Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival, Prime Minister Morrison sent his greetings to our people in Vietnamese for the first time.

In particular, in a congratulatory letter to President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on April 12, Governor-General David Hurley affirmed that Australia is committed to supporting Viet Nam to get "access to safe and effective vaccines". Other leaders of Australia also expressed their affection for the country and people of Viet Nam. On the basis of mutual understanding, respect and trust, the strategic partnership between the two countries will continue to expand and deepen in the coming years.

What are the Embassy's successful lessons in mobilizing a huge number of vaccines in the context that vaccines are a scarce commodity?

The Coronavirus-related diplomacy work of the Vietnamese Embassy in Australia has been implemented since 2020. At the beginning of the second quarter of this year, following new guidelines by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we focused our work on vaccine diplomacy, in line with the requirements of the government's vaccine strategy.

Humanitarian support, including vaccine support for developing countries, is a consistent foreign policy of Australia, with priority given to Australia's neighbors in the Pacific and Southeast Asian regions.

As of 2020, Australia had invested over 8 billion AUD to secure a supply of 250 million doses of vaccine within three years for domestic as well as international support. Australia also joined the Quad Vaccine Partnership with a commitment of 100 million AUD.

Australia's vaccine support for other countries is determined on the basis of a combination of various factors, such as medical urgency, readiness to deploy effective vaccination, magnitude of economic relations and people-to-people exchanges, etc.

'Behind-the-scenes' stories of vaccine diplomacy in Australia: Vietnam AmbassadorViet Nam became the first ASEAN country to receive vaccines from Australia. (Photo: Embassy of Australia in Viet Nam)

As a country located between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, Australia is close to Southeast Asia, not only in geography, but also in culture and history. Since 2020, Australia has committed to supporting vaccines for ASEAN member states. Particularly for Viet Nam, in April 2021, Australia pledged 40 million AUD over three years to support Viet Nam’s vaccine procurement and delivery efforts, but delivery would only be expected by mid-2022.

When the COVID-19 situation in Viet Nam had become more complicated, Australia made a very quick decision. Just three days after talking by phone with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, on May 28, 2021, Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent a letter affirming Australia's commitment to vaccine support for Viet Nam by the end of this year or early next year.

At that time, Australia's vaccination rollout was the lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Australia also did not have enough vaccines, so it could not commit to delivery in a short time. In a race against time, we ramped up our advocacy in June, meeting with all our key partners and writing letters to ministers, parliamentarians and premiers. We also mobilized Australian and overseas Vietnamese businesses through their own channels.

All of these partners are dedicated to helping. We got replies from the Premiers, the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Health of Australia. We were informed that the Australian Chamber of Commerce (Auscham) had sent a letter to the Australian Prime Minister and the Association of Overseas Vietnamese Intellectuals sent their letter to the Foreign Minister, asking for support of vaccines to Viet Nam.

Specific proposals have been raised during talks between Vietnamese leaders and their Australian partners. After an online discussion between Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung and acting Australian Deputy Foreign Minister Justin Hayhurst (July 30), Australia announced to deliver the first batch of the vaccine (August 15). After a phone talk with Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son (August 27), Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced that Australia would further support Viet Nam through the United Nations Children's Fund - UNICEF (September 4).

As a result, Viet Nam became the first ASEAN country to receive vaccines from Australia. Up to now, Australia has committed to support Viet Nam with 60 million AUD, including vaccines and medical equipment. More importantly, more doses of vaccine are expected to be delivered to Viet Nam this year.

Vaccine diplomacy was initially successful thanks to a comprehensive campaign, in which the decisive factor was the highest level of mobilization. Leaders of the Government, the National Assembly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Health all got involved in it!

Thank you very much!

Trang Tran