Australia and Vietnam upgrade relations, to begin talks on critical minerals

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese meeting with Vietnam PM Phạm Minh Chính. Credit: Government of Australia

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Thursday the country was raising ties with Vietnam to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership, with an annual dialogue on minerals amid a push to diversify supply chains away from China.

“Elevating our ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership today places Australia and Vietnam among each other’s significant partners,” Albanese told a news conference in Canberra.

The ties upgrade marks the latest success for Communist-ruled Vietnam’s “bamboo diplomacy”, after it boosted relations last year with the world’s top powers as it tries to navigate rising global tensions.

“Mutual political trust between the two countries has been elevated, reaching the highest-ever level,” the official Vietnam News Agency reported on Thursday.

The partnership will support expanded cooperation on a range of issues, including climate, environment and energy, defence and security, and economic engagement and education, a joint statement by the two countries said.

Albanese and Chinh on Thursday also witnessed the exchanges of 12 cooperation documents on areas including energy, minerals, agriculture, banking and finance, according to the Vietnamese government.

Australia is a major producer of critical minerals that are used in everything from smartphones to automobiles, while Vietnam has some of the largest untapped deposits in the world.

“An annual ministerial dialogue on energy and minerals will drive cooperation in our energy and resources sectors, including critical minerals supply chains,” the statement said.

The United States has already agreed to boost cooperation on rare earths with Vietnam, whose resources are seen as an alternative source of the minerals. China has the world’s largest deposits, with 44 million tons estimated, and dominates the extraction and processing of the critical minerals.

Vietnam, which is said to have the world’s second-largest deposits of around 22 million tons of rare earths oxide (REO) equivalent, has attracted miners from Australia.

Blackstone Minerals Ltd. had agreed to partner with Vietnam Rare Earth JSC (VTRE) to win concessions at the Vietnam’s biggest mine, Dong Pao in Lai Chau province, in a project that would amount to about $100 million if it wins the concession.

Australian Strategic Materials also signed a binding agreement in April 2023 with VTRE for the purchase of 100 tons of processed rare earths a year, and committed to negotiating a longer-term supply deal.

However, some rare earth deals have been left in limbo after Vietnamese police in October arrested the VTRE chairman and accused him of forging value added tax receipts and rare earth smuggling.

Australia has been a key coal supplier to Vietnam, which is heavily reliant on the fossil fuels for power generation. Coal shipments from Australia to Vietnam rose 17% last year to 20 million metric tons, accounting for 39% of Vietnam’s total coal imports.

Along with Australia, the Southeast Asian nation’s top partners now include the United States, China, India, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

(By Alasdair Pal and Khanh Vu; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Michael Perry and Gerry Doyle)


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