Amid Israel’s well-known difficulties in establishing diplomatic relations with Indonesia and Malaysia, another relationship in the region, stripped of religious and cultural baggage, has quietly developed over the past decades – that with the Vietnam. The extent of these ties will be on full display in the coming year as the two countries mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc received former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s visit to Hanoi on August 17, during which the Vietnamese leader said Israel had become an important partner of Vietnam, citing key areas of national defense and security, science and technology. and renewable energy, as indicated by the State Vietnamese News Agency.
Phuc suggested that the two countries maintain regular high-level visits and offer each other mutual support at international forums and organizations, and that the former Israeli prime minister use “his role and influence” to share the Israel’s experience in “developing policies to support startups, the development of science-technology and innovation, cultivate young talent and connect with experts and companies in Israel and around the world.
For his part, Barak expressed his optimism that the two countries are heading towards the signing of a free trade agreement and a labor cooperation agreement. His visit followed a visit to Israel by Politburo member and Chairman of the Central Theory Council Nguyen Xuan Thang in May.
Israel is now Vietnam’s fifth-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade expanding rapidly in recent years. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, bilateral trade still increased by 36.4%. Figures for the first half of 2022 reached $1.14 billion (A$1.64 billion), up 55% from the same period in 2021. A free trade deal could quickly boost the figure annual at 3-4 billion dollars, according to analysts.
Vietnam’s main exports to Israel currently include mobile phones, computers and accessories, cashew nuts, clothing, footwear, coffee, machinery and equipment, natural rubber, plastic and wood products, l crafts and ceramics. Meanwhile, Israel’s main exports to Vietnam include fertilizers, technical, medical and electronic equipment, machinery, plastics, tools and various chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Due to Vietnam’s slow economic and political emergence from a 30-year civil war, it was decades behind most other countries in establishing relations with the Jewish state in 1993 and did not obtained from the embassy in Israel only in 2005. Previous contact had been limited, although Israel allowed around 360 Vietnamese refugees to enter the country between 1977 and 1979, notably in 1977, when an Israeli cargo ship heading to Taiwan encountered a refugee ship in difficulty. Since then, many Vietnamese have gone to Israel to work and study.
Israeli technology and know-how are becoming increasingly important to Vietnam’s economy – now one of the strongest in the developing world – in several key areas.
The medical assistance provided by Israel was one of the first initiatives, starting in 2006-2007, when Israel sent a team of doctors and nurses to remote areas of Vietnam to provide medical care, clothing , food and also farm animals to those who needed it, supporting the economic base. Movements like this remain a staple of the Israeli-Vietnamese relationship.
Agriculture accounts for about 13% of Vietnam’s GDP and a third of its jobs. Government officials from various Vietnamese ministries have visited Israel for study tours as well as training in areas such as agriculture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, dairy farming and education, under the auspices of MASHAV, Israel’s official international development cooperation program. Vietnamese students were also sent to Israel to learn about these innovations and take them home.
Defense sector needs have been a high priority for Vietnam. The first Israeli military mission in Vietnam was launched in 2012 and in its wake, Israel Weapon Industries Ltd opened a small arms factory in Thanh Hóa, producing small arms for the People’s Armed Forces of Vietnam – the only manufacturing plant of Israeli weapons in Southeast Asia. The Vietnamese government continues to express interest in further cooperation, even joint military exercises.
In 2015, Vietnam purchased Rafael’s Spyder air defense system for $600 million – the largest military contract ever concluded between the two countries. Vietnam has since become one of the main Asian buyers of Israeli weapons and surveillance systems, alongside India and Azerbaijan.
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reports that a high-ranking delegation from Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense is due to visit Israel in September as guests of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to advance the purchase of US$500 million (US$721 million). Australian dollars) of three of the defense company‘s Barak 8 missile defense systems, jointly developed by the IAI and India.
Such developments add weight to the warm words of the administration during the reciprocal visits in the 30th anniversary year.