National

Morrison slams coercion amid China impasse

By AAP Newswire

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hit out at international coercion amid rising tensions between Vietnam and China at sea.

Relations between Hanoi and Beijing are under intense pressure with a Chinese oil exploration ship and coast guard escorts in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone.

Mr Morrison landed in Vietnam on Thursday afternoon, making him the first Australian leader since 1994 to make an official bilateral visit to the country.

Speaking at a business dinner in Hanoi, Mr Morrison said the two countries wanted an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

"An Indo-Pacific where we respect each other's sovereignty and independence, because if we allow the sovereignty or independence of any of our neighbours to suffer coercion, then we are all diminished," he said on Thursday night.

It comes after the US accused China of coercion and bullying over the incursions into Vietnamese territorial waters.

"We know that in southeast Asia we need security and peace to maintain our prosperity," Mr Morrison said.

He stopped short of naming China, in a move similar to a joint communique with Japan and the US about the South China Sea issued last month.

But the prime minister was keen to stress the importance of a secure Indo-Pacific to maintain and enhance prosperity.

"A region of sovereign independent states resistant to coercion, but open to engagement on the basis of shared interests," he said.

Mr Morrison said ambition and action was needed to turn Vietnam's potential into reality.

"We are two nations from different systems, with different languages, and very different cultures. But ours has become a comfortable partnership," he said.

He announced Australia would put $5 million over three years into establishing an Australia Vietnam Centre for knowledge exchange.

The centre will draw on Australian expertise to develop Vietnam's future leadership domestically and internationally in regional forums.

Representatives from Australian university RMIT, ANZ bank and logistics giant Linfox attended the dinner.

Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Vu Tien Loc also addressed the event.

"Our commitment to each other, and our shared vision for security and prosperity, has never been stronger," Mr Morrison said.

Two-way trade between Australia and Vietnam has doubled since 2012, growing to a record $14.5 billion in 2018.

Earlier, Mr Morrison and his wife Jenny were met by a military procession when they touched down in Hanoi.

Soldiers dressed in white uniforms formed a guard either side of the red carpet, with thick humidity greeting the Morrisons as they disembarked.

High-ranking Vietnamese official Mai Tien Dung and Australia's ambassador to Vietnam Robyn Mudie welcomed the couple.

The prime minister waved to an organised group of 30 young men and women nearby waving small Vietnamese and Australian flags.

Mr and Mrs Morrison were presented with bouquets before getting into a black stretch limousine.

On Friday, Mr Morrison will get an official ceremonial welcome before a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

The stand-off in the South China Sea is expected to be a key talking point when the delegations meet after and official ceremonial welcome.