Harnessing the potential of Australia’s Vietnamese diaspora

By Faiza Samatar, Research Intern

Australian businesses would do well to capitalise on the large Vietnamese diaspora in Australia in order to grow their economic interests in Vietnam. Over the years, Australia has cultivated strategic partnerships with Asian economies, leading to 62.5 per cent of its global two-way trade flows between its economy and Asian economies. One of Australia’s most recent pursuits is the Australia-Vietnam strategic partnership that was signed in March 2018. This was followed up by the Australia-Vietnam Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy in 2021, which included the goal of becoming top ten trading partners and strategies to reach these trade and investment goals.

These high-level strategies lay out important government-to-government frameworks which will propel relations forward. But what is less well-understood is how Australia’s sizeable Vietnamese diaspora can help achieve the strategic goals outlined above.

Knowledge possessed by diaspora communities can enhance trade relations and investments as they possess cultural knowledge and networks of both their country of origin and host country. Inherent knowledge of a country’s language, culture norms and how its market operates is vital to Australian businesses seeking to expand into Vietnam. If Australian companies employ Vietnamese born Australians that possess this knowledge along with higher education, they can enhance their competitiveness with little additional expense.

According to the 2016 census, there are approximately 500,000 people of Vietnamese heritage who call Australia home. They can be categorised into two different groups: political refugees from the fall of Saigon in 1975 and more recent Vietnamese economic migrants, which includes international students. This community represents significant people-to-people links and can apply invaluable knowledge to the development of closer economic ties.

Vietnam’s growth model is not solely focussed on industrialisation. Most developed countries are shifting to ‘knowledge based’ economies as a more sustainable model of economic growth. This economic model emphasies knowledge, innovation and technology. Australia and Vietnam are both striving to shift their economies towards this model, and engaging Australia’s Vietnamese diaspora is an important step in this direction as the main exchange is knowledge in culture and networks. Instead of relying on natural resource exports to supercharge industrial growth, shifting to a knowledge based economy will allow Australia diversify its economic relations with Vietnam. Moreover, it will help Vietnam establish a sustainable growth model that allows it to integrate its growing high-technology industries with its major economic hubs.

Vietnamese businesses can also thrive in the Australian market due to the increased exposure and familiarity of Australians with Vietnamese goods. The knowledge network that Vietnamese-Australians have also provides these businesses with a similar understanding of cultural and market knowledge.

Disparity of the Vietnamese diaspora and Vietnam the country

It is important to note that most Vietnamese-Australians are political refugees from the fall of the South Vietnamese government in 1975. This makes it challenging to engage the diaspora community as support for the current communist government is low given the collective trauma of the community from the reunification of the country. Despite the current Vietnamese government’s efforts to engage the Vietnamese diaspora, many Vietnamese-Australians remain distant from the country with the rift increasing as more generations are born in Australia. A study done on Vietnamese Australians showed low levels of engagement with the homeland, with surveys and questionnaires examining the diaspora’s relation to Vietnamese media consumption, visits to Vietnam, and political involvement with the country’s government despite having a strong Vietnamese cultural identity.
The disparity is also highlighted when looking at engagements of Vietnamese economic migrants and international students which are significantly higher due to having family members still living in Vietnam. As the number of economic migrants from Vietnam grows, the lack of engagement of the older Vietnamese diaspora might reduce, thus increasing the cultural ties between the two countries. One such event cultivating this includes the Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue (AVYLD), held in 2017, which brought together twenty emerging leaders from Vietnam and Australia to facilitate closer collaboration between the two countries. The dialogue allowed the exchange of innovative ideas, current economic opportunities present in both countries and a deeper understanding of the nations. As this dialogue was facilitated by a member of this community, the changing attitude towards Vietnam from the diaspora community were on clear display.
By better cultivating ties with the Vietnamese diaspora community, Australian government, universities and civil society can access untapped potential for bolstering ties with Vietnam as it grows in economic and strategic importance for Australia’s future in the Indo-Pacific.

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