Dung and Abbott addressed the media after a formal ceremony, where the former signed a “declaration on enhancing the comprehensive partnership” between the two countries with the foreign minister, Julie Bishop.
Asked if he was embarrassed to explain Australia’s reduced aid budget to Dung, Abbott said Australia had made “modest reductions” but that remaining aid would focus on countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Vietnam.
“Look, obviously it’s important for all countries to ensure that their own domestic economic house is in order, because if you don’t have your domestic economic house in order, it’s very difficult to be a good friend and neighbour abroad,” Abbott said.
Abbott said it was important to remember the “objective” of aid, saying, “the objective of aid is not to create a relationship of permanent dependency, the objective of aid is to ensure that countries are helped to develop to the point where they don’t need aid any more”.
“And obviously the very strong economic growth that Vietnam has enjoyed in the past few years, particularly under the economic stewardship of prime minister Dung, means that the need for this kind of aid will be less and less as the years go on.”
Dung, who was listening through a translator and offered a small smile at the end of Abbott’s response, declined to answer the question directed at him which asked if he was concerned at the effect aid cuts would have on Vietnamese people.
Australia gave about $140m in aid to Vietnam in the 2014/15 budget.
The declaration reaffirmed Australia’s trade, security, education and cultural ties to Vietnam.
Speaking through a translator, Dung said the declaration would “further deepen” ties between the two countries and made particular reference to the education and agricultural sectors, as well as increased cooperation in security and defence operations.
Chief among those concerns were freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and an agreement to “exercise self-restraint and refrain from anything that may inflame tensions in the region”.
Abbott said the Australian-Vietnamese relationship was going “from strength to strength” and would be enhanced by the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is still being negotiated.
“We have both prospered in peace over the last 40 years because of the stability that our region has enjoyed, and anything which destroys that stability is something we would mutually deplore and mutually work to ensure didn’t happen,” he said.
A protest against the visit of Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Canberra on Wednesday. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Dung’s delegation was met by human rights protesters when it arrived at Parliament House on Wednesday morning. The protesters, a large number of whom were Vietnamese-Australians, circulated this month’s report of the UN special rapporteur on the freedom of religion and belief, which found that “the scope of freedom of religion and belief remains extremely limited and unsafe” in Vietnam.
The special rapporteur, Heiner Bielefeldt, said Vietnam breached the terms of his visit to allow him confidential and unsupervised contact with people, saying some he met with had suffered “intimidation, police interrogations and even physical injuries” before and after his visit.
Vietnam did not support the report.
Wednesday 18 March 2015 03.23 GMT