Foreign Minister Marise Payne with Vietnamese Defence Minister Ngo Xuan Lich in 2019 (Image: AP/Hau Dinh)

Just before Christmas, the week-long summit of the Communist Party of Vietnam -- Asia’s other major communist-run country -- was held to determine its top leadership for the next five years, to be unveiled at the bumper national congress later this month.

Vietnam has emerged as a major economic and strategic player in Asia in recent decades so its politics -- which get little attention in the West -- are important beyond its borders.

Australia’s relationship with the country has blossomed in the past decade. Two-way trade is booming and was $15.5 billion in 2019. It has almost tripled in 10 years, making Vietnam Australia’s 14th largest trading partner. And in March 2018 Malcolm Turnbull signed a strategic partnership. Its 100 million-strong population and swelling middle class is seen as a major export prospect as China tightens the screw on Australian goods and services.