NEW DELHI: He slept under US bombs, and went to school using a tunnel to avoid getting shot during the Vietnam war. Born in Nghe An, in the north-central coast of the country, he was barely 16 when the US withdrew from South Vietnam and North Vietnamese troops took control of the entire nation in 1975.
Today, Ton Sinh Thanh is the ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to India. A career diplomat who studied in Hanoi, Russia, and Canada, he also holds a PhD in international relations from Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Thanh, who moved to Delhi in October 2014 after serving as ambassador to Sri Lanka, believes that India-Vietnam ties are poised for take-off, particularly after the bilateral relationship was upgraded to a Comprehensive Strategic partnership during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Vietnam in September 2016.
Addressing a gathering at the Women's Press Club of India in New Delhi on Monday, Thanh said this partnership had five pillars: political/diplomatic, strategic/security, economic, Science and technology, and cultural and educational ties. While the first two were "very strong," the other three were "not upto expectations," he said. As two Asian nations with the fastest growing economies, he felt that the time had come to take the relationship to the next level.
The trend had already started, he said, with Indian companies like the Mahindra and Adani groups expressing interest in investing Vietnam, while several large Vietnamese companies too were scouting for opportunities in India.
Responding to repeated questions on Vietnam's positions on Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea and on Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, he said Vietnam had historical and legal claims to an exclusive economic zone off its continental shelf in the SCS, and that freedom of navigation and commerce along those sea lanes should be worked out under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, and other international laws.
In July 2016, China had rejected the UNCLOS ruling against China's claims represented by the nine-dash-nine line, saying large chunks of that region fell under neutral international waters or the exclusive economic zones of other countries. As for the BRI, he said Hanoi was still examining the pros and cons of the plan and would eventually decide according to its own interests.
According to Thanh, India and Vietnam shared a very special relationship based on mutual trust and respect, and the ongoing high-level interactions between the two nations would further strengthen the historical bonds.