Consolidate India-Vietnam Ties

Published: 06th November 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th November 2014 10:11 PM   |  A+A-

Vietnam prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to India on October 27 and 28 has not only further consolidated the already exemplary ties between the two countries but also signalled their determination to resist China’s hegemonic designs and the Modi government’s much more muscular approach to foreign policy as compared to his predecessors.

India-Vietnam cultural and religious affinities can be traced back to antiquity and the two countries have enjoyed strong political ties for decades marked by frequent high-level exchanges. It is no surprise that links between the two countries have over the years become multifaceted and sectoral dialogues cover many areas. Through 18 letters of credit India is currently engaged in over 90 projects in Vietnam. India’s overall investment in Vietnam is about $1 billion and annual trade is around $8billion exceeding the 2015 target of $7 billion. Both countries have also inevitably been drawn closer together by their common perception of the threat posed by a hegemonic China with which they have each had to fight a war, with whom they have disputed boundaries, and from whom they are recipients of all manner of pinpricks.

Prime minister Dung is no stranger to India. This was his third visit and significantly during his first visit in 2007 the two countries signed a strategic partnership agreement that has taken the bilateral relationship to a higher level.

During the visit, India-Vietnam defence cooperation, which extends to exchange of visits, annual security dialogue, service-to-service cooperation, ship visits, training, capacity building and cooperation at the regional fora, came in for a detailed review. In his media statement Narendra Modi indicated India’s defence cooperation with Vietnam was amongst its “most important ones” and that India was committed to the modernisation of Vietnam’s defence forces. Towards this end he promised expansion of India’s “substantial” training programme, joint exercises, cooperation in defence equipment, and early operationalisation of the $100 million line of credit extended in September 2014 that would enable Vietnam to acquire new naval vessels from India. Indeed, there has been speculation that India would also supply the Brahmos missile to Vietnam. As to training, the scope is enormous given that much of the defence equipment in use by both countries is of Soviet origin like the Kilo-class submarines. Modi further disclosed that the two countries had also agreed to increase their cooperation in space, including in space applications and launch of Vietnam’s satellites, and in the peaceful uses of civil nuclear energy.

There was also as anticipated a near identical views between India and Vietnam on China’s belligerent moves in East Asia and in particular in South China Sea. The joint statement at the end of the visit asserts: “The Prime Ministers reiterated their desire and determination to work together to maintain peace, stability, growth and prosperity in Asia and beyond. They agreed that freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea/South China Sea should not be impeded and called the parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid threat or use of force and resolve disputes through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the UNCLOS-1982. They also welcomed the collective commitment of the concerned parties to abide by and implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and to work towards the adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea on the basis of consensus.”

These moves along with the decision to take up additional oil exploration on blocks offered in its waters by Vietnam are the perfect riposte to China’s thinly veiled inimical actions directed against India. It is, of course, understood that two of the blocks offered by Vietnam to India for exploration are not in disputed waters but one of the blocks already under exploration by ONGC Videsh is in waters disputed by China.

Prime minister Dung was accompanied by a large business delegation that had separate meetings with apex chambers of commerce and industry in India. Business leaders from both sides were able to identify many sectors as priority areas for cooperation ranging from hydrocarbons to agriculture, power generation to tourism, and infrastructure to pharmaceuticals. The two sides agreed to take steps to expand and diversify bilateral trade for mutually beneficial results and raise the trade target to US$15 billion by 2020. Indeed, the two sides agreed economic cooperation should be pursued as a strategic objective.

Along with trade both sides also agreed on the importance of creating a better climate for increased investment between the two countries.

To increase connectivity a code share arrangement has been concluded between Jet Airways and Vietnam Airlines to pave the way for direct flights between the two nations. In addition, agreement was reached for promoting maritime connectivity and cooperation in ship building.

While India has been heavily involved in capacity building in Vietnam the two PMs called for early finalisation of development partnership projects being planned by both sides including the establishment of Vietnam-India English and IT Training Centre at the Telecommunications University in Nha Trang, the Centre for Excellence in Software Development and Training at Ho Chi Minh City, the Satellite Tracking and Data Reception and Imaging Centre at Ho Chi Minh City.

In forging ties cultural, academic and people-to-people exchanges are an important component and accordingly the joint statement calls for energising them. The signing of the India-Vietnam Cultural Exchange Programme 2015-2017, the MoU on Conservation and Restoration of Cham Monuments at My Son, the MoU on Vietnam’s participation at the Nalanda University and the MoU on Audio Visual Cooperation are moves in this direction.

Finally, paragraph 14 of the joint statement not only testifies to the valuable cooperation and coordination in a plethora of international and regional organisations and bodies but also asserts their intent to further strengthen it. This is all the more important as Vietnam is to be the ASEAN coordinator for India (2015 to 2018). Equally significantly, Vietnam has consistently been supportive of India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. In conformity with the close cooperative relationship it was agreed that while India would support Vietnam’s candidature for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council in 2020-2021, Vietnam would do likewise for India in 2021-2022.

The writer is a Former Deputy National Security Adviser, Government of India.


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