India and Vietnam on have agreed to deepen cooperation in defence and oil sectors among others as external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral ties during her just concluded visit to the strategically important country. Her visit came days after Hanoi renewed India’s lease of two oil blocks in South China Sea for another year, a move that could rile China. In Hanoi, she held meetings with her Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh and prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung. The two sides reiterated their stand that endorsed resolution of maritime disputes through international tribunals. India itself recently set an example for resolution of maritime disputes through international arbitration by accepting the decision of an international tribunal concerning a row with Bangladesh.
While the Indo-Vietnamese ties seem set to improve as both nations have a strong interest in cooperating on defence and trade issues due to a mutual distrust of China, Swaraj’s visit acquires a larger political significance in the backdrop of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to give greater priority to India’s immediate and extended neighbourhood. As Swaraj said immediately after her arrival in Hanoi on Sunday, India wants to turn its long-standing “Look East” policy into “Acting East” policy. Swaraj has already visited Singapore and Myanmar earlier this month as part of the project.
In Hanoi, she chaired a brainstorming session of 15 Indian “heads of mission” in Southeast and East Asia and directed them to act according to the foreign policy initiatives under the new government. This was the second heads of missions’ meeting after one she held with representatives from the Middle East in Delhi. Prime minister Modi’s visit to Japan a few days later will be a continuation of the government’s efforts to redefine its ties with eastern neighbours. This will be followed by president Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Vietnam in September, days before Chinese president Xi Jinping visits India.