Over the years, India-Vietnam relations have acquired a new dimension with common strategic, political and security interests. They have attracted much attention after the Indo-Pacific vision has started receiving increased international support. In the last five months several high-level meetings have taken place indicating rapidly developing closer ties – at the levels of Defence Ministers, Foreign Ministers and at Prime Ministers. On August 21, Vietnamese Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau met with Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and briefed him regarding China’s increasing assertiveness and show of force in the South China Sea (SCS). Later, India and Vietnam agreed to boost their economic and defence engagement further in a virtual meeting of the India-Vietnam Joint Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation, which was co-chaired by Indian Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar and his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh. Last month, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Vietnamese counterpart General Ngo Xuan Lich, agreed to enhance the annual defence cooperation mechanisms. India has also offered Vietnam a line of credit worth $500 million to develop its defence industry. Besides India participated in the East Asia Summit in November.
On 21 st December, Indian PM Modi and Vietnamese PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc co-chaired a virtual summit and issued the India-Vietnam Joint Vision for Peace, Prosperity and People containing the guidelines for future development of India – Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The significance of this document lies in the fact that it would serve as the cornerstone for a new era of India – Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. In addition, seven agreements inked included one on implementing arrangements on defence industry cooperation and another on nuclear cooperation between India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety. The summit provided an opportunity to hand over one high speed guard boat to Vietnam, launch of two other vessels manufactured in India, and keel-laying of seven vessels being manufactured in Vietnam under the $100 million defence Line of Credit extended by India to that country.
The summit spelt out seven steps to further strengthen the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries. First, there would now be stepped up regular high-level and institutionalized exchanges based upon the foundations of deep-rooted historical and cultural bonds, shared values and interests, mutual strategic trust and understanding and shared commitment to international law. New substance and impetus to bilateral cooperation in all areas of engagement would be added.
Second, defence and security partnership with the aim of maintaining stability in the Indo-Pacific region would be enhanced. This includes stepping up of military-to-military exchanges, training and capacity building programmes across the three services and coast guards and intensification of defence industry collaboration building on India’s defence credit lines extended to Vietnam. Third, maintenance of peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea would continue to remain important while pursuing the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Indian PM stressed that the Code of Conduct (CoC) negotiations should not prejudice the interests of other countries in the region. This was important in view the Chinese proposal to limit the involvement of third parties particularly for military exercises in the region. The Joint Statement clearly mentioned this aspect. The need for early conclusion of the CoC was underscored.
Fourth, there would now be intensified efforts to promote partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, including the shared focus on ASEAN-centrality as also to foster practical cooperation between ASEAN and India in the key areas and in line with the objectives and principles as stated in the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI).
Fifth, effective steps would be undertaken to strengthen multilateral and regional cooperation, including in the United Nations, ASEAN-led mechanisms and Mekong sub-regional cooperation. Steps would also be intensified to promote reformed multilateralism to make international organizations, including the UN Security Council, more representative, contemporary and capable of dealing with current challenges.
Sixth, India and Vietnam would work towards reliable, efficient and resilient supply chains, and will promote human-centric globalization. Trade and strengthening of economic relations received due attention. They decided to work towards for achieving the target of US$15 billion of trade turnover at the earliest. There would be constant efforts to upgrade the bilateral economic engagement.
Seventhly, both decided to intensify efforts to promote closer people-to-people exchanges by increasing direct flights, providing ease of travelling through simplified visa procedures and facilitating tourism.
In essence, India-Vietnam relations are one of the most crucial bilateral relations that India has in Southeast Asia. India and Vietnam have elevated their relations from Strategic Partnership in 2007 to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2016. This reflected the commitment of two countries to become more invested in boosting their bilateral relations in a wide array of fields.
In the past, concerns had been raised over the lack of momentum that no significant results have materialized vis-à-vis the sales of the BrahMos cruise missiles and Akash surface-to-air missiles.
However, recent trends suggest that India is willing to make a shift in its policy orientation due to China’s increasing assertiveness along the border and the greater Indian Ocean region. There is now focus on taking more institutionalised steps to strengthen relationship. Defence cooperation is increasing and it is hoped that sale of missiles would be finalised soon. On the 26 th December, an Indian Navy warship undertook a "passage exercise" with the Vietnamese Navy in the South China Sea as part of efforts to boost maritime cooperation between the two countries.
Both the countries would be in the UNSC from January next and they would be able to jointly work for the realisation of common goals. Coordination between the two is important to raise issues of security in South China Sea and implications of dams on Mekong and Brahmaputra by China. In addition, both can press for the implementation of the PCA Ruling, which China has rejected reflecting its scant regard for international laws and bodies. Both can work to involve other nations for the maintenance of peace, stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region. Crucially, both have agreed to boost practical cooperation in this regard. In his initial remarks at the summit, Modi said India looks at ties with Vietnam with a long-term and strategic perspective, and that cooperation between the two countries can contribute to maintaining peace and stability in the region. Thus, the prognosis for the future in India-Vietnam relationship appears extremely promising.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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