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[Sansad TV] Perspective: India – Vietnam Relations

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Context

  • Defence Minister Rajnath was on a three day official visit to Vietnam.
  • Wide-ranging discussions were held between both sides on effective and practical initiatives to further expand bilateral defense engagements and regional & global issues.
  • The two Defence Ministers also signed the 20 Year ‘Joint Vision Statement on India-Vietnam Defence Partnership towards 2030’.
  • An MoU on Mutual Logistics Support was also signed and both sides also agreed to early finalization of the Defence Line of Credit worth 500 million US dollars extended to Vietnam.

India – Vietnam Relations: A Backgrounder

  • India and Vietnam share traditionally close and cordial bilateral relations.
  • India chaired the International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC), which was formed pursuant to the Geneva Accord of 1954 to facilitate the peace process in Vietnam.
  • India initially maintained Consulate-level relations with the then North and South Vietnams and later established full diplomatic relations with unified Vietnam on 7 January 1972.
  • Relations between the two countries were elevated to the level of “Strategic Partnership” during the visit of Vietnam’s PM Nguyen Tan Dung to India in July 2007
  • In September 2016, during PM Modi’s visit to Vietnam, bilateral relations were further elevated to the level of “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.

Areas of Cooperation

(1) Economic

  • During FY April 2020 – March 2021, bilateral trade between India and Vietnam reached US$11.12 billion with India being a net importer.
  • India granted “Most Favoured Nation” status to Vietnam in 1975 and both nations signed a bilateral trade agreement in 1978.
  • Vietnam is also keen for India to expand its presence in oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea and has firmly maintained that the areas fall well within Vietnam’s economic zone.

(2) Development partnership

  • Under the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) framework, India has been taking up various projects in different provinces of Vietnam for development of community infrastructure.
  • The MGC initiative comprising six countries — India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam — was launched in 2000 to boost cooperation in a range of areas including connectivity, tourism and culture.

(3) Defence

  • Vietnam is an important partner in India’s Act East policy and the Indo-Pacific vision.
  • Vietnam is interested in India’s Akash surface-to-air systems and Dhruv advanced light helicopters and Brahmos Missiles.
  • India recently handed over 12 high-speed guard boatstoVietnam, in reflection of the growing congruence in maritime security.

Vietnam’s Importance for India

  • Vietnam is an important element of India’s Act East Policy, which aims to re-invigorate its historical ties with countries in Southeast and East Asia.
  • There are ample opportunities for closer connectivity between India and Vietnam via Myanmar and existing transit routes in Cambodia and Laos.
  • India’s growing economy needs energy resources and Vietnam has rich hydrocarbon reserves.
  • India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC Videsh) has been searching for oil in disputed waters off Vietnam.
  • Also Vietnam lies at a centrestage of the “Necklace of Diamonds Strategy” that aims at garlanding China or in simple words, the counter encirclement strategy.
  • India is expanding its naval bases and is also improving relations with strategically placed countries to counter China’s strategies.

India’s significance to Vietnam

  • For Vietnam, India could be a bulwark against the dominance of any single country in the region.
  • Hanoi has a long-festering territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea, which has worsened since 2014.
  • In the past, India has additionally conducted capacity-building programs for Vietnamese defence personnel.
  • Besides, there are numerous opportunities to increase trade between the two countries.
  • Indian companies can infuse much needed capital and technology into the Vietnamese market to bring it to par with its East Asian counterparts.
  • Then there is the strong cultural aspect to the relationship, with Buddhism seeping into Vietnam from the land of its birth in India.

China Factor in bilateral ties

  • China factor also weighs heavily in the respective strategic calculus of India and Vietnam.
  • Both countries had fought wars with China and both have border problems with that country.
  • China aggressively continues to encroach in the territories of the two countries.
  • Hence, it is natural for both the countries to come closer with a view to restrain China from its aggressive actions.

Areas for improvement

  • India’s cultural presence in Vietnam is modest.
  • Rarely are Indian films and television shows broadcast on television channels.
  • Films depicting ancient traditions do not impact the youths and send mixed signals on India’s development.

Way forward

  • By enhancing ties with Hanoi, India can incorporate the same template in engaging with other Southeast Asian states such as the Philippines.
  • The close relationship between the two countries is significant for maintaining strategic balance in South East Asia which is witnessing aggressive Chinese activities.
  • Both Countries need to leverage the economic opportunities left out of anti-China sentiments and several manufacturing firms deciding to shift from China.
  • Both Countries should expedite the process of negotiations for finalisation of defence deals.
  • Moreover, India can learn from Vietnam’s open trade policy, due to which Vietnam’s exports have grown by about 240% in the past eight years.

Conclusion

  • India must show greater commitment in the region if it seeks to enhance its strategic position there.
  • By illustrating its desire and willingness to pay attention to the security issues that the states of Southeast Asia currently face, India will be able to signal its positive intentions.

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