India And Vietnam To Work Jointly On Open Indo-Pacific

Coming straight to the crux of the matter, let me start swiftly moving my pen by first and foremost pointing out that India and Vietnam on March 3, 2018 decided to deepen defence and security cooperation even as they resolved jointly for a free and open Indo-Pacific based on rules-based regional security architecture. This comes in the wake of increasing assertiveness by China in the region from South China Sea in the South Asian region. India and Vietnam have a long and time tested partnership with each other.

                                          In hindsight, the cultural and economic links between India and Vietnam dates back to 2nd century. India never supported US invasion on Vietnam and openly expressed solidarity with Vietnam. India was one of the few non-communist countries to assist Vietnam during the Cambodia-Vietnamese war. India also supported Vietnam’s independence from France and always favoured unification of Vietnam.

                                   While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform them that India granted the “Most Favoured Nation” status to Vietnam in 1975. Also, both nations signed a bilateral trade agreement in 1978. In 1993, the Indo-Vietnam Joint Business Council was set up which has been working since then to promote trade and investment. In addition, the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement was signed on March 8, 1997.

                                            For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that in 2003, both nations promulgated a Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Cooperation when the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nong Duc Manh visited India and both nations are now negotiating a free trade agreement. In November 2007, a thirty-three points cooperation was entered into between the two countries which included the following areas: political, defence and security, economic cooperation, commercial arrangement, science and technology, cultural and multilateral and regional cooperation. With the advent of liberalization, the bilateral trade and commerce between India and Vietnam expanded considerably.

                                                As things stand, India is the 13th largest exporter to Vietnam, with exports having grown steadily from $11.5 million in 1985-86 to $395.68 million by 2003. Vietnam’s exports to India rose to $180 million, including agricultural products, handicrafts, textiles, electronics and other goods. Between 2001 and 2006, the volume of bilateral trade expanded at 20-30% per annum to reach US$1 billion by 2006.

                                       To be sure, in 2010, as the ASEAN-India free trade agreement came into effect, the bilateral trade exploded to US$3.917 billion by the end of 2012, with Vietnam exporting $1.7 billion to India in 2012 which is an increase of 56.5% from 2011. It also must be noted that as of 2015 the bilateral trade between India and Vietnam stood at US$7 billion and both countries have agreed on a target of US$20 billion by 2020.   

                                         It cannot be lost on us that India and Vietnam are both members of the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation which was created to develop and enhance close ties between India and nations of Southeast Asia. Vietnam has fully supported time and again India’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and also favoured India’s joining the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. India too has always warmly reciprocated this fine gesture and reiterated India’s support for Vietnam in all international matters!

                                      It would be of immense significance to note here that Vietnam has fully and firmly backed increasing the significance of the relationship between India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its negotiations of an Indo-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement. In retrospect, we saw how in the 2003 joint declaration, India and Vietnam envisaged creating an “Arc of Advantage and Prosperity” in Southeast Asia to this end. India and Vietnam have also built strategic partnerships which is quite visible when we see how this is quite evident in various fields including extensive cooperation on developing nuclear power, enhancing regional security and fighting terrorism, transnational crime and drug trafficking.     

                                            To put things in perspective, Vietnam has also welcomed Indian Navy ships in their region which would enhance India and Vietnam military relations. Vietnam has also welcomed Indian support for a peaceful of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Former Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid had while according high importance to Vietnam called it as one of the key pillars of India’s “Look East” policy.

                                             It is noteworthy that India is providing a $100 million credit line to Vietnam that allows Vietnam to buy defence equipment from India. During his visit to Vietnam on 2 September 2016, India’s PM Narendra Modi announced a new line of credit US$500 million for procurement of defence equipment. India is also cooperating with Vietnam in defence in many other fields like giving it 4 large patrol vessels that will enable it to patrol its waters and also Brahmos short range cruise missiles.

                                    Not just this, India is also setting up the Satellite Tracking and Imaging Centre by Indian Space Research Organisation in Southern Vietnam for intelligence gathering to keep an eye on China. Also, Indian Army personnel have been actively providing training to Vietnamese military personnel to work in the UN peacekeeping force. India also trains Vietnamese Sukhoi pilots along with other military personnel. Apart from these, India is helping Vietnam in many other respects!

                                PM Narendra Modi said that, “Defence is an important aspect of our relationship and today we decided to have cooperation in the field of defence production. We will also explore the possibility of co-production and transfer of technology.” Quang said that, “Both sides have agreed to work closely to address regional security challenges including in the domain of maritime and cyber security”. India ranks 28th among the 126 countries and territories that invested in Vietnam in 2017 with 168 projects and total registered capital of$756 million.

                                              Now coming to the present, India and Vietnam on March 3, 2018 decided to work together for an open and prosperous India-Pacific along with an efficient and rules-based regional security architecture, seen as a subtle message to China over its growing military expansion in the region. The Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang who was on a three-day state visit to India said that he supports India’s multi-faceted connectivity with ASEAN. He also stressed on the need for freedom of navigation and overflight and underlined disputes must be resolved through peaceful and diplomatic means.  Quang also met former PM Dr Manmohan Singh and Congress Parliamentary Party leader Sonia Gandhi and held discussions on ties between both the countries.        

                                             Be it noted, Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang arrived at New Delhi on March 2 after a brief stopover at Bodhgaya. On March 3, he held meetings with President Ram Nath Kovind, PM Narendra Modi and External Afairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. He also delivered a special address on March 4 at the Indian Council for World Affairs.

                                          As is well known, the  Vietnamese Ambasador to India Toh Sinh Thanh said to media while briefing on the visit that, “There are some positive developments, especially on the framework on Code of Conduct (CoC) in South China Sea (SCS). The framework has been approved both by ASEAN and China and they have committed to start negotiations on the details of CoC. I think on ground there is still a lot of work to be done.” He also said that, “Together with India we are the fastest growing economy. We have strong and effective defence cooperation. We are keen on buying defence equipment for the Navy.”

                                         Interestingly enough, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that, “President Quang’s visit will further deepen Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between India and Vietnam.” The visit takes place nearly a month after Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was in New Delhi to attend the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit and Republic Day parade along with other ASEAN leaders. Among the three agreements signed on March 3, 2018, the MoU on economic and trade cooperation will facilitate establishment a framework for enhancing economic and trade promotion, the pact in agriculture is a work plan for 2018-2022 to promote cooperation in transfer of technology and exchange of visits of technical experts in the fields of agriculture  and MoU on Cooperation between the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership, India (GCNEP) and the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute (VINATOM) is to strengthen the technical cooperation in the field of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,

s/o Col BPS Sirohi,

A 82, Defence Enclave,

Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,

Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh. 
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