Recently, Vietnamese Vice President, Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh visited India. Vietnam is pivotal to India’s Act East Policy and its Indo-Pacific vision. India and Vietnam relations are characterized as a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. India is privileged to share a strong development cooperation partnership with Vietnam.
● Both India and Vietnam share historical ties rooted in the common struggle for liberation from colonial rule and the national struggle for independence.
● India supported Vietnam's independence from France, opposed American involvement in the Vietnam War, and supported unification of Vietnam.
● Though Both Vietnam and India were also close allies of the Soviet Union during the Cold War but both stressed on maintaining strategic autonomy.
● India even supported Vietnam during its invasion and occupation of Cambodia, despite the fact that this was not a particularly popular position internationally.
● India initially maintained Consulate-level relations with the then North and South Vietnams and established full diplomatic relations with unified Vietnam on 7 January 1972. India also supported Vietnam when China attacked it in 1979
● In 1992, Both countries established extensive economic ties, including oil exploration, agriculture and manufacturing.
● Both countries promulgated a Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Cooperation in 2003 in which they envisaged creating an "Arc of Advantage and Prosperity" in Southeast Asia.
● Relations between the two countries were elevated to the level of ‘Strategic Partnership’ in July 2007.
● In 2016, the relations were further elevated to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”, a status that Vietnam shares with only two other countries – Russia and China
Facets of India-Vietnam Relations
❑ Regional cooperation
o Both countries closely cooperate in various regional forums such as ASEAN, East Asia Summit, Mekong Ganga Cooperation, besides UN and WTO.
o Vietnam has supported India’s bid of UNSC permanent membership. It also invites India to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
❑ Economic and Commercial Relations
o India is among the top 10 Trading partners of Vietnam. Bilateral trade between two countries touched US$ 13.93 billion in 2018.
o Vietnam is the 4th largest trading partner of India among ASEAN countries after Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.
o There are 5 key sectors for economic cooperation between India Vietnam viz. Garment and Textile, Pharmaceuticals, Agro-Commodities, Leather & Footwear and engineering
o Investment by India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) in Vietnam began in 1988 and still continues.
❑ Science and Technology Cooperation
o India and Vietnam have signed the Framework Agreement of cooperation in:
▪ Outer Space
▪ IT & Cyber Security
▪ Use of Atomic Energy
o Under ASEAN-India Cooperation mechanism Vietnam will have a Centre for Satellite Tracking and Data Reception.
o Vietnam is also the largest recipient of Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programs.
❑ Geo-Strategic convergence: Both countries share a common apprehension about the aggressive nature of China.
o Vietnam on one hand complains about the assertiveness of China in the South China Sea (which China claims as its own territory), India is worried about its growing presence in the Indian Ocean.
o China objected to the joint exploration of India and Vietnam in the Vietnamese waters due the disputed political status of Spratly Island (it is recognized as Vietnam territory by India).
o India also wishes to play a more assertive role in the Indo-Pacific region and Vietnam supports India’s policy. Both sides support:
▪ Peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region
▪ Respect for National sovereignty and International Law
▪ Freedom of Nation mentioned under UNCLOS
▪ Rule-based international order
❑ Defence Cooperation: India-Vietnam shares strong defence ties in fields like:
o Training: India trains Vietnam’s armed forces in military equipment such as Kilo-Class submarines and Sukhoi aircraft.
o Finance: India had provided a US$500 million line of credit to Vietnam for purchase of defence equipment.
o Sale of Equipment: India is in discussion with Vietnam for selling large patrol vessels and BrahMos short-range cruise missile and Akash surface-to-air missile.
o Exercises: Vietnam and India conduct various joint exercises such as VINBAX (Army), joint naval exercises. Further, Vietnam forms part of India's multinational naval exercise is also part of MILAN.
o The convergence between the two countries is also due to the fact that both use Russian platforms.
o Vietnam has also invited India to develop a naval facility which is significant that not even the US, a close ally of Vietnam in the region, was given this privilege.
❑ People to People relation: Both countries have facilitated a simplified visa regime to promote bilateral tourism. In 2017, Vietnam decided to extend e-visa facilities to Indian citizens travelling to Vietnam. India has e-tourist visa arrangement for Vietnamese citizens since 2015.The Indian Cultural Centre opened in Vietnam in September 2016, with the objective of strengthening India’s cultural presence in Vietnam.
Challenges in the India-Vietnam Relations
⮚ Though Vietnam is building up its military strength to defend against China and building partnerships with other like-minded countries, it is also concerned about provoking China (like other Chinese neighbors).
⮚ It is wary of being seen to be an integral part of the Quadrilateral Security Initiative (Quad).
⮚ Vietnam also seems concerned about how far it wants to go in deepening the military relationship with India. It has been reluctant to buy additional equipment from India despite the presence of line of credit.
⮚ India needs to be careful not to push Vietnam too far, especially considering its own reluctance in being seen as “ganging up” against China.
⮚ Bilateral trade is increasing but is yet to meet expectations, compared to other countries with which India and Vietnam trade. Special attention should be paid to economic cooperation. There is a need to deepen investments as well.
✔ India and Vietnam have immense potential in terms of economic relations as both are growing economies.
✔ India is a key pillar in the Indo-Pacific framework, and Vietnam is an important member of ASEAN.
✔ India has a very good education system, which can make important contributions to human resource development in Vietnam. At present, although several students from Vietnam study in India, the numbers are not high, and can be increased.
✔ Strengthening ties with Vietnam will eventually lead a step towards the realization of SAGAR (Security and Growth all in the region) initiative.
✔ India and Vietnam both can mutually benefit each other in the arena of Blue Economy and ocean security.
Vietnam and India's relations should not be looked at only from the prism of Vietnam is for India, what Pakistan is for China. There is a huge scope of cooperation in the multidimensional sector so that both mutually grow and contribute to regional peace and prosperity. Given their mutual convergence, it is likely that this relationship will only grow stronger in the coming years as well. This is a relationship that is poised to take off in the coming years, led by political leaderships in the two countries determined to make this relationship truly “strategic” in orientation.
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Act East Policy, RCEP, ONGC Videsh oil extraction in South China Sea