India and Vietnam – firming partnership
A parallel trilateral dialogue with Japan and Vietnam should be a good initiative or better still inclusion of Vietnam in the proposed US-Japan-India-Australia quadrilateral dialogue may be a better idea for stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
If China is distressed about growing Indo-Vietnamese ties, she forgets the manner in which she has been flexing her muscles exhuming territorial claims from the grave of medicinal history without any basis. If Chinese coast guards (directly under the PLA and CCP) were jostling and pushing Vietnamese naval vessels in Vietnamese waters, her border guards (also directly under the PLA and CCP) were pushing and jostling Indian soldiers on land under equally jaundiced claims – South Tibet problem and all that. But in her territorial greed, China forgot more recent history that when she launched the campaign to ‘teach Vietnam a lesson’, she ended up learning the lesson herself that her methods were antiquated and ineffective. She also seems to have forgotten the bloody nose during the 1967 Nathu La spat and later at Sumdorong Chu. But then China may not know that cultural and economic links between India and Vietnam actually date back to the 2nd century even though extensive official ties including oil exploration, agriculture and manufacturing were officially established in 1992. Then, India had condemned the US invasion of Vietnam and also helped the latter during the Cambodia-Vietnam War. Vietnam is an important pillar of India’s ‘Look East’ policy and defence ties include sale of military equipment, sharing of intelligence, joint naval exercises and training in counterinsurgency and jungle warfare. India provides training support for Vietnam’s Kilo
class submarines. Both countries are members of the MekongGanga Cooperation committed to enhance ties between India and South East Asian countries. A joint declaration of 2003, creating an “Arc of Advantage and Prosperity” in South East Asia was envisaged that included Vietnam. Vietnam has backed the UN Security Council seat for India, as well as full APEC membership. Both countries are strategic partners including for extensive cooperation in developing nuclear power, enhancing regional security and countering terrorism, transnational crime and drug trafficking.
The recent state visit by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung of Vietnam has cemented the strategic relationship further. This is the Vietnamese Prime Minister’s third visit to India. He was previously here in 2007 and in 2012.During his visit in 2007, India had issued the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership with Vietnam. In 2012 he came here as part of the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in New Delhi. Recently, President Pranab Mukherjee had visited Vietnam in September this year while General Secretary of Vietnamese Communist Party visited India in 2013. India and Vietnam relations have been characterised by high-level exchange of visits. Institutional architecture of India-Vietnam relations is robust and is based on the dialogue process at the Ministerial level with the Joint Commission, and sectoral Working Groups in virtually every important area. Key agreements in the defence, security, economic and cultural spheres underpin the relations. India has offered Vietnam a line of credit for purchase of defence equipment for $100 million during the visit of President in September. This has been reconfirmed by Prime Minister Modi during the visit of premier Nguyen Tan Dung. The $100-million credit line to Vietnam which allows Vietnam to buy defence equipment from India. India is also selling Vietnam four large patrol vessels which will enable Vietnam to patrol its waters more effectively.
Premier Nguyen Tan Dung has pitched for ‘active support’ of India to peacefully resolve all disputes and sought its greater linkages across the region. Indian ships have been visiting Vietnam and Premier Dung reiterated that Vietnam will continue to allow ship visits by India. This is significant in the wake of Chinese obduracy and aggressiveness in the South China Sea though territorial dis- putes in the South China Sea involve both island and maritime claims among seven sovereign states within the region—Brunei, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. But China has little regard for her neighbours. In September this year, the Indian naval ship INS Airavat was asked to exit so-called Chinese waters as it was approaching a Vietnamese port. INS Airavat was on a routine call at a Vietnam port and was travelling in open international waters in the South China Sea. But China asked the vessel to leave the waters terming them as “Chinese waters”. This is direct fallout of China’s Middle Kingdom mentality and the ancient belief conceived hiding behind the ‘great wall’ that everything under the sun belongs to China.
Vietnam has offered some blocks in the South China Sea. If they are commercially viable India will be looking at the same for exploration discounting past Chinese objections. China, as the self-appointed bully, continues to illegally occupy large chunks of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) in Aksai Chin and Shaksgam, and if this was not enough, is digging tunnels in Gilgit-Baltistan area of PoK under garb of development projects for deployment of missiles to support her operations in the Indian Ocean. Rightfully, Premier Dung explained that Vietnam and other ASEAN countries have consistently underlined the importance of complying with the international law, the 1982 UNCLOS and maintaining peace, stability, maritime security and safety and freedom of navigation in the East Sea. But then China has been overlooking international norms and has scant regard for international forums other than where she can bulldoze her way through.
Indo-Vietnamese agreement of India supplying naval vessels to Vietnam and also securing oil exploration rights from Vietnam in the South China Sea comes at a time when the Vietnam, along with several other South East Asian nations, is locked in territorial disputes with Beijing over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Chinese muscleflexing is also egged on because of the belief that Vietnam’s economic dependence on China precludes territorial conflict. Same is also true in the Sino-Indian context to a large extent. Logically, China should not be looking to destabilise a region in which it has economic interests but then China’s rise has characteristically been erratic and consistently violence ridden. Both Vietnam and India are growing closer to China economically, and a recent visit to New Delhi by Chinese President Xi Jinping yielded agreements worth $20 billion. Neither India nor Vietnam seek conflict and China being a master at the psychological game despite her military might surely understands her own weak points.
In any event, the fear of being administered her own medicine is something even she cannot ignore. She should expect India and Vietnam to continue to act in their respective national interests in resolute manner. After his meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Premier Modi said, “Our defence cooperation with Vietnam is among our most important ones. India remains committed to the modernisation of Vietnam’s defence and security forces. This will include expansion of our training program… joint exercises and cooperation in defence equipment. We will quickly operatioanalise the $100-million line of credit that will enable Vietnam to acquire naval vessels from India.” Looking at the defence equipment that China is providing to our neighbouring countries, in addition to the nuclear technology supplied to Pakistan, India should actually accelerate the supply of BrahMos missiles to Vietnam that latter has been seeking for some time. Russia is already supplying submarines to Vietnam. Further firming of Indo-Vietnamese ties is very much needed. India already has a trilateral dialogue with US and Japan, with US proposing a quadrilateral to include Australia. A parallel trilateral with Japan and Vietnam should be a good initiative or better still inclusion of Vietnam in the proposed US-Japan-India-Australia quadrilateral may be a better idea for stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shaking hands with the Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, before commencement of
delegation-level talks in New Delhi on October 28, 2014
Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcoming the Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Tan Dung and Madame Tran Thanh Kiem, at the Ceremonial Reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi