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

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