Look East. Look West. The multifarious relations between India and Vietnam are deepening by the day and are branching out in new directions. In many ways, it’s a perfect match between India’s Look East policy and Vietnam’s Look West policy as the two countries aim high to forge closer strategic, economic and energy ties in days to come. This confluence of interlinked interests will be reflected in the visit of India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Vietnam August 25-26. This will be her first second bilateral visit to a Southeast Asian country after a trip to Singapore and flurry of bilateral and multilateral meetings connected with ASEAN, ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit in Myanmar early August.
The relations between India and Vietnam have been exceptionally friendly, and virtually free of any dissonance or friction. The ties go back to the ancient Cham civilization when people from Orissa travelled to Vietnam and found a hospitable home there, mingling cultures, customs, language and beliefs. Built on robust foundations laid down by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Vietnam’s iconic leader Ho Chi Minh, the ties have grown exponentially over the years. Pandit Nehru travelled to Vietnam in 1954 to celebrate Vietnam’s victory in the famous Dien Bien Phu battle against the French forces. This was followed by Ho Chi Minh’s visit to India in 1958. President Rajendra Prasad visited Vietnam in 1959. The sense of the shared anti-colonial impulse and solidarity that shaped bilateral ties in post-independence years has now morphed into a multi-pronged strategic partnership, with the focus on development cooperation, sharing experiences in nation-building, expanding trade and investment and enhancing defence ties. High-profile visits have become increasingly frequent, with almost all top-ranking leaders of Vietnam visiting India and Indian leaders and ministers travelling to the Southeast Asian country over the years.
Energy and Synergy
Economically, one can see a new energy and synergy between Asia’s third largest economy and Southeast Asia’s emerging economy. Bilateral trade is estimated to be over $6 billion. The two sides are now looking to scale up bilateral trade to $15 billion by 2020. Vietnam is an attractive destination for hordes of Indian companies. India has already 68 operational projects in Vietnam worth around $1 billion. Indian investments encompass diverse sectors, including oil and gas exploration, mineral exploration and processing, sugar manufacturing, agro-chemicals, IT, and agricultural processing. Vietnamese companies, too, are stepping up their footprints in India. Vietnam has three investment projects in India with total investment of US$ 23.6 million. The top Indian investors in Vietnam include, among others, OVL, Essar Exploration and Production Ltd, Nagarjuna Ltd, KCP Industries Limited, Ngon Coffee Manufacturing, Venkateswara Hatcheries, Philips Carbon and McLeod Russell and CGL. The single biggest investment by an Indian company in Vietnam is Tata Power’s mammoth project to build 1.8 billion Long Phu-II Thermal Power Plant in Soc Trang.
Energy cooperation is another promising area which is bringing the two nations closer. During the visit of General Secretary of the Communist party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong to India in November 2013, Vietnam agreed in principle to grant Indian companies seven oil exploration blocks. The two sides are expected to sign a pact to formalize this cooperation soon. Off and on, China has protested against Indian involvement in oil and gas exploration in Vietnam on grounds that these blocks like in the disputed portions of South China Sea, which is claimed in entirety by Beijing. Vietnam has vociferously rejected China’s contention and asserted that they are in international waters.
Against the backdrop of the flux in the region, the strategic and defence ties between India and Vietnam have acquired a new force and dimension. Advocating a rule-based order and freedom of navigation, India has pressed for the resolution of the South China Sea dispute in accordance with the UN Laws of the Sea. This position was reiterated by India’s external affairs minister at India-ASEAN and ARF meetings in Myanmar. With maritime security on mind, India has provided Vietnam a $100 million credit line to purchase military equipment, part of its drive to help bolster Vietnam’s military infrastructure and its preparedness to deal with any external threat. The two sides are now looking to intensify strategic defence dialogues and joint naval exercises to expand the scope for maritime security cooperation. Besides, India and Vietnam see their growing relations as part of the larger drive for regional peace and stability. This is reflected in their close cooperation in a host of regional fora, including ASEAN, East Asia Summit, Mekong Ganga Cooperation, Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM). “India and Vietnam want peace, prosperity, stability and development to the region. India has in Vietnam as loyal and all-weather friend,” says Vietnam’s ambassador to India Nguyen Thanh Tan.
What imparts solidity to the India-Vietnam relations is a burgeoning development partnership, underpinned by IT, education and collaboration in frontier areas of science and technology. To spur the economic resurgence of Vietnam, India has provided lines of credit of around $165 million for a host of infrastructure projects. With its proven strengths in knowledge industries, India has played a pivotal role in setting up a host of capacity building institutions, including the setting up of IT training centres, English language training centres and entrepreneurship development institutes. India’s assistance in setting up Rice Research Institute in Vietnam enabled that country to become the world’s leading rice-exporter and helped usher in a green revolution in the Southeast Asian country, says Aftab Seth, a former ambassador of India to Vietnam.
With most of Vietnam’s population young and restless to carve their destiny on their own terms, India has offered scholarships to hundreds of Vietnamese students annually under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme. In recent times, IT has emerged as an important fulcrum of knowledge-based partnership between the two countries. India has agreed to help set up the Indira Gandhi High-tech Cyber Forensic Laboratory in Hanoi and a Vietnam-India English and IT Training Centre at the National Defence Academy of Vietnam. Top IT bellwethers, including NIIT, APTECH and Tata Infotech, have opened more than 80 franchised centers spread all across Vietnam. In November last year, India gifted a high-power supercomputer to Vietnam.
With the first direct flight between Delhi and Ho Chi Minh City set to take off in November, people-to-people contacts, travel and tourism are poised for an upswing. Vietnam is home to around 1500 Indians. India is set to open a Cultural Centre in Hanoi later this year. The old linkages of the Cham civilization between India and Vietnam will acquire a new resonance, with the Archaeological Survey of India embarking on a conservation and restoration project to refurbish centuries-old Hindu temples at the UNESCO heritage site of My Son in Vietnam.
New Horizons: The Way Ahead
Blending IT, education, Buddhism and strategy in its intricate tapestry, the relations between India and Vietnam have effortlessly blended the ancient and the modern to forge a robust contemporary partnership. In the days to come, the only way for the Delhi-Hanoi relationship is to go up, opening new vistas and opportunities for a mutually invigorating and empowering partnership.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, a portal and e-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story)
Watch Video: India and Vietnam: Old friends, New Vistas
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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