It’s a milestone year in India-Vietnam relations as the two strategic partners celebrate the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. This period has seen a marked acceleration of India-Vietnam relations across the spectrum, including in areas of trade and defence and development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vietnam in September 2015 saw the elevation of bilateral ties to the level of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The ongoing churn in South China Sea has imparted an added traction to enhancing strategic cooperation between India and Vietnam.
In this wide-ranging interview with Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network, Vietnam’s ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh outlines a vibrant picture of the trajectory of this crucial relationship and underlines the need for a more active role by India in Southeast Asia and the extended region. The envoy also underscored that the burgeoning India-Vietnam relations is not targeted at China or any third country and stressed on peaceful resolution of the South China Sea dispute through dialogue.
Q) This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Vietnam? How do you look at the special quality of India-Vietnam relations? What are the plans for celebrating this important milestone in the history of India-Vietnam relations?
A) Vietnam and India had thousands years of cultural, religious and commercial interactions. The people of the two countries showed sympathy and support for each other during their struggle for independence. The establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Vietnam in 1972 was the culmination of the Indian support to Vietnam during our resistance against the US aggression. The friendship and cooperation between our two countries have always been strong since then. These relations are freed from any problem and are firmly founded on mutual trust and convergence of strategic interests. In 2007 the two countries upgraded the relationship to Strategic partnership and in 2016 again upgraded it to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This is highest level of relations that Vietnam has with other countries.
Q) 2017 also marks the 25th anniversary of India-ASEAN relations. How does Vietnam look at India’s role in ASEAN and what are Hanoi’s expectations in this regard?
A) Vietnam is currently the coordinator for ASEAN-India relations. We expect India to play an active role as a strong strategic partner of ASEAN. This role is not only very much in line with India’s Act East Policy, but is also welcomed by all ASEAN members. Vietnam shall work closely with India to carry many activities to celebrate 25th anniversary of ASEAN-India relations this year.
Q) How do you look at the transformation of India’s Look East policy into Act East under the Narendra Modi government?
A) This is a really good and timely transformation. It brings a lot of confidence to ASEAN members and inspires them to be more active in promoting a stronger partnership with India.
Q) Prime Minister Modi had a successful visit to Vietnam in September 2016. What are key areas of India-Vietnam relationship which will see concrete progress and headway in days to come?
A) During the visit by Prime Minister Modi to Vietnam in September 2016, the two sides reached many agreements, especially the upgrade of our relationship to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. We will see a lot of progress in many areas in the days to come. There will more frequent exchange of high level visits to strengthen our political relations and mutual trusts. Defence and Security cooperation will be further enhanced; first of all, to realise the credit line of US$ 500 million declared by PM Modi for Vietnam. Besides some trade promotion activities in an effort to raise the two-way trade, we would expect a direct flight to be opened soon between the two countries. We will also see progress in science & technology, culture-education cooperation between the two countries this year.
Q) In the strategic arena, can you identify focus areas, especially in the area of military sales?
A) We should first of all focus on the economic area, which is an important strategic area as identified by the leaders of the two countries during the visit to Vietnam by PM Modi. This area has huge potential, which has not yet been exploited. We should also continue to focus on other pillars of the Strategic Partnership, namely political relations, defence and security cooperation as well as science-technology and culture-education cooperation.
India-Vietnam ties not targeted at any third country
Q) China suspects that the growing India-Vietnam relationship is targeted at Beijing? Is this apprehension justified?
A) Vietnam advocates an independent foreign policy and good relations with all nations in the world, including China. The growing India-Vietnam relationship is to serve the interests of both countries and for the sake of peace, stability and cooperation in the region. It is not targeted against any third party.
Q) On South China Sea, what’s your message to China? How should this contentious issue be resolved? Do you envisage a role for India in this?
A) First of all, we would like to emphasise our earnest aspiration to have good relations with China, our biggest neighbour. We shall do our best to promote our relations with China.
Regarding the the East Sea (South China Sea) issue, the only major remaining dispute between Vietnam and China, we want to stress that Vietnam has sufficient historical evidence and legal foundation to confirm its sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly Islands. However, we are ready to settle the disputes of these islands by peaceful means, through bilateral and multilateral negotiations in compliance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and with respect to diplomatic and legal processes. Pending a solution to the disputes of these islands, all parties concerned should not have any activity to change the status-quo, fully and efficiently executing the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC)” and striving together with ASEAN to soon accomplish a “Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC)”. China and Vietnam should also strictly observe the Vietnam–China Agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of maritime issues.
It is the stake of all nations inside and outside the region, including India which is acting East, to have peace, stability and freedom of navigation in South China Sea. We are looking forward to a more active role and engagement of India in Southeast Asia.
Q) Finally, what’s your views on the unfolding Asian renaissance and the role of India-Vietnam relationship in facilitating regional stability and prosperity?
A) The re-emergence of Asia is very clear. It has now the biggest share of global production. Trade among Asian nations has crossed US$ 3000 billion, accounting for more than 53% of its total trade, showing a high degree of interdependence among Asian economies. India’s Look East – Act East Policy and especially the participation of India in East Asia Summit process have scaled up in a big way the rise of Asia as well as the regional cooperation.
Vietnam, after more than 30 years of transformation, has improved to a great extent its economic and political status. The comprehensive strategic partnership between our two countries would surely contribute to the rise of Asia and cooperation as well as stability and prosperity in the region.
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