Focus on defence cooperation in India-Vietnam ties

downloadBuilding on the government’s Act East Policy, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment last year to aid in modernising Vietnam’s defense infrastructure, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met Vietnam’s top leadership in Hanoi to firm up strategic partnership in defence, counter-terror cooperation and countering cybercrimes.

During his two-day visit to Thailand and Vietnam last week, Mr Doval met Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. India has shown willingness to act on Prime Minister Dung’s request for training Vietnamese intelligence officials and increase training slots for its Air Force and Navy personnel.

The Asia-Pacific is a crucial strategic region for India. In a veiled reference to China, Mr Doval said that India was against any unilateral move to change the status quo in the control over waterways, and called for freedom of navigation in a region where sovereignty over several areas in the East and South China Sea remain hotly contested. Mr Doval also reviewed the situation in South China Sea where China is building artificial islands. India has acquired oil blocks in the South China Sea, which Vietnam claims come under its Exclusive Economic Zone, but China asserts they are under its sovereign control. In such an environment, several countries, including Vietnam, have been welcoming Indian naval ships and are pushing for a larger Indian presence in the region to counter China’s growing assertiveness.

India and Vietnam have robust bilateral relations. Defense collaboration includes the sale of military equipment, sharing of intelligence, joint naval exercises and training to counter insurgency and jungle warfare. During Mr Dung’s visit to India last year, India’s Prime Minister Mr Modi had mentioned that India’s defence cooperation with Vietnam was amongst the “most important ones”. India commitment to the modernisation of Vietnam’s defence and security forces will include the expansion of our training programme (already very substantial), joint-exercises and cooperation in defence equipment. Mr Modi had added that India would soon operationalize the $100 million line of credit to Vietnam to allow Vietnam to acquire naval vessels (most likely four new Ocean Patrol Vessels) from India.

The meeting should be viewed in the larger rubric of India’s desire to expand influence within the ASEAN countries and revive the links with Vietnam, which has the potential as a fast growing market for Indian products. Mr Doval’s interactions underlined other key focus areas for India in the region, which includes the thrust on Make in India (which has a focus on defense sector manufacturing and technology upgradation), and countering Chinese influence in the region. In a bid to strengthen the 2007 Strategic Partnership Agreement (in which defence ties are an important pillar), last year India’s President Pranab Mukherjee had visited Vietnam in September, which was followed by a reciprocal visit by the Vietnamese prime minister to India in October.

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