When Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh visits New Delhi this week for wide-ranging talks, it will be a homecoming of sorts, bristling with memories of the country he was born in 1959.
The 54-year-old Pham Binh Minh will be seeing a new resurgent India, and one which may not square up with sepia-tinted memories of his early childhood when his father was the 1st Consul General at the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s mission in New Delhi.
India has proved to be a lucky charm for both father and son, who rose from the ranks to become foreign ministers of their country, the first time a father-son duo has headed the foreign office in independent Vietnam’s history.
The Vietnamese foreign minister’s visit comes against the backdrop of increased Chinese assertion in South China Sea and mounting pressure on Hanoi by Beijing to suspend its oil deals with India.
Trade diplomacy and a host of regional and strategic issues will be high on the agenda when the foreign ministers of India and Vietnam hold foreign office consultations in New Delhi July 8.
Amid intermittent frictions with China over competing claims in South China Sea, Vietnam is keen to diversify its trade and investment and sees India as a reliable and friendly partner to achieve its economic and developmental goals. Currently, India-Vietnam bilateral trade is around $4 billion and is expected to exceed $5 billion by the end of the year. The two sides have decided to scale up trade to $7 billion by 2015, a relatively modest target compared to $60 billion trade target set by China in relation to Vietnam. However, the burgeoning of India-Vietnam bilateral trade in recent years is significant as the powers-that-be in Hanoi are upbeat about the prospects of enhanced trade and investment with India, a rising economy and a potential hedge against China. Vietnam’s foreign minister is expected to seek fresh investments from India in sectors like infrastructure, construction of roads and seaports and power stations, coincidentally the areas in China has proven prowess.
India’s Tata Power Co. Ltd recently won 1.8 billion contract to develop two 660 megawatts (MW) coal-fired thermal power plants in south Vietnam against stiff competition from South Korean and Russian companies. Tata Steel has agreed to set up $5 billion steel plant and is also on the way to investing in an ambitious power plant project. India has over 80 investment projects, including investments by Indian companies from third countries, which are estimated to be close to $800 million. Indian companies are investing in a wide gamut of sectors, including oil and gas exploration, mineral exploration and processing, sugar manufacturing, agro-chemicals, IT, and agricultural processing.
Oil and gas sector has emerged as an important area of bilateral cooperation, and has acquired an added visibility due to Chinese objections to Vietnam’s oil deals with India in what Beijing claims to be disputed waters in the South China Sea. In this context, Vietnam’s foreign minister is expected to press New Delhi to let Indian companies like the OVL, the overseas arm of the country’s oil major, continue with the exploration of two oil blocks which have been allocated to it.
South China Sea
With Hanoi under relentless pressure from Beijing over the South China Sea, Vietnamese foreign minister may press India to play a more proactive role in defusing tensions in the disputed water body. During his visit to India in December 2012, the Vietnamese prime minister had surprised many by exhorting India to play a more active role in the South China crisis, and since then China’s pressure has increased. India is expected to convey that it will continue to advocate freedom of navigation and press for the resolution of the issue in accordance with the UN laws of the sea, said an Indian official.
Beijing has been resentful of India’s burgeoning relations with Vietnam, with state-managed Chinese dailies warning India against its oil deals with Vietnam.
India has been proactively involved in a host of capacity building and training initiatives in the rising Southeast Asian economy. In an important step, India is planning to set up a hi-tech Cyber Forensic Laboratory, named after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Hanoi. The cyber lab is expected to be equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including forensic workstations.
- 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.