Buddha, energy and strategy. They may sound like a fusion menu of sorts, but India’s President Pranab Mukherjee’s first state visit to Vietnam will deftly coalesce diverse strands that make the texture of the vibrant India-Vietnam relationship.
Mukherjee travels to Vietnam on a state visit from September 14 to September 17, which will telescope the trend of multi-alignment in India’s foreign policy. This essentially means aligning with different countries which may be at odds with each other to promote India’s national interests. Significantly, Mukherjee’s visit to Hanoi will be followed by the big-ticket visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India.
While China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner, the two countries are not exactly on the best of terms as Vietnam resents what it sees as China’s assertive posturing in South China Sea. India, on the other hand, has shown a talent for juggling its relations with both China and Vietnam.
President Mukherjee is expected to meet Vietnam’s top leadership, including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, President Truong Tan Sang and General Secretary of the Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong.
India and Vietnam are set to signal an upswing in their strategic partnership by signing a clutch of agreements. India is set to unveil $100 million line of credit for bolstering export finance of Vietnam and another $100 million soft loan to enable Hanoi to buy patrolling vessels, highly-placed sources told India Writes Network.
In addition, the two countries are also expected to sign MoUs in diverse areas, including animal health and customs cooperation, fish farming in India, the restoration of the Cham monument in My Son, Nalanda University and youth exchanges. Jet Airways and Vietnam Airlines are set to sign an agreement on the launch of direct flight in 2015.
Energy diplomacy will be high on the agenda. India and Vietnam are expected to sign a pact for fresh oil blocs. “OVL and Petrovietnam are going to sign a Letter of Intent during this visit. OVL has been offered two additional blocks for participation,” says Anil Wadhwa, secretary (east) in India’s external affairs ministry. He added that Petrovietnam had offered some blocks earlier in offshore areas of Vietnam and OVL is undertaking feasibility study for these new projects.
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.
The visit will see a spot of cultural diplomacy: Mukherjee will also take along with him a Bodhi Tree sapling as gift to the president to Vietnam. “It is a symbol of Buddhism. Therefore, those countries which have great reverence for Buddhism consider this to be a very happy augury to share this sapling of the Bodhi Tree,” says Wadhwa. The sapling will be placed in the Presidential Palace. India had gifted a similar sapling to Thailand and also to Korea.
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.
India has positioned itself as a key development partner of Vietnam. New Delhi has extended 18 lines of credit worth 184 million USD for infrastructure projects. It has also agreed to earmark $ 100 million as Buyer’s Credit under the National Export Insurance Account.
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.
The Way Ahead
The president’s visit will signal a marked upswing in India’s relation with Vietnam since bilateral relations were elevated to a strategic partnership in 2007.
“Vietnam is a key partner in our enhanced Look East Policy. Our priorities in bilateral relations include expanding our trade and investment engagement, securing our energy resources, integrating with ASEAN, and also leveraging interactions in regional and international fora. Vietnam shares these objectives with us,” says Wadhwa.
- 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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