Amid the continuing volatility around South China Sea and China’s growing clout, India and Vietnam have decided to deepen their coordination in the Indo-Pacific region and bolster their defence ties to shape an inclusive regional architecture.
Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang’s March 2-4 visit to India and his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi have expanded the scope of comprehensive strategic partnership between India and Vietnam, and underscored the pivotal role of India-Vietnam relations in the mutating regional landscape. Two visits by Vietnam’s prime minister and president to India within weeks of each other have cemented Hanoi’s role as a pivot in New Delhi’s Act East policy.
Partnering in Indo-Pacific
The deepening Delhi-Hanoi strategic connect is being deeply resented by China, which suspects the two countries of teaming up to contain Beijing’s expansionist ambitions in the region.
In a message aimed at China, India and Vietnam, in a joint statement after talks between their leaders, re-affirmed their support for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which is claimed in part and whole by Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
The leaders of India and Vietnam “reiterated the importance of achieving a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region where sovereignty and international law, freedom of navigation and overflight, sustainable development and a free, fair and open trade and investment system are respected,” said the joint statement.
“They emphasised that India and Viet Nam play important roles in safeguarding and strengthening such an open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture and in further strengthening of cooperation with ASEAN.”
In a defining speech on India-Vietnam relations in Delhi, the Vietnamese president lauded the rise of India and pitched for a bigger role for India in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
“We are glad to note that in recent years India’s rise has been closely linked with the prosperity and affluence of Asia as a whole. India’s peaceful development has always worked as an important and constructive factor to regional peace and stability. With her vast potential and great contributions, India surely deserves a greater role in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and the world,” Vietnam’s president said.
This joint messaging by India and Vietnam, coming close on the heels of the special India-ASEAN summit, is designed to caution Beijing against any potential adventurism to tinker with the rules-based architecture. In defiance of Chinese objections, President Tran Dai Quang also exhorted Indian businesses to expand their oil and gas exploration and exploitation activities on land and in the continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Viet Nam. He has urged them to file concrete proposals for the blocks offered by the Vietnamese side. Giving a new twist to energy cooperation, India and Vietnam have also agreed on collaboration in oil and gas exploration projects in third countries.
Enhancing defence ties
The India-Vietnam talks in Delhi have also imparted an added momentum to growing defence and maritime cooperation between the two countries. The two sides have agreed to expedite the implementation of the US$100 million Line of Credit for building of high-speed patrol boats for the Viet Nam Border Guards and to fast-track signing of a framework agreement on the US$ 500 million Line of Credit for defence industry. Looking ahead, one can expect more joint exercises, port calls of naval and Coast Guard ships, capacity building projects, procurement of equipment and transfer of technology.
Signalling new horizons in their growing relationship, India and Vietnam also signed three pacts in the fields of trade, agriculture and civil nuclear cooperation. The talks between the two leaders focussed on strengthening trade and investment partnership in sectors like oil and gas exploration, renewable energy, agriculture and textiles. Enhanced agricultural cooperation envisages technological transfer and the exchange of technical experts. Seeking to infuse new vitality in their economic ties, India and Vietnam have jointly set bilateral trade target of US$15 billion by 2020.
- 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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