Vietnam a key pillar of India’s Act East & Indo-Pacific policy: Minister

The text of the Keynote Address by India’s Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan, at VIISAS-ICWA International Webinar on October 7 is as follows: 

India enjoys a special relationship with Vietnam. Since the glorious civilizational linkages of the past to the today’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, we have grown together in the socio-cultural, trade and commerce fields.Due to special attention given by leadership from India and Vietnam, today, our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership spans a wide-range of collaboration – from political engagement to economic and development partnership, defence and security cooperation, energy cooperation, cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts.

Our businesses are re-engaging after initial disruptions due to the pandemic, with industry chambers on both sides coming together through online platforms. Last year, India ranked as the 7th largest trading partner of Vietnam with bilateral trade of around US$ 12 billion. This is still not commensurate with the levels of our economic development and the fact that we both are among the fastest growing economies in the world today. And therefore, we need to do more to broaden and intensify our trade relations to achieve its full potential.

This is the right time for our businesses and investors to work together for utilising the new opportunities being presented by COVID-19. As global trade and commerce repositions in the changed context, both our countries can work together to explore new supply chains and new partnerships with each other.

At the same time, we also need to upgrade the 2009 ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA). In its present form AITIGA does not reflect today’s economic realities and is unable to meet India’s expectations. India hopes that Vietnam as the Chair of ASEAN can help in launching the review of AITIGA at the earliest. We believe that this step will create new opportunities for taking forward our trade engagement in the ASEAN region.

Our development partnership with Vietnam has been steadily growing. In addition to the capacity building exchanges for managing COVID-19, our partnership has entered new domains including science and technology, space applications, information and communications technology, physical and digital connectivity, civil nuclear energy, water resources development and so on.

India’s Quick Impact Projects in several provinces of Vietnam are bringing speedy and tangible socio-economic benefits to the common people of Vietnam. I am happy to note that this year my Ministry has announced to implement 07 Quick Impact Projects for water resource management in the Mekong Delta Region which has been witnessing the harsh realities of climate change issues. In addition to the above projects, we have also agreed to undertake 05 other Quick Impact Projects in the field of education infrastructure.

I am also glad to note that our archaeological experts have been contributing to the heritage conservation projects in My Son (*pronounced MEE SUN) in Quang Nam province. The discovery of a magnificent icon of 9th century AD monolithic ShivaLinga at My Son(MEE SUN) is a testimony of our close cultural linkage. I am happy to share that this new find has caught the popular attention among the people of India.

The growing popularity of Yoga in Vietnam is another example of our close cultural and people-to-people ties. Our civilisational connect brought yoga to Vietnam’s shores in the first millennium and has deeply influenced the lives of people here. In modern times, as yoga is helping to connect humanity across the world to acquire a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle, it is heartening to see the popularity of yoga across the length and breadth of Vietnam. I have also noted that since 2015, India and Vietnam have been partnering closely to observe the International Day of Yoga every year, creating awareness about yoga and bringing its benefits to millions of practitioners.

Our cooperation in the area of defence and security has been a core element of our strategic calculus in the wider Indo-Pacific region. The defence partnership also provides us a great degree of comfort in our bilateral engagements. It contains several dimensions, including military exchanges, training, joint exercises, UN peacekeeping and ship visits, to name a few. Defence industrial cooperation is the new focus of our engagement, with defence Lines of Credit worth US$ 600 million being oriented towards strengthening Vietnam’s domestic defence manufacturing.

In the wider global and regional context, we consider Vietnam as a key pillar of India’s Act East Policy and an important partner for our Indo-Pacific Vision. India is committed to promote peace, stability and prosperity of our shared region. We are happy that ASEAN countries, including Vietnam, have come up with their own Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which is broadly similar to India’s Indo-Pacific Vision. Together, they provide a useful roadmap to promote regional integration through connectivity and collaboration.

Our close coordination at several international fourms is another important aspect of our relationship. India is going to join Vietnam as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council on 01 January, 2021. With their voices of moderation and inclusivity, respect for international law and commitment to reformed multilateralism, the concurrent presence of India and Vietnam in the Security Council provides a robust basis for a more meaningful cooperation between them on global issues.

It is heartening to see that both India and Vietnam are today contributing to regional and global peace and development through UN Peacekeeping, as well as through committed actions towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals and addressing Climate Change.

With Vietnam successfully steering the ASEAN Presidency despite the disruptions of COVID-19, India’s engagements with Vietnam and ASEAN have been further strengthened. We recall with gratitude Vietnam’s most constructive role in facilitating our engagement with ASEAN as our Country Coordinator during 2015-18 and ensuring the success of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in January 2018 in New Delhi.

We have achieved some remarkable milestone last year in the field of connectivity when direct flights started operating between India and Vietnam. These flights have potential to give a boost to tourism exchanges between India and Vietnam and bring our peoples closer together. Our common Buddhist heritage offers a significant tourism attraction. There are many Vietnamese Buddhist pagodas in places like Bodh Gaya and Varanasi. Government of India has also liberalized its e-visa regime with significant reductions in visa fees and with visas for longer duration. This will greatly facilitate tourists from Vietnam visiting India. Apart from enhancing tourism, we are also hopeful that these convenient direct connections will encourage businesses on both sides to work on their complementarities and push the level of our economic ties.

The year 2020 has recast the landscape of human interaction by bringing an unprecedented crisis to the humankind in the form of COVID-19 pandemic. At this difficult time, India has been working closely with the global community to help in containing and controlling the pandemic. As the “pharmacy of the world”, India’s priority is to make available all supportive pharmaceutical products that can aid effective pandemic management efforts. India is also at the forefront of global efforts to develop a vaccine for the benefit of the entire humanity.

In shaping the global response to COVID-19, Prime Minister Modi has underlined the concept of “human-centric globalization” that seeks economic revival based on care and compassion. He has also envisioned a “self-reliant India” – Aatma Nirbhar Bharat as it is called in Hindi – which is self-sustaining and resilient, not by isolating India, but by building capacities at home so that India can integrate better with the global value chains. We believe that given its size, capacities and ambitions, India has to be a major factor in the post-pandemic global

I would like to underline that working together with Vietnam – one of our closest friends and most trusted partners – to take our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to newer heights is aligned with our national development priorities and global outlook.

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