India’s burgeoning ties with Vietnam
Recently, India and Vietnam celebrated the 5th Anniversary of India-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
On this occasion both countries signed key agreements including 12 MoUs in several areas such as technology aviation, internet of things (IoT) blockchain, infrastructure, as well as petrochemical refinery projects, and oil and gas processing.
India-Vietnam Relations: A brief Background
- Vietnam is one of India’s closest partners, trusted friend and an important pillar of its Act East Policy and Indo-Pacific Vision. The ties after Independence continued in the spirit of understanding and mutual support.
- India and Vietnam have elevated their relations from Strategic Partnership in 2007 to the ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ in 2016, making Vietnam the first ASEAN country with whom India concluded a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
- In 2020, both countries put forward a ‘Joint Vision for Peace, Prosperity and People’. It focuses on greater cooperation driven by the promise of new technologies, by innovation, and by digitization to deliver good governance, people’s empowerment, and sustainable and inclusive development.
- Bilateral relations are thriving in all areas ranging from trade and investment; to energy cooperation; defence cooperation and a long-standing development partnership.
- India and Vietnam also cooperate closely in various regional forums like ASEAN, East Asia Summit, Mekong Ganga Cooperation besides, the UN.
- 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of India-Vietnam diplomatic relations.
Areas of Convergence and cooperation
- Global Outlook: As political and security partners, India and Vietnam have converging interests in a multi-polar and rebalancing world. Both have been supportive of each other’s objectives, whether in ASEAN-led forums or on global platforms, such as the cooperation in the UNSC.
- The shared respect for international law, including UNCLOS 1982, and a rules-based order is a strong commonality between the two countries.
- Both societies are independent and deeply committed to maintaining their freedom of choices. These traits make India and Vietnam the foundation of a multi-polar Asia in the coming years.
- Economic Relations: Bilateral trade crossed the US$ 10 billion mark in 2020, and is likely to exceed US$ 12 billion this year. To realize its full potential, however, both countries should work towards promoting reliable, efficient and resilient supply chain systems and fashion a complementarity between India’s vision of self-reliance and Vietnam’s growing economic vitality.
- The ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement that is under review will help expand the trade targets.
- The development partnership: India has shared its experience in the fields of IT, science & technology, defence, agriculture, and space. India has contributed to both institution building and human resource development in Vietnam.
- Under the Mekong Ganga Cooperation framework, India has been implementing 37 Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) in 33 provinces of Vietnam. These projects are not only bringing benefits to the local community, but also helping Vietnam in reaching its Sustainable Development Goals.
- Historical and Cultural Linkages: There is over two millennia old historical and cultural linkages. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been a particularly effective vehicle to rediscover these roots. ASI recently found a 9th century monolithic Shiva Linga at the My Son Temple complex.
- The ties are being further expanded to cover another block of the Cham Temple at My Son, the Dong Duong monastery at Quang Nam and the Nhan Cham Tower at Phu Yen.
- Geopolitical convergence: The success of Act East Policy has led India to adopt a larger Indo-Pacific approach that captures India’s growing strategic interests more effectively. From the Indian perspective, Vietnam is a key partner both in the ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific context.
- The commerce, connectivity or culture as well as political and defence cooperation can be further buttressed by interaction between the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative that has been proposed by India.
India-Vietnam Relations and China: A Geopolitical Analysis
- Vietnam is a key player in India’s Act East Policy and is distressed due to China’s overarching position in the South China Sea. Vietnam is at a key location; its coastline meets the South China Sea (SCS).
- The SCS is a substantial contentious zone, geopolitically sensitive due to Chinese aggressive SCS policies, such as building artificial islands, claiming sovereignty over the entire region, and militarization the area.
- Vietnam has called for restraint in SCS after its long standoff with China and the Philippines has taken China to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
- China’s expanding infrastructural investments in India’s periphery have led to a regional security dilemma in Indian Ocean Region. India is steered to pursue opportunities to counter China in the latter’s periphery, to which Vietnam fits as an apt ally.
- China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) strategies and expanding hegemonic influence in Indo-Pacific are considered a threat to global security in general, and Indo-Pacific in particular. Hence, India’s Vietnam policy, embedded within its Act East Policy, aims to tap this veiled potential to primarily aid Vietnam to build its economy and collaborate as a geostrategic ally, to offer a counterbalance to Chinese expansion in Indo-Pacific. India aims to build Vietnam as an ally in Southeast Asia, similar to what Pakistan is for China in its periphery.
Vision for Future engagements
India’s relationship with Vietnam will be both of a challenger, as well as of a collaborator.
- Vietnam is a growing technology manufacturing hub. Companies like Samsung, LG, and semiconductor giants like Intel are investing in Vietnam. Here, Vietnam goes against India in that it is getting the companies that are leaving China.
- But Vietnam’s power increase is beneficial to India. As Vietnam rises in economic power along with India, it poses as an alternative to China. India and Vietnam get to establish a supply-chain alliance, be it in semiconductors, textile, outsourcing and manufacturing. This also degrades China’s relative comprehensive power.
- Vietnam and India have the labour force to drive in low-wage market seeking companies. India and Vietnam will have to create an integrated supply chain mechanism to bring in big businesses. This asks for making up of infrastructure; like ports and roadways.
- Vietnam has been keen on seeking India’s help for exploration within Vietnam’s economic zone, and India has been constant in its support such as Vietnam and India’s collaboration for oil exploration in the South China Sea. Any oil and gas findings in Vietnam’s zone will benefit India in establishing an alternative energy supply chain, and also in establishing transport infrastructure and interoperability deep into ASEAN member nations, which will benefit India’s economy.
- Vietnam’s defence infrastructure is in need of weaponry that is reliable and modern. As the South China Sea dispute becomes more belligerent day by day, Vietnam needs a greater military and naval establishment. Vietnam’s military modernisation is in the benefit of India, both in terms of business and allied power to counter the Chinese.
- This defence relationship will also benefit India’s domestic military complex and industry. India has promised a $500 million line of credit to Vietnam for defence purchases from India. Vietnam has also shown interest in buying the AKASH SAM system and Dhruv light helicopters.
- Defense analysts arguethat especially in the wake of the Galwan clash, India must proceed with both the Brahmos and the Akash missile systems. Discussions on the possible sale of Brahmos have been going on for a few years now. Reportedly, disagreements with Russia (the missile was jointly developed with Russia) on the sale have been resolved.
- As India has to protect its interests of gas and oil exploration and avoid any Chinese manoeuvres in the South China Sea region, in future, a port in Vietnam can be used to counter the string of pearls game of China. China’s port buildup in the Indian Ocean region can be countered by defence infrastructure in Vietnam.
Common Geopolitical Arenas
- India and Vietnam have common geopolitical goals like securing the sea lanes of communications, energy explorations, strategic ground, and counterbalancing China’s rise in this region.
- India’s alliance with Vietnam must increase in the terms of naval cooperation and this naval alliance should also include other big powers namely the US, Japan, and Australia. This may entail the expansion of the QUAD.
- India’s Act East Policy must include the East. By this, it means to use the similar social aspects of Northeast India to indulge in social understandings and interactions with the Vietnamese. India has a huge advantage in terms of diaspora and Northeast’s cultural similarities with the East.
- Social cooperation is proportional to political cooperation in the international arena. This also builds up trust between the two players. This soft-power aspect adds weight to power relations between the two countries.
Question: Given the context on India’s current engagements with Vietnam, elaborate on the future prospects of this relationship.