11 Nov 2014

On the Special Occasion of Prime Minister Mr Modi's Visit to ASEAN Summit : India - Vietnam - ASEAN Relationship !

Vietnam is a nation which very realistically fits into the very famous proverb of " देखन में छोटन लगे घाऊ करे गंभीर".

We could not even guess, without reading its history that this is the same small nation which under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh forced the imperialist French to leave from Vietnam’s territory in 1954. Stories do not end here. Under the cloud of Cold War and the rivalry between ideologies of the U.S. and the Soviet Russia, there happened a war between politically divided North and South Vietnam in 1965 which is famous by the name of the "Vietnam War". The conflict between the two sides intensified, with heavy intervention from the United States; they supported South Vietnam. Due to wonderful strategies the war ended with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975 and severe loss to the U.S.A. Again, the China, too, had to retreat its forces after defeat in 1979, when it tried to incur into Vietnam to reinforce expansionist agenda. 

India-Vietnam-Bilateral-RelationshipBut for India, there have always been a very special space. The foundation for India-Vietnam bilateral relation, in modern times, was laid by Prime Minister Nehru (India) and President Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) in 1954 when former visited Vietnam after latter’s victory against the French. India and North Vietnam established official diplomatic relations in 1972 and have since maintained friendly relations. India supported Vietnam's independence from France, opposed American involvement in the Vietnam War, and supported unification of Vietnam.  In fact, India was the only non-communist country to recognize the unified Vietnam.

Understanding China-Vietnam angle is important for understanding India-Vietnam relation

There are overlapping territorial disputes in the South China Sea (SCS) involving both island and maritime claims among seven nations in the region: Brunei, People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. But the dispute between China and Vietnam is over the Spratly and the Paracel islands, as well as maritime boundaries.

Why China is so much assertive to expand its territory in the South China Sea?

SCS is economically, geopolitically and strategically important. It is one of the richest sea in the world and are abundant with oil and gas, flora, fauna, coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds, fish etc. 10% of annual global fisheries catchment is in this region. The sea lane running between the Paracel and the Spratly Islands is used by oil tankers moving from the Persian Gulf to Japan as well as by warships en route from the Indian Ocean to the pacific. Security is a concern in SCS for regional countries such as Vietnam, China, Philippines, Malaysia, as well as the extra regional countries, including India.

China's territorial claim and UNCLOS
China has been trying to put new claims and rules often, like it imposed New Fishing Rules on Jan, 2014 to exercise jurisdiction over all fishing activities in the disputed area. 

Why India is excited about this region? 

India has:

·  Vital maritime interests for economic and security reasons. Around 55% of India’s trade in the Asia-Pacific transits through this region. This area is critical for naval ship.
· Strong trade relations with ASEAN and are further strengthening.
· Very few land routes from the Indian Subcontinent and provide little facility for commerce. Its prosperity is dependent upon sea routes.

Any conflict in SCS will pose a threat to regional and international security.

India-Vietnam Angle

Both have suffered aggression from China in the past and had good relations with the former Soviet UnionSecurity ties between the two countries have always been close but they began accelerating in the field of defense few years ago when the Chinese objected to Vietnam inviting India to prospect for oil in a contested portion of the South China Sea.

Of late Vietnam and India have also entered into a trilateral grouping with Japan to safeguard their interests against hegemonic attitude. Vietnam has agreed to more intensive defense exchanges with Washington and stepped up security cooperation with Japan, Australia and a number of its neighbors in South East Asia. 

India uses its military relationship with Vietnam to apply counter pressure on China for its support for Pakistan. Strategic community of India views it as a twin track Indian diplomacy in Asia; build on the new economic possibilities with China but don’t allow Beijing to define the limits of India’s partnership with Japan and Vietnam.

Vietnam-China trade is 10 times higher than India-Vietnam trade; which is clearly an indication of strong economic engagement even if there are political differences.

Other reasons for cooperation with this very small nation geographically

Cooperation on international fora
  • India and Vietnam cooperate with each other in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) where Vietnam is a member and India an observer. Vietnam is giving political assistance to India in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECP) negotiations (Negotiations started in 2013 and is expected to be completed by 2015) launched by ASEAN and its 6 FTA (Australia + China + India + Japan + Korea + New Zealand) partners.
  • Vietnam has supported India's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
  • In the 2003 joint declaration, India and Vietnam envisaged creating an "Arc of Advantage and Prosperity" in Southeast Asia.
  • India, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam established the Mekong–Ganga Cooperation (MGC) in 2000. They emphasized four areas of cooperation, which are tourism, culture, education, and transportation linkage in order to be solid foundation for future trade and investment cooperation in the region. 
  • The U.S. led TPP-Trans Pacific Partnershipwhich is under negotiation with 11 other countries (Australia, Brunei DarussalamCanada, ChileJapanMalaysiaMexicoNew ZealandPeruSingapore and Vietnam), has left out the two big economies of India and China. The experience of Vietnam and other friendly nation of India will be of great Importance for India.
Economic Cooperation
  • India granted the "Most Favoured Nation" status to Vietnam in 1975, but it was not beneficial because the economy of both the countries were closed. In 1986, the Vietnam’s government initiated a series of economic and political reforms which began Vietnam's path towards integration into the world economy.  In 1992, India and Vietnam established extensive economic ties, including oil exploration, agriculture and manufacturing. The relations between the two countries, especially defense ties, benefited extensively from India's Look East policy
  • Since 2000, Vietnam's economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world. Its successful economic reforms resulted in its joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007. But India- Vietnam trade got boost only after India operationalised the goods portion of the Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN in 2010, and could expand further when the services and investment aspects come into effect.  Indian corporate are eyeing upon the economic opportunities created in Vietnam in Agriculture, Power, IT, pharmaceutical etc. 
Non-Strategic but Important Cooperation (To strengthen Soft Power)
  • Various areas of research cooperation have been identified in the fields of biotechnology, material science, ICT, ocean development and oceanographic research, pharmaceuticals and medical research. Both sides have initiated a Joint Project for leather research and tannery waste recycling between Central Leather Research Institute of India and the Vietnam Leather Research Institute
  • Vietnam has been a large recipient of training programmes under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme. General Cultural Scholarship Scheme (GCSS), Educational Exchange Programme (EEP), Mekong Ganga Cooperation Scholarship Scheme (MGCSS).
  • India is providing English Language Training, Entrepreneurship Development, Vocational Training etc.
  • A proposal to set up a Centre for Satellite Tracking and Data Reception and an Imaging facility in Vietnam under ASEAN-India Cooperation mechanism is under consideration. The Centre will be fully funded by India and ISRO will be the implementing agency. It will utilise data provided by Indian remote sensing satellites and harness it for multiple developmental applications.
    India's-Look-East-Policy Export dynamics
To increase People to People Contact
  • India has decided to open a Cultural Centre in Hanoi in 2014. The Centre will strengthen India’s cultural presence in Vietnam and constitute an important dimension of the friendly partnership between the two countries. 
  • The Archaeological Survey of India will execute a conservation and restoration project at the UNESCO heritage site of "My Son" in Vietnam. The project will highlight the old linkages of the Hindu Champa civilization between India and Vietnam.  
  • India has accorded visa-on-arrival facility for Vietnamese nationals with effect from January 1, 2011. With the initiation of daily flight on Nov. 5, 2014, connecting Ho Chin Minh City with Delhi and Mumbai via Bangkok, the people to people contact will get a boost through tourism and business linkages. 
Recent Development (After the New Govt. came to power in India)

The President Pranab Mukherjee went to Vietnam just few days before the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping came to India. This step was perceived as strategic one. Seven agreements were signed in the presence of visiting Indian and Vietnamese Presidents. These included the air services agreement between Jet Airways and Air Vietnam, an agreement for oil exploration in two additional blocks in Vietnam's territory between OVL (the overseas arm of oil major ONGC) and Petro Vietnam, line of credit of $100 million.

During Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s two-day visit to India, the Indian govt. operationalised the $100 million line of credit (established during Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Hanoi) for the purchase of four Offshore Patrol Vessels. The latest MoU will further solidify India’s assistance on vessel construction and submarine training to Vietnam’s forces as part of the Strategic Partnership signed between the two countries in 2007.

Few of the several existing agreements, related to defense, are as following.

·   Since India has very good experience of operation and maintenance of Russian submarines and other equipment, it is providing training support for Vietnam's Kilo-class submarines (Which is a Russian made submarine and was made available to Vietnam with India's help.). India and Vietnam are now considering joining hands in maintenance and co-production.

·  India had agreed to assist Vietnam in training its forces for UN peacekeeping, establish a foreign language center, and exchange information on their navies and air forces.  In return, Vietnam had offered to provide facilities to repair, maintain and fuel Indian naval ships.

India is already encircled by the string of pearls of China. So, India's focus on its 'Look East' policy to engage with countries in the Chinese periphery becomes inevitable due to pragmatism. As it is clear from the signal of honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi's approach, economy should remain in the forefront of diplomacy of India. Two big brothers: India and China will have to come together for building a greater Peaceful and Prosperous Asian Community. Though India’s relations with Vietnam provide a basis for a larger Indian role in East Asia, it is only in the direction of building that community not to offend China.

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How ASEAN and SAARC countries can grow together and perform effectively at every front of the important issues of world?

What are the main problems of ASEAN and SAARC countries? How it can be resolved?

How India can play bigger and effective role for growth and prosperity of Indian subcontinent, ASEAN and SAARC countries?

(Written by Sujit Bharti, an alumnus of IIT Bhubaneshwar)



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