By Mohammad Samir Hussain & Vinayak Subhash Lashkar
Although India and Vietnam do not share borders, both are in different geographical locations, but there seems to be developing an understanding on the need to cooperate on a wide range of issues at the regional and global level. India-Vietnam relations have gained more momentum in recent years. The post cold war global strategic developments have its impact on the relationship between the two countries in a significant way. The recent boom in strategic ties between India and Vietnam has to be seen in the context of the emergence of India’s Look East Policy. The post cold war India-Vietnam relation is for the mutual benefit of the two countries and national security significance for our country. Vietnam supports India in its peaceful use of nuclear energy and backs India’s bid for a permanent candidature in United Nations Security Council reforms. While, India support Vietnam entry into the World Trade Organization. This way it won’t be wrong to say that relationship with Vietnam is of very important from the political, economic and strategic point of view.
Vietnam is an important regional partner in South East Asia. India and Vietnam closely cooperate in various regional forums such as ASEAN, East Asia Summit, Mekong Ganga Cooperation, Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM). Converging long-term political, economic and strategic interests, aspirations and concerns have driven the partnership. This partnership will enable both countries to harness the vast potential of bilateral relations, drawing upon complementarities and each other’s intrinsic strengths, and work together to address regional and global challenges. The evolving strategic partnership is meant for mutual benefit that would work together to meeting the common concerns for the long-term partnership and does not lead to alliance against any third country.
The relationships between the two countries make a lot of sense when they share common interest- maritime security, fighting terrorism, security of the sea lanes of communications, piracy and natural disasters. Ever since India and Vietnam signed the New Strategic Partnership in 2007, there witnessed significant improvement in a multifaceted ties ranging from political and economic engagements, security and defence cooperation, science and technology and close cultural contacts. Despite Chinese objections, India and Vietnam went a step ahead to signing six agreements encompassing promote oil exploration in South China Sea, extradition treaty, deepen trade, security and strategic ties, etc. The visit of Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang’s to India aims to affirm Vietnam’s consistent policy of giving high priority to the strategic partnership with India and to promote the two countries’ cooperation in all fields and at regional and international forums. What makes this relationship special is because of the close understanding that both countries share over the growing rise of China and its subsequent implication on the security of both countries.
India’s ONGC has entered into a deal with a Vietnamese oil company to jointly explore resources in the South China Sea. This move has caused significant alarm in China because it perceive such move is aimed at containing China’s growing clout in the South East Asian region. Vietnam offer for the exploration of resources is part of the gaining strategic understanding between the two countries. However, the Chinese foreign ministry has repeatedly warned India against such moves that amount to interference in China’s relationship with its neighbors. In response to Chinese reaction, Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna asserted that the exploration projects do not violate international law, and that China’s opposition has no legal basis.
While China on the other hand is steadily increasing its military presence close to India’s borders in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Srilanka. By doing this, Chinese have never thought what would be its implications to India’s security. In recent times, China has expanded its footprint to Pakistan occupied Kashmir, which India claimed to be its own. How can China warn India to remain away when it is expanding close to India’s border and even to India’s claim territory?
Defence and security relations between India and Vietnam in recent times have made significant progress and cover several facets including high level military exchanges, military training and joint exercises. In a bid to further strengthen the security ties, both sides have agreed to launch a biennial security dialogue between their home ministries. However, defence cooperation got a major boost when in the year 2000, the Indian defence minister George Fernandes signed a new defence protocol which was more comprehensive and included an institutionalized framework for regular discussions between the two defence ministers. There has been if not regular a naval exercises between the two navies and coast guards. Indian air force provided training to Vietnamese air force pilots. While, Vietnam has also allowed Indian officers to train in its jungle warfare school since 2000. India’s concerns over the challenges posed by terrorism meant that both countries had a vested interest in developing their asymmetric warfare capabilities in which Vietnam has had a long history of success. The two sides will benefit from the growing defence and security cooperation given their vast experience and knowledge and the understanding they share.
The defence cooperation got a further boost when in May 2000, both countries signed a joint declaration on the Framework of Comprehensive Cooperation. In July 2007, a new level of security cooperation was reached when the visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed a joint declaration that “welcomed the steady development of bilateral defence and security ties” and “pledged themselves to strengthen cooperation in defence supplies, joint projects, training cooperation and intelligence exchanges”. Prime Minister Nguyen described this as the launch of a ‘strategic partnership’ between the two countries. “A strong India-Vietnam relation is a factor of peace, stability and development in the Asia-Pacific region. It stands on its own merits. The president's visit has given a new thrust and direction to this partnership.” Manmohan Singh said during the Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang visit to India last month.
Another are that hold the key to significant progress is in the field of maritime security since India and Vietnam are maritime neighbours. Both countries face common security challenges from terrorism, piracy and natural disasters. Therefore, it become very important that both sides cooperate to deal with all such issues and ensure the safety and security of the vital sea lanes of communication. Maritime insecurity has the potential to threaten the economic growth and welfare of both countries. The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard has a significant role to play in ensuring maritime security unilaterally or in coordination with navies of Vietnam.
On economic front, India-Vietnam bilateral trade volume has increased from US$50 million in 1991 to over $2.7 billion last year and almost $1.8 billion in the first six months of this year. It has been projected to reach $7 billion by 2015. The list of major Indian exports to Vietnam includes animal feed, pharmaceuticals, medicinal materials, plastic, iron and steel, seafood chemicals, chemical products, machinery and equipment, leather and leather garments, motorcycle parts, fertilizers, and automobile parts. While India’s import pepper, tea, coffee coal, rubber, cinnamon, and electronic components from Vietnam. Exploiting the potential of closer economic and trade ties would require discussions between the officials of the two sides at the highest level. India from its side has also taken the most important step of eliminating quantitative restriction on a large number of products thereby opening ways for Vietnam manufacturers.
India is also important investment partner for Vietnam as several Indian companies in sectors as diverse as oil and gas, steel, minerals, tea, coffee, sugar and food processing have invested in Vietnam. The major investor to Vietnam includes OVL, Essar Exploration and Production Ltd, Nagarjuna Ltd, Venkateswara Hatcheries, Philips Carbon and McLeod Russell are some of the major investors. Besides, Tata Steel plans to invest more than US $5 billion in a steel plant in Vietnam. In the field of IT training, NIIT, APTECH and Tata Infotech have so far opened more than 50 franchised centers spread all across Vietnam. The partnership will in the long run as it will stimulate innovation and promote sustainable and inclusive growth in both countries.
From the above table and figure, we can observe that the volume of trade is very few as compared to their actual potential. The good news for India is that the trade balance is largely in favour of India. Indian exports to Vietnam has contributed more than what it import from Vietnam in reaching the present level of trade volume. Lack of consistency in growth rate of imports and exports has been one major area of concern for both sides.
By the turn of the 21st century, India and Vietnam have not only forged a formidable ‘strategic partnership’ but have grand plans to deepen and strengthen the length and breadth of bilateral relations.
 Bilveer Singh, “South East Asia-India Defence Relations in the Changing Regional Security Landscape”, IDSA Monograph Series No. 4, May 2011, New Delhi, pp. 20-21.
 Refer to “India-Vietnam Relations”, available at http://meaindia.nic.in/mystart.php?id=50044542
*Dr. Mohammad Samir Hussain is a Research Associate in the Yashwantrao Chavan National Centre of International Security and Defence Analysis, Pune. He can be reached at email@example.com.
*Vinayak Subhash Lashkar is a Ph.D Research Fellow in the Yashwantrao Chavan National Centre of International Security and Defence Analysis, Pune.