Chairman of the Vietnam National Assembly Vuong Dinh Hue

Vietnam is a neighbour of China and like India has strategic problems in the South China Sea with China

The Chairman of the Vietnam National Assembly, Vuong Dinh Hue, will be visiting India from 15-19 December 2021. He will be the first visitor from Vietnam to make an official visit to India ever since the restrictions were imposed due to COVID-19 in March 2020. His visit is a strong signal to India and would undoubtedly improve strategic relations between the two countries.

For India, Vietnam is a neighbour of China and like India has strategic problems in the South China Sea with China. It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh at Glasgow during COP26. The meeting was fruitful.

Strategic Relationship

Based on the need to tackle China, both countries have been moving closer in their strategic relationship. The first Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 1994, a formal Defence Protocol in 2000 and Strategic Partnership in 2007. This has been upgraded to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2016. Vietnam has this sort of relationship with only Russia and China.

Numerous visits have taken place by top leaders of both countries. The latest has been by our President Ram Nath Kovind from 18-20 November 2018 and the Chief of Army Staff from 22-25 November 2018. During the prime minister’s visit in 2016, 12 agreements were signed which included Outer Space, UN Peacekeeping, avoidance of double taxation, cybersecurity, Information Technology, information on white shipping and contract for procurement of offshore patrol vessels.

In the context of Covid-related travel limitations, Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc held the first-ever India Vietnam Virtual Summit on 21 December 2020 during which they adopted a historic “Joint Vision for Peace, Prosperity and People”, to guide the future development of bilateral relations. On the sidelines of the Virtual Summit, the two foreign ministers also signed a plan of action for the period 2021 to 2023.

With regards to the defence issue, there is no doubt that both countries respect the current Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling and they agree to the freedom of navigation on the high seas. To further strengthen our defence relationship India has extended a $500 million Line of Credit for the purchase of defence equipment. The equipment to be procured is not known but there is a high probability it could be frigates, submarines or the BrahMos missile.

Vietnam has signed a contract with L&T for the purchase of four Offshore Patrol Vessels. In addition, India has given a grant of $5 million for the construction of an Army Software Park at the Tele Communications University in Nha Trang. Further to assist surveillance there will be cooperation in downloading images from Outer Space to provide real-time pictures of activities in Vietnam’s Area of Interest.

Economic issues formed an important aspect of the visit. Enhancing bilateral economic engagement is a strategic objective. Both countries would do their utmost to increase the bilateral trade to $ 15 billion by 2023. This would need immense efforts but can be achieved if both countries enhance their business interactions and diversify their range of commercial activities. Further, there must be increased two-way investment especially by private investors of both countries.

Prime Minister Modi especially sought contractual facilitation of Tata’s Soc Tranh 1320 MW plant at the earliest. Both countries would do their best to enhance the exploration of oil and gas in the new blocks allotted for exploration. India’s investments in Vietnam are estimated around $1.9 billion including investment routed through third countries. Major sectors are energy, mineral exploration, Agro-processing, sugar, tea, coffee, manufacturing, agrochemicals, IT and auto components.

Vietnam has about six investment projects in India with a total of $28.55 million. These are in the areas of pharmaceuticals, information technology, chemicals and building materials. Vietnam has approved India’s Covaxin vaccine for emergency use and is seeking 15 million doses which India must provide. Connectivity between both countries needs to be optimised. There is a need for dedicated shipping and land connectivity to be optimised. This would automatically strengthen economic relations between the two countries. Air flights between the two countries are running smoothly.

It was indeed creditable that both countries exhibited the highest degree of cooperation in regional and international forums. Vietnam has consistently supported India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the reformed Security Council. India supported Vietnam’s candidature for a non-permanent seat for the term 2020-21 and Vietnam similarly supported India’s candidature for the same in 2021-22. Overall, India and Vietnam relations have moved to a higher. However, to sustain the momentum a visit by senior dignitaries is needed.

Way Ahead

Ever since we became strategic partners there has been an annual Strategic Defence Dialogue with the Indian Defence Secretary representing India. Considering the intensity of our relations, the upgradation of these talks to the Ministerial levels would be necessary.

Cam Ranh Bay has been often described as one of the jewels of Vietnam. The long protective seaward peninsula, natural inner and outer harbours form what many believe to be possibly the best deep water port seaport facility in the entire world. There is also an Air Force base with excellent runways for state-of-the-art aircraft. The usage of these facilities by the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force would help us to strengthen our strategic partnership and enable us to undertake actions to protect our assets in the South China Sea. The area is being quietly considered between the two countries.

Based on Vietnam’s requirements India could provide Dornier surveillance aircraft, mini-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), upgraded T-72 tanks and indigenously manufactured Artillery equipment once the same has proved trials and few of our old ships of the Indian Navy. Vietnam has made full use of the $100 million credit by India in October 2014, in the current year. They have already procured two high-speed patrol boats and three more would be manufactured in Chennai by Larsen & Toubro.

Further, seven more will be manufactured in Haiphong. These boats would be of great help to the Vietnamese Coast Guard in the South China Sea. Vietnam is impressed with our missile development and is keen to purchase our supersonic cruise Missile BrahMos which could be used on land and sea. The issue merits serious consideration as there are no objections from the foreign joint developer. Vietnam is also keen that opportunity be accorded to train their scientists in missile technology and running of nuclear reactors.

View the professional training of our armed forces and looks forward to assisting in training in the following areas:

• Conversion training for SU-30 pilots of the Peoples Vietnam Air Force by the Indian Air Force
• Submarine crew training of the Peoples Vietnam Navy by the Indian Navy
• Training in Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare with the Indian Army
• Training in English language

The Vietnamese president as also the general secretary of the Communist Party and their prime minister were frank in strengthening defence relations with India. Vietnam would like to cooperate in the field of training and also gain knowledge in the field of rocketry and missiles. It would be in our interest to cultivate Vietnam and cooperate in strategic aspects to dissuade China from undertaking a misadventure.

Vietnam is looking for cooperation in areas of outer space with India. They have already launched two satellites and are planning their own navigation satellites. Cooperation with India would be mutually beneficial to both countries. India is also setting up receiving stations to enable Vietnam to receive downloads from our Reconnaissance Satellites on the areas bound by the South China Sea.

Vietnam is the strongest pillar of our Act East Policy. They are looking forward to Indian assistance in the field of military technology which we must provide at all costs. China provides weapons to all our neighbours and would accept our friendship with Vietnam. India must leverage the maximum from this strategic partnership. The visit of the Chairman National Assembly will further strengthen relations.