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Vietnam Foreign Minister’s Visit to India July 2013- Reviewed

Paper No. 5530                                         Dated 22-Jul-2013

By Dr. Subhash Kapila

Vietnam occupies a special place in Indian hearts and also in Indian foreign policy formulations. This stands testified by the historical record of Vietnam-India relationship which now stands transformed into a Strategic Partnership.

The visit of the Vietnam Foreign Minister Mr Pham Binh Minh in mid-July 2013 to India therefore received special attention in the Indian media. Indians were delighted and additionally bonded to learn that Mr Pham Binh Minh was born in India where his father was the first Vietnamese diplomat to India.

 The Chinese media expectedly displayed interest and focus on the visit evidenced by a TV interview of mine by a Hong Kong TV Channel and the pointed questions posed.

The Vietnam Foreign Minister’s visit to India was to participate in the 15th Joint Vietnam-India Commission meeting which reviews the progress made comprehensively in all aspects of the Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership and also to chart the future roadmap in reinforcing ties.

The Vietnam Foreign Minister also called on the Indian Prime Minister and had discussions on crucial contemporary issues. The highlight of his visit was an address to the Indian Council of World Affairs in New Delhi which was attended by a select crowd of diplomats and the strategic community.

Impressions from media reportage of the Joint Commission discussions and the Foreign Minister’s Address at the Indian Council of World Affairs attended personally by me, reinforced the impression that the visit of Vietnam Foreign Minister was a success, as it should be between two countries with a good record of Strategic Partnership and facing common challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

Following the Indian Defence Minister’s forthright assertions on the South China Sea analysed by me in an earlier Paper, its further reiteration by the Indian Foreign Minister would be a reassurance for Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Foreign Minister’s address at the Indian Council of World Affairs was entitled as “Strengthening Vietnam-India Bonds for Peace and Prosperity in the Indo-Pacific”. The address basically dwelt on two major themes, namely, the global and regional changes affecting the Asian security environment and secondly the ‘Regional Architecture-India’s and ASEAN’S Role’.

While sketching the global shift of power to Asia and the attendant focus on the Asia region of major powers, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister stressed on four major developments impacting the shaping of the Asian security environment, and these were (1) China’s spectacular rise (2) United States strategic rebalancing of Forces in Asia Pacific (3) India’s ‘Look East Policy” (4) Japan assuming a greater active role.

While focussing on the above Vietnam’s Foreign Minister laid emphasis on the international responsibility to safeguard and protect the ‘global commons’ and the imperatives of ‘Strategic Trust’  which undergirds the responsibility of major powers to observe international laws and conventions and having faith in multilateral dialogue processes for any conflict resolution.

India’s overall stand on regional peace and stability, security and freedom of navigation along major maritime routes and the need to de-escalate tensions in the East China Sea and South China Sea by dialogue mechanisms was appreciated.

In terms of ‘Regional Architecture-India’s and ASEAN’s Role’ , the Vietnamese Foreign Minister spelt out Vietnam’s and ASEAN’s  expectations from India of leveraging and exercising her growing political, economic and strategic leverages to safeguard regional peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific Region.

In economic terms, the Vietnam Foreign Minister stressed that India has a vital role in contributing to regional growth ‘through the growing web of FTAs and PTAs with ASEAN and other countries and increasing two-way flow of investments with rest of Asia.’

Strategically, the Vietnam Foreign Minister stressed that “Strategically, India commands a geopolitical location that straddles land and maritime space between East and West. India and its relations with other powers have long formed a component of the regional security structure. More importantly, India is proving to among leaders of global importance and influence”

Concluding the Vietnam Foreign Minister stated that Vietnam and ASEAN would like “to see more of India’s presence in South East Asia, not only politically but also economically.”

Comments by the Author

In terms of strategic plainspeak, what is apparent is that the most prominent threat to Indo-Pacific security and military turbulence arises from China and there can be no fudging of this issue or being in a ‘state of denial’ about it.

ASEAN‘s attempts of over a decade to integrate China into its regional forums to soften China’s military assertiveness and brinkmanship in the region has failed. Contrarily, China’s brinkmanship has increased and becoming threatening.

Consequently, ASEAN has increasingly sought to expect India to play the role of the ‘regional balancer’ and a counterweight to China in the Indo-Pacific.

India’s ‘Look East ‘Policy would be meaningless if India is not ready or reluctant to assume the role of ‘regional balancer’ as expected of it, unapologetically and not overweighed by India’s strategic “Risk Aversion Policy” when facing China.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is the Consultant, International Relations & Strategic Affairs, South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at <drsubhashkapila.007@gmail.com)

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