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Vietnam Prime Minister Highly Significant Visit to India-October 2014

Paper No. 5809                                   Dated 21-Oct-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Highly significant in the geopolitical context and in adding substance to the Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership (2007) will be the forthcoming visit of Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to India in end October 2014. No stranger to India Prime Minister Dung’s visit will be his first visit after the Modi Government assumed office in May 2014.

Prime Minister Dung has won much international acclaim after his widely acclaimed Keynote Address at the Shangri-La Dialogue 2013 in which he stressed on the significance of “Strategic Trust” between nations and especially major powers in the conduct of international relations. He also has been acclaimed for making the international community more conscious of Vietnam’s pivotal role in the region and the conflict–escalation by China in the South China Sea maritime expanse endangering international maritime security.

When he visits India commencing October 27, 2014 Prime Minister Dung would be at home in New Delhi where strong “Strategic Trust” exists between Vietnam as a ‘Pivotal Power’ in Asia Pacific and India as an ‘Emerging Power Centre’ in the Indo Pacific. It is this “Strategic Trust” which is the bedrock of the Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership which with more substantial reinforcing could greatly contribute to Indo Pacific security and stability.

It needs to be noted that the Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership was signed by Prime Minister Dung in 2007 during his visit to India. He has been the guiding spirit for Vietnam to enlarge the parameters of this Strategic Partnership and it must be said to the credit of India that it is now coming out of the China-shadows to be more firmly and openly  assertive about the Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership.

Vietnam and India have had a strong political relationship over the past many decades. It is reflected in the frequency of high level political exchanges between the two countries From the Indian side especially since2008 itself two Indian Presidents have paid visits to Vietnam and the Vice President too besides many other dignitaries and civil and military delegations. Vietnam too has evenly reciprocated high level exchanges. Congress Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh did not pay a Vietnam-specific visit except for a visit in 2010 for an ASEAN conference. So advocated earlier in one of my Papers is the imperative of Prime Minister Modi visiting Vietnam early next year to symbolise the enhanced complexion of the Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership in the vastly changed geopolitical context.

Vietnam and India have been equally forthcoming on expanding trade and economic relations with India and plugging into India’s economic growth achievements. The aim is now to reach a figure of $ 20 billion two way trade by 2015 from the existing figure of $ 8 billion. A sizeable businessmen contingent from Vietnam is accompanying Prime Minister Dung during his forthcoming visit to India and one can visualise many agreements to be signed. Vietnam which one has visited thrice presents an attractive investment destination for major Indian industrial houses. In a way Prime Minister Dung can be said to have played a big role in Vietnam’s economic earlier economic growth and now regaining the old momentum after a brief gap of slow growth.

However, in my assessment it is the security and defence component of the Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership that should occupy greater and focused attention of both nations’ policy establishments in the prevailing geopolitical context and both nations should explore moving this vital sphere to a higher plane and add more substance to it.

Needless to state that both Vietnam and India face sizeable threats to their security from the burgeoning China Threat. Significantly, it was in May this year that China indulged in wanton conflict escalation in the South China Sea in waters under Vietnamese jurisdiction by locating oil-drilling rigs. Significantly, it was in May 2014 that the Modi Government assumed office and thereafter China has more prominently escalated border-standoffs in India’s Northern Himalayan borders. Is there some method in this apparent Chinese strategic madness?

India has emerged as a sizeable stakeholder in the South China Sea both for economic reasons and more importantly in the strategic context. So a sizeable strategic convergence of interests exists between Vietnam and India. India as a bigger and powerful nation has to assist Vietnam in ‘capacity-building’ of Vietnamese Armed Forces to deter and withstand Chines aggression and adventurism.  India also needs to play a larger political role in international forums in concert with other stakeholders in the South China Sea of sensitising international public opinion against China’s unprovoked military adventurism which threatens maritime safety in the Indo Pacific and the security of the ‘global commons’.

India’s defence and security cooperation in the current geopolitical context urgently need to graduate from existing levels of training, maintenance and spare parts provision to enhancing Vietnam’s maritime surveillance capabilities. India must also now accede to the demands of the Indian strategic community and Vietnam’s requests for supply of Brahmos missiles and one could add further even supply of Prithvi series of missiles to bolster Vietnam’s defences.

India’s extending a line of credit of $100 million for purchase of patrol boats needs to be increased significantly to enhance the capabilities of the Vietnamese Navy to cover the vast expanse of the South China Sea which is no less important for India’s own maritime safety and security.

India under the bold, dynamic and assertive leadership of Prime Minister Modi can be expected not only to deepen the “Strategic Trust” that exists between India and Vietnam but it is also expected that Prime Minister Modi adds newer dimensions of elevating the Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership to higher levels during the forthcoming visit of Vietnamese Prime Minister Dung.