Vietnam – India Strategic Partnership and Its Significance*
Dr. Vo Xuan Vinh**
In 2007, during the state visit of Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to India, Vietnam and India agreed to upgrade the comprehensive cooperation established in 2003 between the two countries to a strategic partnership. The strategic partnership encompasses bilateral relations in the political, economic, security, defense, cultural, scientific and technological dimensions and steers their cooperation in regional and multilateral fora.
This chapter focuses on the progress of India-Vietnam strategic partnership since 2007 in comparison with several other of Vietnam’s comprehensive strategic partnerships limited to political and defense. The significance of this strategic partnership to Vietnam’s international relations is also explored in the paper.
Political and Defense Dimensions
In 2001, Vietnam established its first strategic partnership with Russia. Vietnam’s second strategic partner, Japan, was formalized in 2006. Although Vietnam-India strategic partnership was just built in 2007 yet before that, in the Joint Declaration on the Framework of Comprehensive Cooperation between the Republic of India and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam as they enter the 21st Century released in 2003, the leaders of the two countries were ‘aware of the strategic importance of their bilateral cooperation’. Both sides expressed their ‘endeavour to develop a strategic dimension to their partnership for the mutual benefit of their peoples, and to contribute to peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large’.
Unlike other strategic partners, even comprehensive strategic ones, India and Vietnam have enjoyed strong trust for decades. Although Vietnam and China established comprehensive strategic partnership in 2008, the two countries still underlined the necessity of ‘enhancing mutual comprehensive trust’ between them. In the Joint Statement by President Barack Obama of the United States of America and President Truong Tan Sang of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in July 2013, ‘deepening mutual trust’ between the two countries was underlined. In contrast, strategic partnership between Vietnam and India was based on ‘traditional friendship, mutual understanding, strong trust, support and convergence of views on various regional and international issues.’ Indian President Pranab Mukherjee even described that ‘political relations between India and Vietnam have always been strong and cloudless’. This is the most important foundation for strategic cooperation between the two countries in all fields, particularly in political and defense dimensions.
Vietnam and India has gained important progress in political cooperation. The 2007 Joint Declaration on Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership states that the two sides “agreed to establish a Strategic Dialogue at the level of Vice Ministers in the Foreign Office”. As a result, the first strategic dialogue meeting between Vietnam and India took place in New Delhi on October 15, 2009. The second strategic dialogue and the fifth political consultative meeting between the two countries were held in Vietnam in August 2011. The noteworthy point is that in the second strategic dialogue and fifth political consultative meeting, officials from both countries exchanged views on the East Sea/South China Sea disputes; these disputes had been rarely mentioned before in bilateral meetings between the two countries. In the dialogue, the two sides also discussed bilateral cooperation in all fields, especially military and security, high-tech, training of human resources and exchanged ways to cement and deepen the Vietnam-India strategic partnership. In April 2014, the two countries held the sixth political consultation and the third strategic dialogue. In the dialogues, both sides agreed on concrete steps to further nurture their strategic partnership on the five pillars of politics, national defense-security, economics, science-technology, and culture-education. Specially, Vietnam is among a few countries in Asia-Pacific such as the United States, China, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore which have jointly organized bilateral strategic dialogue with India in recent years. Beside political consultation and strategic dialogue, Vietnam and India has agreed to hold defense dialogues between the two defense ministries.
At regional and international fora, Vietnam and India have been strongly supporting each other in strategic political issues. Vietnam supports India’s Look East Policy and welcome India’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific through regional cooperation mechanisms. Vietnam also supports India to become a permanent member of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) when this organ is reformed and enlarged. India for its part supports to solve the East Sea/South China Sea disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Considering India as an important strategic partner, Vietnam has been a trusted friend of India in regional and international fora. At regional level, Vietnam bolsters India to engage deeply in Asia-Pacific region. Vietnam has over and over again raised voice to support India’s Look East Policy which was launched in the early 1990s. Thanks to support of Vietnam and other India’s partners in Asia-Pacific region, India has enjoyed an increasing presence in cooperation mechanisms in the region. In 2002, the first ASEAN-India Summit meeting which India proposed in 1999 was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Geographically, India is not a country located in East Asia. However, it was one of 16 first members of the first East Asia Summit (EAS) meeting held in Kuala Lumpur in 2005. India is also an official member of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+) which was held for the first time in Vietnam in 2010. Before that, India became a member of ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1996. India is now, along with other nations as members of EAS, negotiating to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) whose negotiations were formally launched in November 2012. (Part 2)
* The viewpoints expressed in the paper are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of Institute for Southeast Asian Studies nor Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences. A part of this paper is a content in paper “India’s Strategic Parnership with Vietnam - A Perspective from Vietnam” presented at 17th Asian Security Conference, New Delhi, February 11-13, 2015.
** Institute for Southeast Asian Studies Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.
 Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India), Joint Declaration on the Framework of Comprehensive Cooperation between the Republic of India and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam as they enter the 21st Century, May 01, 2003, at http://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/7658/Joint+Declaration+on+the+Framework+of+Comprehensive+Cooperation+between+the+Republic+of+India+and+the+Socialist+Republic+of+Vietnam+as+they+enter+the+21st+Century
 Vietnam-China Joint Declaration (in Vietnamese), June 2, 2008, at http://www.thanhnien.com.vn/chinh-tri-xa-hoi/tuyen-bo-chung-viet-nam-trung-quoc-198423.html
 The White House, Joint Statement by President Barack Obama of the United States of America and President Truong Tan Sang of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, July 25, 2013, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/07/25/joint-statement-president-barack-obama-united-states-america-and-preside
 Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India), Statement to the Media by President on return from Vietnam (17th September 2014), at http://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/24010/Statement_to_the_Media_by_President_on_return_from_Vietnam_17th_September_2014
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Socialist Republic of Vietnam), Vietnam - India joint declaration on strategic partnership, http://www.mofa.gov.vn/en/nr040807104143/nr040807105001/ns070709164916#IhrFZb14XT4F
 Government Portal (Socialist Republic of Vietnam), VN, India hold second strategic dialogue, 09/08/2011, at http://news.chinhphu.vn/Home/VN-India-hold-second-strategic-dialogue/20118/11290.vgp