Vietnam – India Strategic Partnership and Its Significance
Dr Vo Xuan Vinh*
Strategically, by having cooperation with Vietnam, Indian Navy has regular presence in the East Sea/South China Sea. The frequency of friendship visits to Vietnam of India’s naval ships in Hai Phong province, near Hanoi led to shape the confidence that was cited by an Indian government source in The Deccan Chronicle, ‘the move will give India the key to a sustainable presence in the South China Sea’. Since 2007, India started its bilateral and multilateral naval exercises with countries surrounding the East Sea/South China Sea and other partners in Asia-Pacific. Indian Navy conducted naval exercises with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and US Navy in the West Pacific in 2007. In the same year, India and the Republic of Korea decided to conduct annual naval exercise. In June 2012, India and Japan held their first-ever maritime exercise off the coast of Tokyo. The large scale deployment of Indian naval ships’ friendship visits to Asia-Pacific, mostly through the East Sea/South China Sea could be seen since 2010. In May and June 2010, guided missile destroyers INS Rana and INS Ranjit, fleet tanker INS Jyoti and missile corvette INS Kulish were on eastward deployment. Of these ships, INS Rana arrived in Jakarta. Along with Jakarta, the ships of Navy's eastern fleet will make port calls at various cities including Hai Phong (Vietnam), Manila (the Philippines), Muara (Brunei), Bangkok (Thailand), Fremantle (Australia), Singapore and Port Kelang (Malaysia).
At international level, Vietnam has been a firm supporter of the ongoing reform of the United Nations and its principle organs, including the UN Security Council, and India’s candidature for UNSC permanent membership. The position was made clear in the 2007 joint declaration on strategic partnership by claiming that Vietnam has been consistently supporting India’s candidature for a permanent seat on an expanded and reformed Security Council and reconfirmed this support. Before that, since the two countries had not officially established strategic partnership, in a joint declaration in 2003, Vietnam affirmed that it ‘always highly values India's traditional role in the United Nations and supports its entry as a permanent member of an expanded UN Security Council’.  Recently, in the Joint Statement on the State Visit of Prime Minister of Vietnam to India (October 27-28, 2014), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed gratitude for Vietnam’s consistent support to India’s candidature for permanent membership of a reformed and expanded UNSC. In the same statement, leaders of the two countries reaffirmed support for each other's candidature for non-permanent membership of the UNSC, Vietnam for the term 2020-21 and India for the term 2021-22. India also agreed to assist Vietnam in capacity building for participation in UN peacekeeping operations.
Since regarding Vietnam as a trusted and privileged strategic partner and an important pillar of its Look East Policy, India has actively supported Vietnam in strategic political issues. Besides selling Vietnam military equipment and strategic weapons, training submarine sailors and pilots operating Sukhoi fighters, India has raised its voice to support to apply and comply with international law in solving the East Sea/South China Sea disputes. India’s viewpoints of the East Sea/South China Sea disputes includes: (1) affirming that China’s nine-dashed line map in the East Sea/South China Sea is illegal; (2) supporting to solve the disputes through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law; (3) raising voice to protect freedom of navigation and over flights in the East Sea; (4) supporting to solve the disputes internationally; (5) continuing with its oil and gas exploration in block 128 offered by Vietnam; and (6) ready to deploy naval force in the East Sea/South China Sea to protect India’s interests if its interests are threatened.
India expressed the consistency in its stand on ES/SCS disputes when it definitively affirmed that China’s sovereignty claim in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Vietnam in the ES/SCS, especially China’s objections to OVL’s oil and gas exploration in Vietnam’s EEZ have “no legal basis” as the blocks belong to Vietnam. Relating to the tension between China and the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal, Official Spokesperson of MEA on May 10, 2012 stated that India has ‘been following with concern recent developments involving China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Maintenance of peace and security in the region is of vital interest to the international community. India urges both countries to exercise restraint and resolve the issue diplomatically according to principles of international law’. Regardless of unreasonable and illegal objections and warning of China, India’s OVL has been continuing with its oil and gas exploration in the block 128 offered by Vietnam.
From the beginning of September 2011, the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs started issuing statements which expressed India’s clear viewpoints on the East Sea/South China Sea disputes. In response to questions on news reports about incident involving INS Airavat in the East Sea/South China Sea in July 2011, Spokesperson of Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in September 2011 emphasized that ‘India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and the rights of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law. These principles should be respected by all’. India supports peaceful resolution of the disputes in the East Sea/South China Sea when the Spokesperson of MEA on September 16, 2011 stated that New Delhi ‘supports freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and hopes that all parties to the disputes would abide by the 2002 declaration of conduct in the South China Sea’. Recently, in a joint statement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart from Vietnam agreed that freedom of navigation and over flights in the East Sea/South China Sea should not be impeded and called the parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid threat or use of force and resolve disputes through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the UNCLOS-1982. They also welcomed the collective commitment of the concerned parties to abide by and implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and to work towards the adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea on the basis of consensus. They called for cooperation in ensuring security of sea-lanes, maritime safety and security, combating piracy and conducting search and rescue operations. (Part 3)
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