Vietnam – India Strategic Partnership and Its Significance
Dr Vo Xuan Vinh*
While China wants to solve the East Sea/South China Sea disputes bilaterally with countries involved, India wants to deal with the issue through multilateral means. Answering questions in an interview to NDTV 24X7 on November 23, 2012, former Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid stated that, India has accepted much more of a multilateral approach.
India has strongly affirmed a consistency in protecting its interests in the East Sea/South China Sea. When he was asked to comment on the recent incursions by Chinese troops in Ladakh and the objections raised by it over oil exploration by Indian companies in the East Sea/South China Sea on the sidelines of a Navy function in September 2011, former Minister of State for Defense M M Pallam Raju said that ‘I think like any nation which wants to assert its right, I guess China is trying to do its bit... As a country, we are very clear about our rights and interests. We will protect our interests very strongly’. In another development, Indian Navy confirmed its preparedness for sending force to protect Indian interests in the East Sea/South China Sea when former Indian Navy Chief Admiral D. K. Joshi at a press conference in December 2012 emphasized that India’s main concern was the ‘freedom of navigation in international waters’ in the East Sea/South China Sea and ‘ONGC Videsh has three oil exploration blocks there” - “we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that’. Relating to India’s stand on the East Sea/South China Sea disputes, Admiral Joshi said: ‘Not only us but everyone is of the view that they (the disputes) have to be resolved by the parties concerned, aligned with the international regime, which is outlined in UNCLOS; that is our first requirement’.
Interestingly, former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his speech at the banquet hosted in the honour of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong in November 2013 even used the term ‘East Sea’ to refer the East Sea/South China Sea. Since 2011, the term East Sea/South China Sea is used instead of the term South China Sea in Vietnam-India bilateral documents.
Defense cooperation is one of the most successful fields in Vietnam - India relations since the Cold War ended. During formerPrime Minister N. Rao’s visit to Vietnam in 1994, India and Vietnam signed a MoU on Defense Cooperation and with this development, Vietnam was one of the first countries in Southeast Asian region which signed defense arrangement with India. “Since then India has been supplying ammunition, propellants, MiG tyres, spares and Silver Oxide aircraft batteries”. During former Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes’s visit to Vietnam in 2000, agreements were signed between Vietnam and India on strategic issues like: joint naval training; joint anti-sea piracy exercises in the South China Sea; jungle warfare training; counter-insurgency training; Air Force pilots training in India; India’s Repair Programmes for Vietnam Air Force fighter planes (MIGs). In his visit to Vietnam in 2007, former Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony announced at a meeting with his counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh that India would transfer 5,000 items of naval spares belonging to the Petya class of ships to Vietnam. He also announced that India would depute a four-member team to impart training on UN peacekeeping operations in the first half of 2008. The two sides agreed to facilitate the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defense cooperation. General Phung Quang Thanh, Vietnamese Defense Minister paid an official visit to India from 4-8 November, 2009 and a MoU was signed during the visit by the two Defense Ministers.
The strategic relations in field of defense between Vietnam and India has been upgraded to a high new level when India decided to offer credit line to Vietnam to purchase military equipment and to sell Vietnam strategic weapons. The Kolkata-base defense PSU Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd (GRSE) in early 2015 finalized the design of a series of 140-tonne fast patrol boats for Vietnam Navy. A US$ 100 million line of credit to Vietnam for the order was offered by India. It is interesting to learn that this was the first time an Indian shipyard has been commissioned to design and build a warship to specifications formulated by a buyer country. In October 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi affirmed that the naval vessels would soon be supplied to Vietnam. In September 2014, New Delhi confirmed that it was in talks with Hanoi for supply of BrahMos missiles to Vietnam. BrahMos missiles are jointly developed by India and Russia so the decision to sell these cruise missiles to Vietnam will require approval from both the Indian and Russian governments. Luckily, Moscow had already informally given its nod to New Delhi for supply of the missiles to Vietnam.
India has also been helping Vietnamese personnel train, especially submarine operators and pilots. Since Vietnamese naval force are deployed in modern submarines, including Kilo-class, the Indian Navy has begun training a large number of Vietnamese sailors in submarine operations and underwater warfare. The ongoing “comprehensive underwater combat operations” training for these Vietnamese sailors is in progress at the Indian Navy’s INS Satavahana (Submarine School) in Visakhapatnam. By 2015, Vietnam will have a fleet of 36 Russian-manufactured Su-30MK2 fighter jets and it seems that India will help train Vietnamese pilots to operate Russian-built Sukhoi fighters, according to sources in the Indian Defence Ministry.
For decades of cooperation, defense relation has played a vital role in Vietnam - India strategic partnership. India is second largest supplier of military equipment and strategic weapons and personnel training to Vietnam, just after Russia. (Part 4)
 Avtar Singh Bhasin (2013), India’s Foreign Relations-2012 Documents (New Delhi: Geetika Publishers), , pp.193-194.
 “China may assert itself but India will protect its rights: Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju”, The Economic Times, Sep 16, 2011, at http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-09-16/news/30165250_1_incursions-south-china-sea-india-and-china
 Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India), Joint Statement on the occasion of the visit of the President of Vietnam, October 12, 2011, at http://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/5341/Joint_Statement_on_the_occasion_of_the_visit_of_the_President_of_Vietnam
 Nanda, Prakash (2003), Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look East Policy (New Delhi: Lancer Publishers & Distributors), p. 389.
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Government of India), Annual Report 2009-2010, p.26.