India and Vietnam: Defense and Strategic Cooperation
Dr. Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharjee*
Presently the strategic and defense cooperation between the two nations shown positive engagement. The Indian government provided a $100 million credit line in October 2015 to help Vietnam in defense procurement and the modernization of its armed forces, including submarine training. This line of credit is being utilised by Vietnam presently for procurement of four Offshore Patrol Boats for their Border Guards.
India assured Vietnam of its full commitment to the strategic partnership between the two countries during a meeting in New Delhi between former Vietnamese defence minister PhùngQuang Thanh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2015. In October 27-28, 2014, the previous Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung came to India. During Dung’s visit, India agreed to supply four naval patrol vessels to Vietnam, increase the level of training of its military personnel and raise its involvement in Vietnam’s energy sector. The sale of India-Russia co-developed cruise missiles Brahmos to Vietnam also came under discussion during this visit. India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) would legitimise and speed up the process of selling the BrahMos to Vietnam. Along with Vietnam, countries like the Philippines, South Korea, Algeria, Greece, Malaysia, Thailand, Egypt, Singapore, Venezuela and Bulgaria have shown interest in buying the BrahMos. This year it was speculated that one of the Asia-Pacific nations would be the first recipient of BrahMos and it was felt that Vietnam could be the specific nation.
The recent strategic engagement with Vietnam has been seen by many analysts as the Indian desire to protect its investments in the oil fields off Vietnam’s coast, while strengthening Vietnamese naval power.
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.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’.
The 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.’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” which has been taking place in regular intervals.
India’s Strategic and Commercial Interests
India has always stressed on freedom of navigation and over-flight and unimpeded navigation in the South China Sea region. India signed an agreement with Vietnam in October 2011 to expand and promote oil exploration in the South China Sea and then reconfirmed its decision to carry on despite Chinese protests to the legality of the Indian presence. Beijing stated that New Delhi required its permission for India’s state-owned oil and gas firm to explore for energy in the two Vietnamese blocks in South China Sea, which China claims to be its territorial waters. China, to counter the move, put up the same oil blocks that Vietnam had leased to India for international bidding. But Vietnam quickly cited the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to claim its sovereign rights over the two blocks in question.
India decided to support Hanoi’s claims and accepted the Vietnamese invitation to explore oil and gas in blocks 127 and 128. India’s state-owned oil company ONGC Videsh Ltd is involved in the exploration programme.
India and Vietnam have provided each other diplomatic and institutional support, even at the cost of relations with other countries. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978 and displaced the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, the action was fiercely opposed by the United States, China, and ASEAN. India’s diplomatic support for Vietnam caused friction with most other Southeast Asian states for over a decade. For its part, Vietnam was one of the only countries in the world to support India’s 1998 nuclear tests. Vietnam was an early supporter of India’s candidacy for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, advocated for India’s inclusion in the East Asia Summit in 2005, and for a time helped block Pakistan’s inclusion in the ASEAN Regional Forum. India supported Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization, and helped Vietnam secure a temporary seat in the UN Security Council in 2007.
Vietnam’s need for strategic and military cooperation with Russia and India has had different intricacies. Though having profound economic and trade linkages, Vietnam shares a contentious relationship with China regarding territorial assets and maritime interests. The ongoing conflict in the South China Sea has intensified in the last few years. Hanoi fought a brief war with Beijing in 1979 and has been wary of the northern neighbour’s increasing economic and military weight.The two sides again clashed at sea in 1988 when China occupied its first holdings in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea - a retreat that is still acutely felt in Hanoi. China also took full control of another South China Sea island chain, the Paracels, after a naval showdown with then South Vietnam in 1974, which the present Hanoi administration has protested in many international and regional forum. More recently, China's placement of an oil rig in disputed waters for 10 weeks in the middle of 2014 sparked anti-Chinese riots across Vietnam.
However, the inveterate economic relations that Vietnam and China shares, and the geographical closeness, makes China an important neighbour, though not strategically unreliable. It is fully to Vietnamese interests to tacitly strengthen its position militarily, without disturbing the regional balance. It has been one of the motivators of building a close strategic and defence cooperation with India, which had significant similarity in the defense hardware, as well as had significant leverage in technology and skill. (Part 3)
* Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi
 Vivek Mishra, “Modi’s Asia Pacific Push”, Center for International Maritime Security, April 28, 2016, http://cimsec.org/modis-asia-pacific-push/24919
 “Parrikar holds talks with Vietnamese President, Prime Minister and Defence minister”, The Indian Express, June 6, 2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/manohar-parrikar-vietnam-president-prime-defence-minister-military-india-2838016/; Scott Cheney-Peters, “India’s Maritime Acts in the East”, Asia Maritime Transperancy Initiative, June 18, 2015, https://amti.csis.org/indias-maritime-acts-in-the-east/
 Joint Statement on the State Visit of Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to India (October 27-28, 2014), Ministry of External Affairs, October 28, 2014, http://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/24142/Joint+Statement+on+the+State+Visit+of+Prime+Minister+of+the+Socialist+Republic+of+Vietnam+to+India+October+2728+2014; Elizabeth Roche, “India assures Vietnam commitment to strategic partnership”, Live Mint, May 27 2015, http://www.livemint.com/Politics/HKqx4wKLVUDtz3OEIjLcyN/India-assures-Vietnam-commitment-to-strategic-partnership.html
 “India's Missile Technology Group Entry May Be Cause Of Worry For China, Say Strategists”, NDTV, July 02, 2016, http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/indias-missile-technology-group-entry-may-be-cause-of-worry-for-china-say-strategists-1427140
 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
 Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India), Joint Statement on the State Visit of Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to India (October 27-28, 2014), October 28, 2014, at
 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
 Harsh V. Pant, “South China Sea: New Arena of Sino-Indian Rivalry,” Yale Global, August 2, 2012
IskanderRehman, “The Indo-Vietnamese Strategic Partnership,” BBC World Backgrounder, September 17, 2009; Nhan Dan, “India, Vietnam Pledge Closer Strategic Ties”, Vietnam Communist Government News, July 7, 2007; Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, “Statement at the Inaugural Session Seminar on India-Vietnam Strategic Partnership: Future Directions,” Hanoi: Indian Council of World Affairs, July 17, 2012; and “Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership in Spotlight,” VietNamNet, July 18, 2012
 “Vietnam builds military muscle to face China “, The Economic Times, December 18, 2015, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/vietnam-builds-military-muscle-to-face-china/articleshow/50230360.cms