Changing Balance of Power and India-Vietnam Relations
Congruent Regional Approaches
At the bilateral level, over the decades, India-Vietnam shared similar views and interests on the global stage. Immediately after independence, both countries worked for decolonisation in Asia and across the world and shared similar conceptions of Asian Solidarity. This congruence manifested in Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Vietnam in 1954 and the visit of President Ho Chi Minh to India in 1958.
Today both countries are interested in a multi-polar Asia. These shared interests were reflected in the joint statement issued during the visit of Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Nguyen Tan Dung in October 2014. The Joint Statement noted that both countries are interested in working “together to maintain peace, stability, growth and prosperity in Asia and beyond” and called for continued “coordination between both sides at regional and international fora and [both countries] agreed to strengthen cooperation particularly in ASEAN, ARF, ADMM Plus, EAS, UN, NAM, ASEM and WTO.” Vietnam has consistently supported India’s candidature for the Security Council in the United Nations.
Further, India and Vietnam are working with various countries to reinforce the Asian multi-polarity. This is evident in the policies that India and Vietnam are pursuing towards countries such as Japan and the US. India-Japan relations witnessed significant improvements. In 2014, Japan promised to invest $ 35 billion in the next five years and in 2015 a Make-in-India Special Finance Facility with $ 12 billion was also initiated. Japan is now regular participant in the Malabar exercises with India and the US. India is negotiating with Japan to procure US 2 amphibious aircraft from Japan and there are reports which suggest that this cooperation may take place under Make-in-India initiative. Similarly, Vietnam has been engaging with Japan under the rubric of ‘diversification and multilateralisation of its foreign relations’. Japan is the biggest bilateral donor, a large trading partner and the 3rd largest foreign investor in Viet Nam. In 2014, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe and President Truong Tan Sang upgraded the bilateral relationship to “Extensive Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in Asia.” In the security realm, Japan has provided six vessels to Vietnam to boost maritime security and Japanese self defence forces often dock at Vietnam’s Cam Ranh naval base. Japan is planning to increase the number of defence attaches in Vietnam to facilitate greater cooperation in the security realm between the two countries.
Vietnam relations with the United States (US) have witnessed remarkable turnaround. In 1960s and 1970s Vietnam were involved in bloody conflict. However, in 2000 and 2006, President Clinton and President George W Bush visited Vietnam. More recently, this year, President Obama visited Vietnam and completely lifted arms embargo enabling Vietnam to purchase full-range of US weapons and military equipment such as drones, radars, and P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft. There growing discussion if the US should be provided access to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh naval base. It should be noted that access is different from allowing a foreign base, which Vietnam may not entertain. Further, Vietnam has signed up to participate in the US led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Vietnam’s participation in the TPP is based on the premise that benefits, which accrue due to enhanced access in terms of clothing and textile market, far outweigh the costs associated with this regional framework. Similarly, in the recent past, India-US relations have been on an upswing and there is growing strategic convergences between the two countries. India-US defense trade which was near zero in 2005 today stands at approximately $ 10 billion. Both countries have an in-principle agreement on modified logistic support arrangements and have articulated a joint vision for the Indo-Pacific region. India and the US consider each other as closest partners in the realm of defence cooperation.
Increased Momentum in Defence Cooperation
In addition to convergences in the policies at the regional level, India-Vietnam defence cooperation has witnessed increased momentum in the past few years. Due to the changing security dynamic in the region, as noted earlier, many countries in the region have increased defence expenditures. While India has emerged as the leading defence importer in the world, Vietnam in the recent past has been working on modernisation of its defence forces and its defence expenditure has also witnessed steady increase (See Figure 2), with Russia as an important supplier of defence equipment. Vietnam is in the process of acquiring anti-ship missiles, two submarines, anti-ship artillery batteries, and S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia. Though not on the same scale, India-Vietnam defence relationship has been witnessing significant increase in the recent past. (Part 3)
* Senior Consultant at the ICRIER, New Delhi. The views expressed here are personal
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