Q: 45 years since the establishment of the diplomatic relation (7th January 1972 - 7th January 2017), India - Vietnam relations have strongly developed in various areas, from politics, economic, trade and investment areas to security, defense and culture ones. What do you value the current cooperation ties between two countries?
Secretary Preeti Saran: India greatly values its relations with Vietnam. India and Vietnam share traditionally close relations that have their roots in our freedom struggle led by our founding fathers, Mahatma Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh and which have been nurtured by successive generations of leaders. The friendship and solidarity between our peoples has been steadfast during the period of Vietnam’s national struggle for independence, the heroic effort at national reunification and today’s phase of national reconstruction. Today, we can proudly say that our relations are marked by strong trust, mutual understanding and convergence of views on various international issues and the regional security situation in Asia.
There has been an all round progress made in development cooperation and assistance, political exchanges, defense and security cooperation, human resource development, commercial and economic ties, cultural exchanges and scholarships.
The Official Visit of our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi to Vietnam during 2-3 September 2016 at the invitation of His Excellency Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam can be seen in this context. This was the first Prime Ministerial visit from India after a gap of fifteen years and a landmark visit where our leaders decided to elevate our relations from Strategic Partnership to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This is testimony to the importance our respective leaders attach to our bilateral relations.
2017 is indeed a year of many milestones in our relationship with Vietnam and in the evolution of our Took East and Act East Policies. As you know, with the two countries celebrating the 45th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and the 10th Anniversary of our Strategic Partnership, 2017 has been declared the “Year of Friendship” and under this we hope to celebrate all aspects of our relations by organizing cultural activities, seminars, conferences, workshops, food festivals, exhibitions and road shows, etc. As Vice Minister of External Affairs, my agenda would be to further consolidate and elevate bilateral relations. We hope to do this through high level exchange of visits, including between political parties, our two governments, legislatures and States and Provinces of the two countries. It would also be the endeavour of Ministry of External Affairs to try and ensure regular convening of the established dialogue mechanisms and effective implementation of the agreements signed between our two countries and the vision set out by our leaders for the relationship.
Q: The economic cooperation is one of the five pillars of the strategic partnership between two countries. What do you think about the cooperation between two countries in this field, especially since the two sides have just upgraded the strategic partnership to the comprehensive strategic partnership during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Hanoi in early September? What should India and Vietnam do to tap our strengths to promote economic and trade cooperation?
Secretary Preeti Saran: During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vietnam in September 2016, he and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc took the historic step to elevate the relationship to that of “Strategic Comprehensive Partnership”, and identified enhanced economic engagement as a strategic priority. Cooperation in defence industry, energy and energy conservation, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, engineering, agriculture and food processing, garment and textiles, leather and infrastructure projects are specific focus areas. PM Modi during his visit to Vietnam also announced a new Defence Line of Credit for Vietnam of USD 500 million for facilitating deeper defence industry cooperation.
A series of agreements have been signed ever since in the area of healthcare, mutual recognition of standards, finance, information technology and space cooperation that have created good frameworks for enhancing economic cooperation.
The bilateral trade is growing at a healthy pace and is currently around USD 8 billion; our leaders have set a trade target of USD 15 billion by 2020, and both sides are committed to achieving it. India is keen on increasing its investments in Vietnam, which is currently over USD 1.2 billion, and would be tripling in a few years once some large infrastructure investments reach fruition. We would similarly like to invite Vietnamese business and industry to look at India as an attractive investment destination.
Though India and Vietnam share excellent political ties, the economic relations have not kept pace. In order to realize the trade target of USD 15 billion by 2020 set by our leaders, we need to actively collaborate to enhance exchange of trade delegations, reach out to business and industry and encourage mutual investments which will boost trade. In November 2016, we hosted a high level trade delegation of CEOs led by the President of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
We will also focus on trade promotion activities in textiles, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, gems and jewellery, commercial vehicles, auto components, machinery and equipment, leather products and footwear.
Tariff and non-tariff barriers, including some technical barriers to trade, remain significant impediments to development of bilateral trade and they are being addressed by both sides. India and Vietnam have agreed to facilitate trade flows between the two countries by minimizing the application of trade barriers, and step by step removal/abolishment of trade barriers in accordance with the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and India. While India has already lowered or eliminated tariffs on many commodities under the India-ASEAN FTA in goods, Vietnam has two years before such tariff reduction/elimination takes place. We believe that bilateral trade will receive a strong boost when tariffs for many commodities are eliminated or significantly reduced under this agreement.
The November 2016 visit of the CEO Delegation led by President of CII had generated immense interest in investing in renewable energy. Many Indian companies are in discussions with Vietnamese partners and provincial authorities for undertaking large scale solar and wind energy projects. We are optimistic that new projects in renewable energy would be starting shortly, especially because Indian companies have unique expertise, scale and experience in renewable sector due to Prime Minister Modi’s decision to install 175 GW of renewable power of which 100 GW is solar and 60 GW is wind energy.
Energy Conservation is another potential area in our bilateral economic cooperation. A MW saved is a MW produced at a significantly cheaper cost. During the recent visit of the Chairwoman of the National Assembly, Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan to India, an MOU was signed between the Energy Efficiency Service Limited (EESL) and EVN. EESL is in touch with several provinces for providing various energy efficiency solutions based on its experience of replacing 197 million ordinary bulbs with LED bulbs saving over USD 1.5 billion and 25,000 million KWh annually and causing a significant reduction in Carbon Dioxide emissions.
In garment and textile, India and Vietnam share complementary strengths. Vietnam is strong in spinning and garments and is trying to diversify the sources of imports of fabrics, fibers, yarns and other accessories; India is a potential market to source these inputs.
Science and Technology cooperation is a very important sector. Our governments are closely collaborating to realise the peaceful uses of space and atomic energy technology and both sides have signed agreements in this regard during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Vietnam in September 2016 and visit of Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan to India last month. We are also keen to promote greater interaction between our companies in information technology and software services, design and engineering services and in research and development.
Q: With the rapid reform and development, India is emerging as a leading economic, political power and playing an increasingly important role in maintaining the peace, stability and prosperity in Asia and Pacific as well as the world. In the context of the disputes in the South China Sea (East Sea) complicatedly developing, Vice Foreign Minister, can you tell Indian's view in resolving such disputes?
Secretary Preeti Saran: Our position on the East Sea has been consistent. As can be seen in the Joint Statement issued during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Vietnam in September 2016, we reiterate our desire and determination to work together with Vietnam to maintain peace, stability, growth and prosperity in Asia and beyond. Noting the Award issued on 12 July 2016 of the Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the Annex VII to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), we reiterate our support for peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and over flight, and unimpeded commerce, based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UNCLOS. We call on all states to resolve disputes through peaceful means without threat or use of force and exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability, respect the diplomatic and legal processes, fully observe the Declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and soon finalize the Code of Conduct (COC). We also recognize that the sea lanes of communication passing through the South China Sea are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development. India, as a State Party to the UNCLOS, urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans.
Q: To promote cooperation with eastern countries, including ASEAN countries, India has shifted from the “Look East” to the “Act East” policy, what do you think about Vietnam's position in this policy?
Secretary Preeti Saran: Government of India has placed the new context and vision of the bilateral relationship in the framework of India’s “Look East” and “Act East” approaches of which Vietnam is an important pillar, and that of ASEAN, which is important to us in terms of history, geography and the economic and strategic space that we share. We welcome and appreciate the significant contribution of Vietnam to the ASEAN-India engagement in its capacity as ASEAN Coordinator for India for the period of 2015-2018. Both our countries are committed to strengthening our partnership within the India-ASEAN and Mekong-Ganga Cooperation frameworks. We value the cooperation and coordination between our two countries at regional and international fora.
India plans to further boost relations with Ho Chi Minh City through activities to forge stronger cultural exchange, business connectivity as well as increase cooperation in areas of mutual interest, stated Smita Pant, Indian Consul General in the city.
Addressing a ceremony held in Ho Chi Minh City on February 3 to mark the 68th Republic Day of India (January 26), she expressed her delight that India and Vietnam have forged an effective partnership in politics, economy, culture, science-technology, culture and human resource development.
The collaboration has brought about interest to both peoples and contributed to the socio-economic growth of both countries, she said.
Congratulating Indian people on achievements they have gained so far, Vice Chairman of Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Le Thanh Liem said that Vietnam and India share many similarities in history, culture and religion, and have enjoyed a sound traditional relationship that has been lifted up to comprehensive strategic partnership.
Liem noted that traditional friendship between India and Vietnam has helped boost their diverse cooperation in various fields, sectors and localities, benefiting the people of both countries.
As of the end of 2016, India has run 49 projects worth over 55 million USD in Ho Chi Minh City. Two-way trade last year reached nearly 900 million USD, a rise of 10 percent year on year.