Vietnam – India Relation (Part 1)


Vietnam – India Relation (Part 1)

Vietnam – India Relation

Assoc. Prof. PhD. Le Van Toan*

1. India Overview

As one of the four great ancient civilizations of the human kind, India has a long-standing and rich traditional culture. In addition to an important role in terms of geopolitics, geoeconomics and geostrategic, India has long-lasting and fascinating soft powers. Buddhism is one of the examples of Indian soft power which has penetrated and developed across many countries around the world. It is not by chance that Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the 20th Century, said while meeting the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the United States in 1947 that "If there is any religion that could respond to scientific demands of modern time, it would be Buddhism"[1]. Today, India has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It is estimated that by 2030, India will become the world's third-largest economy after the United States and China, and the fourth-largest country in term of defense capabilities after the United States, Russia, and China. With the world's second-largest population, large and young workforce with dynamic thinking on development, India is likely to become a model for the combination of economic development and democratic institutions. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe viewed India as a big peak in the four-peak security diamonds of Japan, Australia, India and the US state of Hawaii to safeguard the maritime commons starting from the Indian Ocean Region to the Western Pacific. The ideas of engagement and integration have been nurtured by the Indian leaders for decades and now further developed in today’s context by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s determination and efforts towards economic development, internal stability, rejuvenation of the country, enhancing defense capabilities, renewal of foreign policy, of which economic diplomacy and expansion of strategic partnerships are key priorities. This further strengthens India's position and role in securing strategic balance in the region.

2. Vietnam Overview

As a country stretching along the South China Sea coastline with special geo-strategic location and natural conditions, Vietnam soon moved towards engagement, integration, development, and acculturation. Dai Viet civilization was ranked among the first 34 human civilizations. Many scholars share the idea that the cultural identity of Vietnam was formed in the rice farming Red River Delta thousands of years ago and strengthened through 2000 years of struggle for independence. During a successful acculturation process, Vietnamese national identity was maintained while being modernized to fit in with the development of human civilization.

Today, Vietnam has been going through a process of reforming and renewing development mindset towards a socialist-oriented market economy, with the people-centered approach in which all people have the opportunity to participate and benefit, for the goal of "prosperous people, powerful country, democracy, equality, and civilization". Vietnam is running a market economy to efficiently mobilize and allocate all available resources. Thanks to reform and integration, Vietnam has become one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, a major exporter of rice and many other agricultural products. According to the United Nations, Vietnam has made impressive poverty reduction efforts with the current poverty rate of less than 10%. Vietnam has established many partnerships, actively participated in many free trade agreements and become an attractive destination for foreign investors, including Indian companies.

3. Vietnam-India relations: An Overview

Vietnam and India have civilizational linkages that lasted for over two millennia. Buddhism and Hinduism have made great contributions to cultural exchanges between the two countries. It is noted that Indian culture and civilization came to Vietnam in a peaceful way with deeply rooted human values. As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi observed while visiting Vietnam in September 2016, the invaders who brought wars to Vietnam are now removed from the country. However, Buddhism and Indian ideas of peace and humanity always remain in Vietnam. History shows that while other religions come to Vietnam along with invaders, Indian Buddhism and Hinduism came in a peaceful way which were accepted and adapted in accordance with Vietnam’s demands for national identity formation. In recent history, the bilateral relations have been strengthened by similarities in the struggle for freedom and independence of two peoples under the leadership of President Ho Chi Minh, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. President Ho Chi Minh is the one who put all efforts and proactively laid the foundation for Vietnam - India relations. In his whole life of working, President Ho Chi Minh visited India three times, wrote nearly 50 articles on India and exchanged many correspondences with Indian leaders. This does not include his poem “To Nehru” written in 1943 while he was detained in the KMT prison that says “Ten thousand miles apart, we have not met/ We communicate without words”[2]. The relations affirmed by Prime Minister Pham Van Dong "as pure as the cloudless sky" was formally upgraded step by step to full diplomatic relations in 1972, strategic partnership in 2007 and Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2016.

Over the past 45 years, Vietnam and India have developed an ever-growing relationship which has been enhanced in quality and expanded across all areas on the basis of five main pillars, namely: politics - diplomacy, defense - security, economics - trade, energy, culture - education - science and technology, and people-to-people exchanges.

- Politics and diplomacy

It can be said that political and diplomatic relations between Vietnam and India have been strengthened with high political trust as the two countries do not have any differences, they even share the strategic interests and trust on almost all bilateral and multilateral issues, including such thorny issues as the South China Sea.

This political trust has always been strengthened by frequent exchanges of high-level visits at the Party, State, Parliament and Government levels. In recent years, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the President, the Chairperson of the National Assembly and the Prime Minister of Vietnam all paid official visits to India. In return, the President, the Prime Minister, the Vice President, the Speaker of the Parliament of India also visited Vietnam. These high-level visits have not only created the foundation and driving forces for implementation of signed cooperation agreements but also strengthened the political trust between the two countries[3].

- National defense and security

Defense and security cooperation is a strategic pillar in Vietnam - India relations. The two countries regularly exchanged ministerial-level visits, set up a defense secretary-level strategic dialogue and announced a Joint Vision Statement on Defence Cooperation for the 2015-2020 period which outlined an important roadmap for developing bilateral cooperation in this area. The two countries have worked together on both traditional and non-traditional security issues including fighting against terrorism, transnational high-tech crime and enhancing network security. India has offered $100 million and $500 million Lines of Credits to strengthen Vietnam’s defense capabilities and willing to share experiences in the UN peacekeeping force.

- Economic and trade relations

India is now one of the top 10 trading partners of Vietnam and Vietnam is India's fourth largest trading partner among ASEAN countries. The bilateral two-way trade has increased by an average of 16 percent per year and reached more than $5 billion by 2015. The two sides committed to diversifying their trade relations to include new areas to reach their two-way trade volume of $15 billion by 2020. Vietnam is now becoming an attractive investment destination for Indian businesses. As of September 2016, India has 131 projects with the total worth of more than $700 million, ranking the 25th largest investor in Vietnam. India's investment in Vietnam will increase sharply after the $2 billion-worth Long Phu II thermal power plant project in Soc Trang by TATA Group comes into operation.

- Cooperation in energy

India has been boosting cooperation with Vietnam in oil and gas sector. In addition to the three offshore oil fields that ONGC Videsh (OVL) is exploring, Vietnam recently offered India three more oil fields for exploration in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the South China Sea. Bilateral cooperation has also been enhanced in such areas as electrification, electricity and renewable energy.

- Culture, education, science and technology and people-to-people exchanges

Vietnam and India have collaborated on several meaningful programs and activities, including exchanges of arts troupes, film festivals, exhibitions of publications and fine arts to showcase the country and people of both countries. The Indian government has shown great interests in cultural exchanges and community outreach with Vietnam. The newly opened Indian Culture Center in Hanoi will play a critical role in introducing the potential values of one of the most diverse and fascinating cultures in the world to Vietnamese people, particularly the younger generation.

Every year, India offers to Vietnam 150 undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships in social sciences, humanities, and technology. With the support of India, Vietnam set up the IT and English Training Center at National Defense Academy of Vietnam, Vocational Training Center in Ho Chi Minh City, High-Performance Computing Center at Hanoi Polytechnic University.

Bilateral cooperation has also been promoted in science and technology. During the visit to Vietnam by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2016, the two sides signed many science and technology-related agreements including the agreement on the establishment of remote sensing data tracking, reception, and processing facility in Vietnam under India-ASEAN cooperation framework. India has committed to supporting Vietnam in capacity building and provision of equipments in remote sensing, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, renewable energy and nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

People-to-people exchanges between the two countries have also been strengthened through the promotion of tourism, exchange of visits at local levels, twinning partnership between big cities of the two countries, organizing seminars and talks on bilateral relations in both Vietnam and India.

The Indian government sets the new context and vision for Indo – Vietnam relations within the framework of India's Act East policy, which plays a central role in terms of history, geography, economic and strategic space of mutual interests. As the coordinating country for ASEAN -  India relations from 2015 to 2018, Vietnam will play an important role in many international fora including ASEAN - India Summit, East Asia Summit (EAS), Ganga - Mekong Cooperation, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), United Nations and South-South cooperation frameworks. (Part 2)

* Centre for Indian Studies, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics.

[1] Quoted by Pham Duc Duong, “Cultural Exchange and the World”, Nghe An Culture Review, Issue No. 152, 10 July 2009.

[2] New thoughts on “Prison’s Diary” (full translation), third edition, Education Publishing House, H., 1995, p.481-482.

[3] As of 2016, Vietnam has three Comprehensive Strategic Partners (including Russia, China, and India), 15 Strategic Partners and 10 Comprehensive Partners. India has established the comprehensive economic partnership with Japan, Korea, and ASEAN. Vietnam is the only comprehensive strategic partner of India.

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