Dr Anirban Ganguly*
Our relationship with Vietnam has been defined, to use PM Modis’ words by: Vishwas – Trust & Sahyog – Cooperation. All the five pillars of India’s foreign policy are visible in our partnership with Vietnam. In fact it is these pillars which can sustain and uphold the aspiration of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific region”, which is essential for the realisation of the goal of the Asian century. These pillars are:
For the Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean region PM Modi speaks of “SAGAR”, which means “Ocean” and stands for – Security And Growth for All in the Region. This applies to the Indo-Pacific as well, to cite him in some detail:
An important part of India’s transformation is my vision of “Blue Economy”. The Blue Chakra – or the wheel – in our National Flag, represents the potential of the Blue Economy. An essential part of this pursuit is the development of India's coastal and island territories: but, not just for tourism. We want to build new pillars of economic activity in the coastal areas and in linked hinterlands through sustainable tapping of oceanic resources.
In evolving a partnership for developing India’s coastal islands and territories and to turn them into hubs of economic activities based on tapping of oceanic resources, both India and Vietnam have a major scope of enhancing their partnership.
The Indo-Pacific has to be integrated with India’s SAGAR vision and its five priorities. SAGAR has, as Ambassador Asoke Mukherji, India’s former permanent representative to the United Nations and a leading diplomatic mind in India has observed five major objectives. These are
1. To position India as a net security provider in the region;
2. To enable India’s contribution to the enhanced maritime security capacities of the region;
3. To work for collective action to respond to challenges from the maritime domain;
4. To bring about integrated sustainable development of the region, including the Blue or Ocean Economy;
5. To ensure that the primary responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity of the region is on the countries of the region.
The integration of the Indo-Pacific region therefore with PM Modi’s vision of SAGAR is crucial for developing a free and open Indo-Pacific region. India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific is that, Prime Minister Modi has observed that projects and initiatives in the region must be “based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, consultation, good governance, transparency, viability and sustainability...’ such projects “must empower nations, not place them under impossible debt burden”.
Both India and Vietnam are ideally situated to play a crucial role in stabilising and defining the Indo-Pacific. While India plays the leading role in the Indian Ocean region, Vietnam occupies a crucial geopolitical position in the Pacific region. Besides being a key partner for India in the region, Vietnam is a core partner for India in ASEAN and a critical partner for the progress of our ACT EAST Policy. While India aspires to strengthen its profile in the region, it has to work towards strengthening its multi-dimensional relationship with Vietnam.
The wider outreaches are important in shaping together our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. In this effort we have to continue to enhance our soft and smart power engagements. For the future we must look to broadly working out the following:
Some leading minds in India who have spent a lifetime studying India and Indo-Pacific region have also spoken of the need to try and imagine an ASIAN QUAD: with countries such as India-Vietnam-Indonesia-Japan. Civilisational similarities, the urge to define the Asian century, energy and transformative visions have been visible in these countries. Such a QUAD will work to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region. At least, one can imagine such a possibility, start a discussion on it and come to a common understanding on how to cooperate in exploring common possibilities and challenges.
Together India and Vietnam have to define and articulate the vision of the Indo-Pacific; they have to closely collaborate to make the 21st century into the Asian Century. For the Asian Century to become a reality, the success of the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific is essential, in the words of PM Modi:
...We will promote a democratic and rules-based international order, in which all nations, small and large, thrive as equal and sovereign. We will work with others to keep our seas, space and airways free and open, our nations secure from terrorism; and our cyber space free from disruption and conflict. We will keep our economy open and our engagement transparent. We will share our resources, markets and prosperity with our friends and partners.
It is the “Asia of cooperation” that will shape this century, but it is the “Asia of rivalry” which will try to hold us back. But since Buddha and his immortal message links us all, there is a deeper wisdom which imbues both India and Vietnam as civilisations, it is this wisdom, it is this conviction of cooperation, it is this faith in the Asian Century that must drive us in our quest for creating and re-shaping a civilisational Indo-Pacific which is both free and open.
I thank you ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for giving me this opportunity of sharing a few thoughts before you in this sacred land of Vietnam - made sacred by Buddha’s eternal message and Ho Chi Minh’s inspiring political legacy.
* Director Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi, Member, Policy Research Department, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Member, Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India & author, columnist, public intellectual.