Vietnam, India and ASEAN Multi Lateral Cooperation
Vietnam and India have been coordinating their foreign and security policy approaches in various multilateral forums and especially so in ASEAN, ARF and EAS. With the nomination of Vietnam as a country coordinator for India in its engagement with the ASEAN from 2015 to 2018 salience of India in its multifaceted relationship with this organisation would continue to be on the upward path. As mentioned earlier Vietnam occupies plays a key role in India’s Look and now Act East Policy.
In December 2012, ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit was held in New Delhi to signify two decades of India’s LEP. Growing trade ties have corresponded with the expansion of relationship in the areas of defence and security; the engagement which was primarily political and economic has acquired strategic content in the recent years. India and countries in the region share many threats and challenges especially in the areas of non-conventional security. India and SE Asian nations have been strengthening their defence and security relationship both at bilateral and multilateral levels to address such threats. Defence cooperation with ASEAN members is geared primarily towards exchanges of high-level visits, strategic dialogues, port calls, training exchanges, joint exercises and provision of defence equipment.
At the multilateral level India has also become member of ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meet –Plus Eight (ADMM-Plus). The basic objective of creating this framework was to bring about co-operative security, especially in the areas of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security, counter-terrorism and peace keeping operations. ADMM-Plus Eight has also proposed furthering of bilateral and multilateral dialogue and sharing of expertise among the military forces of member states. The arrangement also advanced proposals to counter particular threats and issues such as piracy and natural disaster through joint military exercises. India and Vietnam have taken part in such joint military exercises conducted under the framework of ADDM Plus. So far these military exercises have been in the areas of HADR, military medicine, counter-terrorism and maritime security in addition to an ADMM-Plus Experts’ Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations.
Another notable feature of the emerging strategic scenario in the region has been very substantial improvement of US-Vietnam relations in the recent years. The visit of Vietnam’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong to the United States in July this year resulted in adoption of Joint Vision Statement. The US has agreed to civil nuclear cooperation and the easing of U.S. restriction of arms sales and increased cooperation on regional and multilateral issues. Earlier in June the a Joint Vision Statement on Defence Relations was signed that covers areas of defence cooperation like maritime security; search and rescue; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping. As a first step, the US has agreed to provide 18 million dollars to Hanoi for acquisition of patrol boats for the Coast Guard for enhancing its maritime security. Cooperation in defence and security is likely to be further upgraded with lifting of embargo on export of lethal arms.
Meanwhile the US has been increasingly coming out in denouncing China’s approach to the vexed issue of South China Sea. During Shangri La Dialogue held towards the end of May the United States Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter emphasised that “The United States is deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea, the prospect of further militarisation, as well as the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states”.
Similarly, there has been tremendous growth in strategic partnership between Vietnam and Japan. Tokyo has provided patrol boats to boost Vietnam’s capacity for maritime security. Its security policies in SC are aligned to that of US and Vietnam. Since PM Shinzo Abe’s return to power he has raised the level of strategic partnership to Extensive Strategic Partnership.
The Way Forward/ Concluding Observations
India, Vietnam and ASEAN members have been on an upward economic trajectory and as they grow the security and strategic environment has also been becoming complex. While these nations have been in a beneficial economic relationship with India and China they remain wary of China’s growing assertion and irredentist tendencies. India’s efforts in defence cooperation with Vietnam and ASEAN members both as part of multilateral and bilateral efforts also aims at addressing its own strategic concerns both in Indian Ocean littoral as well as in South China Sea.
Both Ministry of Defence and Ministry of External Affairs need to coordinate their efforts in order to add meaningful substance to the evolving defence and security relationship with the ASEAN members as part of a composite endeavour to achieve success in the strategic objectives of its LEP and now Act East Policy. The MOD also needs to allot more vacancies to the defence officers of the SE Asian countries for training at our defence establishments. Frequency of joint military exercises also needs to be increased to improve levels of interoperability. There is also a case for reviewing our restrictive policies on export of defence hardware to SE Asian nations.
There is no reason why there should not be a trilateral between say India, Vietnam and US or for that matter one between Japan, India and Vietnam on the same format and basis as the existing trilateral between India, US and Japan.
India’s multifaceted ties with Vietnam are poised to acquire greater strategic and economic weight. The current cooperation on the projects of oil and gas exploration, investment, capacity building and development, especially in defence and security need to be diversified.
India and Vietnam need to explore opportunities to further strengthen the partnership. Both sides consult each other on global, regional and bilateral issues to have common or coordinated approaches.
Bilaterally, India should do more to help Vietnam in enhancing maritime security by up-gradation of naval facilities and building air defence. Vietnam and India can take timely and appropriate steps to cooperate in joint defence research, design, development and production of military equipments, including transfer of technology on weapon and defence equipments. Governments of India and Vietnam should be facilitator in promoting foreign investments though the task forces to study and push these projects within plan period.
Regionally, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and economic security in South China Sea can be institutionalized as Code of Conduct by ASEAN with the help of US, Japan, India and other powers in the region. Vietnam and India can explore bidding for hydrocarbon in the third countries.
Globally, India and Vietnam can cooperate in non-traditional security issues like climate changes, terrorism, humanitarian and disaster relief (HARD) etc.
Brig Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, VIF
This is updated version of paper presented at Ho Chi Minh Academy of Political Science, Hanoi during an international conference on “Vietnam, ASEAN-India Development Cooperation: Reality and Prospect” held from 29 to 30 September 2015.