India-Vietnam relations which was elevated to ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Vietnam in 2017, continues to be an important factor not only in the bilateral relationship between the two countries, but also for regional peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. This has acquired added traction in the backdrop of China’s belligerence in the South China Sea and elsewhere as well. It augurs well that there have been regular interaction between the leaders of the two countries at various levels both through bilateral institutional mechanisms and also on the margins of multilateral meetings.
It is against this backdrop that the 17th India-Vietnam Joint Commission Meeting on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation was held via video–conference. The JCM assumes strategic significance. The meeting was co-chaired by Dr. S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister and Mr. Pham Bin Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. During the meeting, both sides reviewed the recent developments in India-Vietnam strategic partnership and discussed the entire gamut of their wide ranging engagement. They agreed to add new momentum to the economic and defence dimensions of the relationship between the two countries and to explore closer cooperation in emerging areas such as civil nuclear energy, space, marine science and new technologies.
The two sides also shared their views on regional and international issues of mutual interest, especially in the context of the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 pandemic. Both India and Vietnam have earned international applause for effectively managing and mitigating the dreaded coronavirus. At a time when India economy is being recalibrated under Prime Minister Modi’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat for enhancing resilience through self-reliance and human-centric globalisation for India’s economic revival, Dr. Jaishankar invited Vietnam to take advantage of India’s new economic capacities and demands.
As the two countries enjoy convergence of outlook and approach on a number of regional and global issues, both sides agreed to coordinate closely at multilateral forums, including at the UN Security Council, where both India and Vietnam will serve concurrently as non-permanent members in 2021. The two sides also agreed to step up cooperation and coordination at important regional forums under the ASEAN framework. Dr. Jaishankar expressed India’s full support to Vietnam’s chairmanship of ASEAN this year and appreciated the positive leadership provided by Vietnam to ASEAN when the world is confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier, the Vietnamese envoy in New Delhi had briefed India’s Foreign Secretary about the acceleration of tensions in the South China Sea in the wake of China’s significant ramping up of its military presence by deploying a large number of ships and fighter jets in the resource rich South China Sea despite the calls for restraints by several countries. The Vietnamese Ambassador gave an account of the current situation in the South China Sea including around Vietnamese waters where India’s ONGC Videsh has oil exploration projects.
India has been supporting freedom of navigation and access to resources in the South China Sea in accordance with the principles of international law including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). India’s defence, particularly naval cooperation with Vietnam and the credit line to Vietnam extended during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Vietnam for acquiring high speed Patrol boats from India reflects India’s concerns and commitment to Vietnam’s territorial security and sovereignty.
People of India hold Vietnam and Vietnamese people in very high esteem for their tenacity and heroic struggle. Vietnamese leaders like Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap are household names in India. The tested and trusted historical, cultural, and political bonding between the two countries and their leaders has not only sustained the relationship between the two countries and their peoples but also elevated it to a high strategic level.
Script: Dr. Rupa Narayan Das, Strategic Analyst