India and Vietnam: 50 years of Diplomatic Ties
Brig Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, VIF

The year 2022 marks the 50th year of the establishment of diplomatic journey between India and Vietnam. This marks a milestone for both countries and a premise for developing deeper people-to-people cooperation in the coming years. Over these 50 years, bilateral relations have developed in all fields, including politics, security and defence, science and technology, economy, trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people diplomacy.

Over the years, top political leaders have visited each others’ countries to keep the momentum going. When the Covid-19 pandemic came on the way during the past two years, dialogues continued on the virtual mode. In the latest dialogue process, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephone conversation with the Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong on 15 April 2022 and exchanged views on regional and global issues, including the on-going crisis in Ukraine and the situation in the South China Sea.[1] Trong briefed Modi about Vietnam’s political-economic situation, socio-economic development targets and foreign policy set at the 13th National Party Congress. In return, Modi briefed Trong on the situation in India, including economic recovery and supply chain building to meet domestic demand and join the global supply chain. [2] Modi accepted Trong’s invitation to visit Vietnam at an appropriate time.

During Modi’s visit to Vietnam in 2016, the India-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership was established. Besides the wide-ranging cooperation, both Modi and Trong complimented each other over half century of both countries’ diplomatic journey. Reiterating the convergences of strategic interests, Modi underlined that Vietnam is an important pillar in India’s Act East Policy and Indo-Pacific Vision, and therefore sought to enhance the scope of the bilateral relationship. Both resolved to make further progress expeditiously on existing initiatives and explore new avenues that would be mutually beneficial. Since India decided to stay away from joining the RCEP because its concerns were not addressed, Modi requested Trong for greater facilitation of market access for India’s pharma for expeditious progress on existing initiatives.

Despite that both India and Vietnam have differing political systems their economic and strategic interests converge greatly. This political bonhomie is backed by historical and civilization links. The Cham monuments are a testimony of how Indian cultural tradition influenced in ancient times and India has contributed immensely towards the restoration of the monuments that withstood the vagaries of foreign invasion for centuries.

Both countries share common interests in the South China Sea. China’s rapid militarisation and island building activities on this global common is a matter of concern to many regional stakeholders as trillions of dollars of cargo transit through this critical maritime route. The worry is if a single power takes control, illogically and illegitimately, this critical part of the sea, it might impose its own rules of commerce. China’s aggressive approach and assertiveness on regional issues call for greater cooperation and coordination by other regional powers so that the existing equilibrium is not disturbed and tilts in favour of China. China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons. However, several ASEAN member countries, including Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei, have counter claims. It was because of this serious development, Modi and Trong exchanged views on regional and global issues of shared interests.

In order to keep the momentum going, the Speaker of Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) Om Birla paid an official visit to Vietnam on the invitation from National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue from 19 to 21 April 2022.[3] During NA Chairman Hue’s official visit to India in December 2021, the topic of Covid-19 that caused negative impacts on international relations and all aspects of socio-economic life in countries dominated the discussion. Hue’s visit also underlined the importance of the strategic relations that exist between both the countries, particularly the understanding between the legislative bodies of the two countries.[4] Hue and his Indian counterpart compared notes on international; and global issues of common concern and sought solutions to global challenges so that peace, security, stability and development in the region and the world are maintained.

Underscoring that parliamentary cooperation between India and Vietnam is one of the important and effective cooperation channels, and an integral part of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, Om Birla’s visit is an important milestone in deepening bilateral ties. During Hue’s visit to India, he had stressed the need to further promote trade and investment relations between the two countries and had recommended that the joint sub-committees of the ministries of industry and trade of both countries to work towards seeking measures to remove trade barriers and promote exports to each other’s market. Prime Minister Modi too stressed this point in his talks with Trong. Om Birla too discussed to hasten the process.

During the visit, the Speaker met with NA Chairman Hue and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and discussed a host of issues. The Vietnam side comprised of General Secretary of the National Assembly, Chairman of the Office of the National Assembly Bui Van Cuong; representatives of the Committees and Committees of the National Assembly: Chairman of the Committee for Foreign Affairs Vu Hai Ha; Chairman of the Committee for Culture and Education Nguyen Dac Vinh; Chairman of Committee for Science, Technology and Environment Le Quang Huy; Head of Delegates Affairs Nguyen Thi Thanh; Head of the Volunteer Committee, Chairman of the Vietnam-India Parliamentary Friendship Group Duong Thanh Binh; Minister of Information and Communications, Chairman of the Vietnam-India Friendship Association Nguyen Manh Hung; Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee, Head of the Hai Duong Provincial National Assembly Delegation Pham Xuan Thang. The Indian side comprised of Lok Sabha Secretary General Utpal Kumar Singh, other Indian representatives and Indian Ambassador to Vietnam Pranay Verma. The two sides discussed, among others, the way to deepen parliamentary cooperation in many areas such as social security, solving issues related to people, thereby contributing more to promoting cooperation between the two countries. The late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, when visiting India in 1980, had mentioned the relationship between the two countries "as clear as a cloudless sky".

The Speaker informed India has set a goal that by 2047, the 100th anniversary of Independence Day it will be a world leader in many industries and fields. He hoped that Vietnam shall meet its goal by 2045 - the 100th anniversary of the country's founding - to become a developed, high-income country. In order to fast-track the attainment of the development goals, both countries need to continue cooperation in the fields of trade, investment, science and technology, services, digital transformation, and so on. The relationship should move beyond also to deepen cooperation in information technology, service industries as well as in the strategic field.

Vietnam has high hopes that India will develop quickly and play an increasingly important role in maintaining and ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in the region as well as globally. Vietnam considers India as a global power and supports India to play a greater role in multilateral institutions, maintain and ensure the multi-polar world order, based on international law. Vietnam feels that India has acquired the appropriate credentials to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council when the organisation undergoes reforms and expanded to meet with the present challenging times of the world and hopes that it joins the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Council (APEC).

The Vietnamese leaders sought India’s support in Vietnam's candidacy for the Human Rights Council (term of 2023 - 2025), the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (term of 2023 - 2028), the Legal and Technical Committee (terms of the National Assembly 2023-2028).

The Speaker also met President Nguyen Xuan Phuc. While Phuc lauded India’s achievements in national construction and development, and the country’s increasing role and position in the international arena, Om Birla complimented Vietnam’s developments in a variety of sectors and fast economic growth. In order to continue promoting India-Vietnam comprehensive strategic partnership in the coming time, Phuc proposed a number of specific orientations and asked for the support from the Indian Parliament. The President of the National Assembly Vuong Dinh Hue cordially invited, through the Speaker, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu to visit Vietnam soon.

At present, the potentials are not fully ralised, despite enormous possibilities. A political push shall energise the industry in both countries to deepen trade and investment links and seek new horizons in the areas of their strengths. Indeed, bilateral trade between the two countries has grown annually by an average of 20 per cent, higher than trade growth between Vietnam and any other nation, since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1972, bilateral strategic partnership in 2007, and Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2016. [5]

India is one of the top trading partners of Vietnam while Vietnam is the 15th biggest trading partner of India and the fourth largest in ASEAN. The two-way trade is likely to surpass $15 billion in the current year, despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic. For Vietnam, India is the most important market, accounting for around 80 per cent of Vietnam’s total trade with South Asian nations. There has been a steady growth in bilateral trade volume - $5.5 billion in 2016 to $11.2 billion in 2020 and expected to surpass $15 billion in 2022. Vietnam is eyeing on big Indian projects, including oil and gas exploration projects, medicine park projects, and medical equipment manufacturing projects. [6]

As of October 2021, Indian firms invested in 310 projects with a total registered capital of $910.29 million. This put India at the 26th place from among 141 countries and territories investing in Vietnam. Both the economic wings of Indian embassy in Hanoi and Vietnam’s embassy in New Delhi are pro-active in facilitating partners for expanding businesses through trade and investment activities.

For example, on 26 March 2022 the Indian ambassador Pranay Verma in his outreach to provinces of Vietnam visited Thua Thien Hue and met the Party Secretary of the Province Le Truong Luu to discuss cooperation in areas ranging across trade and business, digital economy, healthcare and sustainable development. [7] Thua Thein Hue province has been very proactive to promote connectivity and cooperation with Indian partners with the support of the Vietnamese embassy in India to connect Indian investors and businesses and introduce the potential and strengths of Thua Thein Hue province through online promotion programmes.

Indian businesses surveyed and choose Hai Duong province to invest in the International Pharmaceutical Park project with an investment capital commitment of $ 12 billion. It is hoped that trade and investment cooperation between the two countries will develop rapidly in the coming time.

At another level, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics which is the premier institute for the senior Party and State officials of Vietnam and plays a key role in promotion of academic exchanges with Indian institutions has been very active in organising conferences and debating issues with Indian academics.[8] The Centre for Indian Studies established at the Academy with the Indian government support has taken the lead to provide academic inputs to policy makers both in India and Vietnam. The Indian ambassador and President of the Academy Nguyen Xuan Thang agreed to collaborate on programmes to deepen ties between the two countries.

Keeping in mind the volatile security situation in the region, both sides are committed to deepen their security cooperation. Talks are on for Vietnam to borrow $500 million to promote cooperation in the field of defence. Vietnam acknowledges India’s role and contributions in the region and the world. The time-honoured friendship backed by closeness in culture and history have contributed to their common interests in many international matters. Such synergy has created the foundation for bilateral cooperation in coping with the regional challenges. Vietnam has reason, therefore, to treasure the friendship and enhance the comprehensive strategic partnership, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

There is an urgent need to augment relations in dealing with the South China Sea. Maintaining peace, stability, cooperation, development and observance of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, and respecting sovereignty and sovereign right of countries and safety and security of navigation and aviation are too important to ignore. There is also an urgent need to implement the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in South China Sea (DOC) and move towards building a substantive, effective Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. India and Vietnam are committed to uphold, protect and if necessary defend such global rules if another country’s policies threaten to disrupt the existing equilibrium.

Endnotes :

[1] “PM Modi, Communist Party of Vietnam general secretary discuss Ukraine, South China Sea”, 15 April 2022, https://www.firstpost.com/india/pm-modi-communist-party-of-vietnam-general-secretary-discuss-ukraine-south-china-sea-10561091.html
[2] “Vietnam treasures comprehensive strategic partnership with India: Party chief”, 15 April 2022, https://en.vietnamplus.vn/vietnam-treasures-comprehensive-strategic-partnership-with-india-party-chief/225119.vnp
[3]Hannah Nguyen, “Indian Parliamentary Leader to Visit Vietnam from April 19”, 18 April 2022, https://vietnamtimes.org.vn/indian-parliamentary-leader-to-visit-vietnam-from-april-19-41484.html
[4] “Significance of NA Chairman’s official visit to India spotlighted”, 16 December 2021, https://en.vietnamplus.vn/significance-of-na-chairmans-official-visit-to-india-spotlighted/218261.vnp
[5] “New milestones in Vietnam-India trade”, 16 December 2021, https://en.vietnamplus.vn/new-milestones-in-vietnam-india-trade/218230.vnp
[6]Ollie Nguyen, “Vietnam - India Relations Developed Rapidly In the Past 50 Years”, 17 February 2022, https://vietnamtimes.org.vn/vietnam-india-relations-developed-rapidly-in-the-past-50-years-40096.html
[7] Hannah Nguyen, “Thua Thien Hue and India Partner for Potential Opportunities, 31 March 2022, https://vietnamtimes.org.vn/thua-thien-hue-and-india-partner-for-potential-opportunities-41106.html
[8] Hannah Nguyen, “Vietnam's Politics Academy Steps Ups Ties with Indian, Singaporean Partners”, 23 March 2022, https://vietnamtimes.org.vn/vietnams-politics-academy-steps-ups-ties-with-indian-singaporean-partners-40920.html
(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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