‘After China & Pakistan, India & Vietnam emerging as the next ‘Iron Brothers’ of Asia’’
- Posted By
1st Sep, 2020
Chinese actions in the South China Sea have pushed together Hanoi and New Delhi in a partnership experts liken to the Beijing-Islamabad alliance.
- Vietnam remains among the most important South-east Asian nation for India’s security interests.
- People of Vietnam resolutely supported the freedom struggle in India; and while facing international reprimand, India stood by Vietnam in its testing times during the 60s and 70s.
- The two had strategically remained closer to the Soviet Union than the US or China due to ideological differences, their individual strategic relations with either US or China, relations with neighbours, and cold War politics.
- Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Ho Chi Minh made state visits during the 50s, making the Indian Prime Minister the first to visit Hanoi.
- India also supported the Hanoi government during the Vietnam War.
- The relationship in between India and Vietnam started getting a formal shape after India joined the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1996.
Who will be referred as the next ‘Iron Brothers’ of Asia?
- In reaching out to India, Vietnam had showcased not only a comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries but also showed its continued support of India’s freedom of navigation and over flight in the South China Sea.
- India and Vietnam now find themselves at a geostrategic convergence.
- Both sides oppose China treating the South China Sea as its backyard and have interests in preserving peace and stability in the contested waters.
- Vietnam’s diplomatic moves would encourage India’s engagement in the South China Sea.
- Boosting defence cooperation would send “a timely message” to Beijing.
How South Asian nations are coming closer against China?
- India has taken a firm stand against growing Chinese expansion.
- Similar to how India has accused China of unitarily trying to alter the status quo at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, Vietnam and other South Asian nations have accused China of doing the same in the South China Sea.
India and China Face Off Again at Border
- After months of efforts to defuse tensions, soldiers rushed to shout in each other’s faces again.
- Though the confrontation wasn’t bloody, where it happened was significant.
- For more than half a century, the border has been a sore spot.
- This kept the occasional border confrontation or dispute from turning deadly, up until the enormous brawl in June.
Why did the troops clash?
- The Line of Actual Control, as the disputed border between the two nations is known, is poorly demarcated.
- The presence of rivers, lakes and snowcaps mean the line can shift.
- The soldiers on either side - representing two of the world's largest armies - come face to face at many points.
- India has accused China of sending thousands of troops into Ladakh's Galwan valley and says China occupies 38,000sq km (14,700sq miles) of its territory.
- Several rounds of talks in the last three decades have failed to resolve the boundary disputes.
- The two countries have fought only one war so far, in 1962, when India suffered a humiliating defeat.
- There are several reasons why tensions have risen recently - but competing strategic goals lie at the root, and both sides blame each other.
How India and Vietnam coordinating closely?
- Both India and Vietnam perceive China as an irredentist and expansionist power that can never be territorially satiated and therefore presents a clear and present danger.
- India seeks to do to China what China has done to India, that is, containment and encirclement.
- Just as Islamabad and Beijing closely coordinate and support their military moves against India, New Delhi and Hanoi have now begun briefing and supporting each other vis-à-vis Beijing.
- And just as Pakistan favours a strong Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean, Vietnam favours an Indian naval presence in the South China Sea.
A brief history of China and Vietnam
- In 1974, China captured Paracel Islands in South China Sea from the anti-Communist regime in Saigon, South Vietnam.
- In 1975, both Vietnams were joined under the Communist rule.
- However, this cordial relationship was disrupted when Vietnam joined the Soviet-dominated “Comecon” for economic cooperation in 1978 and also signed a mutual treaty of friendship.
- China branded Vietnam as “Cuba of the East” with hegemonic intentions of dominating South East Asia.
- In December 1978, Vietnam annoyed Beijing by launching a full-scale war on the Khemer Rouge regime in Kampuchia (Cambodia), seizing its capital Phnom Penh.
- It toppled the brutal Pol Pot who had killed nearly two million Cambodians through forced labour and executions.
- Like in India, the Sino-Vietnam War started with a border skirmish on August 25, 1978. The real invasion started in the early hours of February 17, 1979.
- On February 17, 1979, that Communist China invaded Communist Vietnam.
- On February 18, 1979, Prime Minister Morarji Desai expressed “profound shock and distress over the invasion” and called for an immediate withdrawal of the Chinese forces from Vietnam.
- Also, like in India in 1962, the Chinese suddenly withdrew on March 16, 1979, declaring that the mission was accomplished.
- Since 2004, China has been Vietnam’s biggest trade partner and the second-largest export market after America, according to “Vietnam News” of April 25, 2019.
- Even after Chinese Coast Guards sank a Vietnamese vessel off Paracel Islands on April 3, 2020, Vietnam was seen trying their policy of “compartmentalising” its response to China and “not allow them to disrupt other parts of the bilateral relationship”.
What were the recent developments?
- Exploration of oil and gas blocks: Despite opposition from China, Vietnam has sought India’s greater role in exploring oil and gas blocks off its coast in the South China Sea saying that the area falls in its economic zone.
- Financial grants: Earlier India had extended a $100 million Line of Credit (LOC) to Vietnam to help acquire Patrol boats. It has also announced another $500 million LOC for Hanoi to help it procure military equipment from India.
- Close official meetings: Both India and Vietnam have maintained close relations with frequent meetingsbetween senior officials from both countries.
- For instance, Pham Sanh Chau, Vietnam’s ambassador to India, recently metwith Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla, and briefed him about the recent tensions following China’s deployment of an H-6J bomber to Woody Island, part of the disputed Paracel Islands.
- The ambassador conveyed Vietnam’s determination to further the bilateral Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with greater energy and vigour.
What is this Expansion of Indo-Pacific Partnership?
- India and Vietnam recently decided to explore closer cooperation in emerging areas -- civil nuclear energy, space, marine sciences and new technologies and decided to expand their Indo-Pacific partnership.
- India and Vietnam agreed to enhance their bilateral cooperation in line with India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) and the ASEAN’s Outlook on Indo-Pacific to achieve shared security, prosperity and growth for all in the region.
- India invited Vietnam to collaborate on one of the seven pillars of the IPOI. This is significant in the backdrop of Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region including South China Sea region.
- The outcomes were result of the 17th Meeting of the India-Vietnam Joint Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation co-chaired by Dr. S. Jaishankar and Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Vietnam.
What are the Impediments to India-Vietnam’s close cooperation?
- When Vietnam showed interest in buying the BrahMos missile, developed jointly by India and Russia, it was not sold to Vietnam for fear of angering China.
- Any strengthening of India-Vietnam defence ties would be driven by controlled Chinese belligerence towards both India and Vietnam, and would most likely be incremental. Neither India nor Vietnam wants to aggravate their relations with China.
What are the Suggested areas of cooperation?
- Military cooperation: India and Vietnam could further enhance their cooperation by “information sharing, military training and perhaps weapons procurement”. The militaries of the two countries are highly complementary as they both largely relied on Soviet-era or Russian equipment.
- Manufacturing of rifles: Vietnam also lacks in the manufacturing of small arms which is associated with coastal security. There is significant scope for the manufacture of assault rifles that is used by Indian Coast Guard personnel.
- The Indian defence establishment can also set up manufacturing facilities of carbines and small range missiles for which the potential buyers will be both from India and Vietnam.
- Coastal defence mechanism: Both countries can work out a coastal defence mechanism to integrate coordination between marine or sea police, coastguards and navy, to thwart away attacks on commercial or strategic installations along the coast of both the countries.
- Technology cooperation: Another area of cooperation remains to be the area of nano and microsatellite technology.
- Both India and Vietnam hold a wide range of offshore assets, including oil exploration sites and islands.
- The security of these assets should be reinforced by better aerial surveillance systems.
- These satellites can be used for geospatial mapping as well as for gathering environmental data and sea explorations.
What can be the possible source of Action?
India and Vietnam have come a long way together, fostering a relationship based on mutual trust and understanding. With the fast-changing scenario in the neighbourhood and the rising challenges that are faced by Vietnam, India can play a larger role in strengthening the regional strategic theatre by coming closer to Vietnam in the strategic and defence sectors.