India has made it clear that “its relationship with Vietnam is not contingent on any country”. This statement was made by Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin more than 24 hours before China reacted against India-Vietnam agreement on exploration of two more oil blocks in the South China Sea during Nguyen Tan Dung, the Vietnam PM’s, just concluded two-day visit.
Through this a broad hint was given that New Delhi would not entertain any dictate from any country when it comes to purely serving its interests. India sounded unflatteringly that its intention to explore oil in Vietnam’s backyard is purely commercial. But making a usual harangue, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said, “China will firmly oppose any exploration activity in the South China Sea if it undermines China’s sovereignty and interests.”
However, India under Narendra Modi’s administration seems to have girded up its loin to make China realize that the latter too would have to be mindful about India’s sensitivity. It handed over nuclear technology to Pakistan despite New Delhi’s vehement protest; then, it is engaged in dams and other projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. India’s sovereign claim over Arunachal Pradesh is being questioned and so is the country’s road construction project along border areas in the Northeast and the Ladakh region that China protests time and again. Further to rile India, it has not stopped issuing stapled visa to Indian nationals living in Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir even as the issue crops up every time the two countries’ leaders meet.
Checkmating China’s strategy
To give China taste of bitter pills, India under its “Look East” policy, began its diplomatic exercise though slowly and smoothly across the region. Vietnam, the Southeast Asian country with which China doesn’t share cosy relationship, has been marked as the main cog of New Delhi’s road map to deepen penetration in the South China Sea and its surroundings. Moreover, since the BJP-led NDA government came into power in May it “promptly and purposefully” intensified engagement with the countries of the Asia Pacific region. In August, it sent External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Vietnam and then a few days before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s three-day visit in September, President Pranab Mukherjee went to Hanoi.
Added to all this, came a visit by the Vietnamese Premier and that too just five weeks after President Mukherjee’s trip to the Southeast Asian country. Spectacle of heightened diplomatic overtures between the two nations was on the display.
In the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successive comments against China’s aggressive positioning in the Asia Pacific region, during his visit to Japan, address to the United Nations General Assembly and while issuing a joint statement with President Barack Obama during his US visit, New Delhi’s engagement with Hanoi seems to have become an issue of concern for Chinese authorities. And, it is quite apparent in Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei’s statement. “Any lawful and justifiable oil exploration activity is fine for us. But if such activity undermines sovereignty and interests of China, we are firmly opposed to this,” Hong Lei said.
Despite this, India seems to have no desire to keep in check its foray into the Southeast Asian region. It has agreed to supply military equipments to Vietnam under $100 million Line of Credit offered to Hanoi during President Mukherjee’s last month visit. “India remains committed to the modernisation of Vietnam’s defence and security forces. This will include expansion of our training programme, which is already very substantial, joint-exercises and cooperation in defence equipment,” Prime Minister Modi said during a joint press conference with his Vietnamese counterpart Dung.
Extending cooperation with Vietnam
Not only did he say that, the two countries also agreed to increase cooperation in space, space applications and launch of the Southeast Asian country’s satellites besides the peaceful use of civil nuclear energy. This signified India’s purposeful expansion of its strategic interests in the region, yet what came for a shove was the two countries’ readiness to increase the volume of trade and commerce from currently $8 billion to $15 billion by 2015. Then investment by Indian companies in Vietnam has also registered an increase. Currently, total Indian companies’ investment in Vietnam stands at $1 billion, and these include agro chemicals, oil and gas, mineral exploration, IT and agriculture.
Tata Power is on way to set up a 660X2 thermal power plant in the country. This apart, India is also leading the chart of countries engaged in capacity development process of Vietnam. India has so far extended 18 Line of Credits to Vietnam covering about 90 plus projects. It is offering 150 scholarships under ITEC programme and 40 other scholarships every year to Vietnamese students. It has also set up a number of institutes for IT-related training, English language, vocational training and entrepreneurial development.
Overtures with Vietnam assume significance
While all this shows deepening of mutual understanding between the two countries, manifestation of their strong bond was before the world when the countries signed as many as seven agreements during the Vietnamese Prime Minister’s visit which was the third since 2007. Seen in the backdrop of India’s readiness to change its strategic thinking vis-a-vis China, such overtures with Vietnam assume significance. It should be noted that during Modi’s high-voltage visit to the US, for the first time, India agreed to support America’s ‘Asia Pivot’ strategy, designed to checkmate China’s assertiveness in the Pacific region.
Then it has in principal agreed to a suggestion of increasing the level of India-Japan-America, trilateral dialogue from official to ministerial level. All this is aimed to achieve deterrence against China, the country of fire-spitting dragon whose economic growth has strengthened military prowess – seen by many countries including India with concern.
Government–Naga Peace Accord
Bilateral Issues India Needs to Resolve
Nuclear Liability Law: What’s the Big Deal?
Land Acquisition Laws in India and the Duplicitous Deals
How Can India Benefit From Becoming a Member of SCO?
India’s strategic ties with Vietnam on the rise
India’s Foreign Policy Roadmap
Why Modi government is important for China, US