Why is Vietnam important for India to counter China?

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Defense Minister Rajnath Singh with Vietnam’s Minister of National Defense General Pham Van Giang in Hanoi.

Photo: ANI

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Vietnam’s position and approach to regional security aligns with India’s objectives.
  • India has remained oblivious to Beijing’s warnings about its growing ties with Vietnam, under its Act East policy.
  • China threatens Vietnam over its drilling activities in the South China Sea.
New Delhi: India and Vietnam recently signed a “Joint Vision Statement on India-Vietnam Defense Partnership 2030”, to strengthen the defense partnership between the two traditional allies.

So why is Vietnam an important defense partner for India?

Defense cooperation between Vietnam and India:

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The key defense partnership between the two countries, prior to the last joint statement, came with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation in November 2009. Indian ships currently make regular friendly stops in Vietnam. For the first time, a Vietnamese ship participated in the International Fleet Review in Vishakhapatnam, India in 2016.

Common challenge in China:

Border disputes between India and China are well known, and the challenges it faces relative to its neighbors to the north and northeast are also not new.

While Vietnam also faces similar challenges from China. The two countries fought their most modern war from 1979 to 1990, over border disputes and influences from the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia.

More recently, disputes in the South China Sea have also been a thorn in the side for many countries that share maritime borders with China, including Vietnam.

While Vietnam had been building islands in the region for decades, China started it in 2014 but on an unprecedented scale and even put military hardware on one of these man-made islands. This had never been done by any of the countries involved in the dispute, including Vietnam.

With China’s salami-slicing policy, it continued to provoke Vietnam in the South China Sea.

Vietnam also has a number of oil and gas projects in the South China Sea. In 2017, after Chinese threats, the Vietnamese government ordered the Spanish Repsol to stop drilling in the disputed area. It was one of many incidents where China threatened Vietnam over drilling activities in the South China Sea.

Importance of Vietnam for India:

Vietnam and India have enjoyed friendly relations over decades with mutual trust and benefit. And as explained earlier, Vietnam’s position and approach to regional security also aligns with India’s goals and the broader perspective of other partners in the region to check China’s influence in the South China Sea.

While a number of other countries in the region, including South Korea, have been reluctant to formulate direct criticism or policy against China over the SCS and have also avoided Vietnamese maritime cooperation for fear of provoking China, India remained oblivious to Beijing’s warnings about its growing relations with Vietnam, under its Eastern Policy Act.

India’s utilitarian interests in the SCS and the growing strategic weight of the Indo-Pacific region, are in conflict with the Chinese rise in the region. On the one hand, while Indian interests in the maritime region include trade ties, freedom of navigation and a rules-based regional order, China’s policy of slicing the salami with the deployment of military equipment, calls for need for a reliable partner in the region.

India-Vietnam maritime defense links:

For Vietnam, India’s long-term presence in the SCS and the greater Indo-Pacific region would help Vietnam’s interests. India supports Vietnam’s position on the importance of maintaining maritime security in the MCS and resolving disputes in accordance with international laws, including and primarily the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982.

On the other hand, for India, maritime defense ties with Vietnam serve its policy of “maritime multilateralism” to overcome transnational challenges and promote economic activities in the South China Sea.

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