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Thursday, 19 January 2017 15:50
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New contexts and some priorities in the current relationship between Vietnam and India

(LLCT) The world will keep seeing unpredictable changes. The road to sustainable development in each country is not smooth; so is the Vietnamese - Indian strategic cooperation. However, this cooperation will be successful if both countries make great efforts and seize development opportunities.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with his Vietnamese counterpart

Nguyen Xuan Phuc in his visit to Vietnam on September 3, 2016 _ Photo: IT


1. Complicated developments in the world

Developments in the world in recent years have five characteristics as follows:

First, they have occurred faster and at an exponential rate.

The spread of wars in some places in the world, particularly in Syria, and the turmoil (to a certain extent) in the rules of international relations have caused humanitarian crises to arise faster. A most obvious manifestation of these crises is the fluxes of refugees from Syria and other African and Middle East countries to Europe. This has exerted some influence on the structure and operation of the European Union, making this organization, which seems to be growing increasingly stronger and expanded, show signs of serious division. A clearest example of this division is Brexit, where more than 50% of British voters agreed to leave the EU. The Schengen Agreement, which many EU countries have signed, has become insecure as a result of the flux of refugees.

International terrorism, especially the IS, has conducted bloody terrorist attacks right in the heart of Europe and has employed unpredictable methods. After each terrorist attack, both leaderships and people say that they are not afraid and that they are even more united. However, there are underlying signs of turmoil, puzzlement and division. The coup d’état and anti-coup efforts in Turkey in mid-July 2016 can be regarded as a manifestation of these problems.

Second, developments in the world have become more unpredictable.

The world has yet to recognize the harmful effect of failing to resolve global issues, especially warfare and climate change. To fight against the IS, the whole world is joining forces. There is a danger of the “cold war” coming back. There is no unanimity within the EU in the resolution of the refugee issue. People cannot provide accurate predictions of extremist action by forces possessing nuclear weapons. The world has not joined hands to solve both traditional and non-traditional security issues in a radical, effective way.

Third, developments in the world have become interwoven and have had a strong impact on one another.

Amid the swirls of globalization, interwoven developments are inevitable. However, their extent and impact have become larger, faster and more profound, especially in economic terms. Given this situation, countries including Vietnam and India cannot help considering the impact of the world and the other way around when they try and solve their own problems.

The world economy is suffering greatly. The financial and monetary crisis from large economies has been incessant, causing major shocks for many countries. The United States, the largest economy in the world and the origin of the crisis, is the country with slow recovery. The G7 and EU countries have been faced with difficulties in their development as economic connectivity is problematic. Take Greece’s public debt crisis for example. Although Brexit may be beneficial to Britain in the long run, it has dealt a blow to the country’s economy. Newly emerging economies are showing signs of growth reduction. Russia has faced major difficulties since annexing Crimea. China and Brazil have been caught in a number of socio-economic issues. Only India seems to have a brighter future when it comes to economic development.

The swirls of globalization have made world countries to attract and affect one another.

Fourth, there are more negative developments than positive ones.

There are positive effects. Multi-polarity has brought about greater diversity and variety for the development of countries, thereby creating more new values needed for dynamic development.

On the bright side, the difficult world situation has encouraged many countries to reshape their sustainable development thinking. They have had to take more comprehensive, radical approaches for risk management, especially when it comes to certain global issues.

The agreement on the combat against global climate change was passed at the United Nations Summit COP 21 in Paris in December 2015. This was a historic agreement because for the first time, all 196 member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached agreement as to making all countries to cut down on their carbon dioxide emissions. The agreement is part legally binding and part voluntary. Its most important goal is to keep the global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius and to below 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial revolution period.

Thus, 20 years after the COP20 in Lima, Peru, and numerous conferences, the COP 21 ended up in success. Fundamental aspects of the combat against climate change, which may threaten the survival of the human race, were agreed upon. The bottom line is how to realize the agreement.

However, in general, there are more negative effects than positive ones. Across the world, development has exposed its weaknesses very rapidly and explicitly rather than slowly and implicitly. As a result, many countries have had to introduce effective, strategic counter-measures while adopting remedial, urgent solutions.

Fifth, the Asian picture remains somewhat dark.

There have been extremely complicated developments in Northeast Asia, South Asia, and especially Southeast Asia.

China has emerged as the world’s second largest economy. This is a rising entity with new energy. Therefore, it shows a strong desire for a survival space. Encouraged by its expansionist “tradition”, its rise has caused negative consequences for the region and the world. Seas and islands have become hotspots in light of this expansionist capacity.

Not until recently have sea and island disputes occurred. Instead, they have been around for quite a long while and in many places. However, disputes in the East China Sea among China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are more complicated. In the East Sea, there remain historical and legal issues. At least five countries are involved in disputes here, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia, not to mention Taiwan. The ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on July 12, 2016 was based on the 7th Appendix. By dismissing China’s nine-dash line (“cow’s tongue”), it is a step forward in international law so the dispute can be resolved peacefully. However, due to China’s attitude, the possibility of peaceful resolution of the dispute is very slim.

The East Sea is home to a heavy concentration of international maritime and air transport, so major powers including the United States and India cannot help securing their interests here.

The ASEAN, given its current structure and rules of operation, is still a loose association. It is more of a forum than a desired community based on three pillars: politics-security, economics, and culture-society.

A few remarkable events related to this issue can be recalled.

On July 20, 2012, ASEAN Foreign Ministers adopted the declaration “ASEAN Six-Point Principle on the East Sea”, calling for full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (2002), regulations concerning the implementation of the DOC, and introduction of the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC). These documents are expected to create preconditions for comprehensive, permanent resolution of East Sea disputes and maintenance of peace, stability, and maritime security and safety in the East Sea in particular and the region and the world in general.

Earlier, on November 4, 2002, at the 8th ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), the ASEAN countries and China signed the DOC, which was their first joint political document related to the East Sea issue and was considered to be a breakthrough in the ASEAN - China relations and to be beneficial to the resolution of disputes, prevention of conflicts and ensuring of peace and stability in the East Sea.

The ASEAN’s mechanisms, organizational regulations and activitieshave revealed more problems. With the deadlock at the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in late July 2016 in Vientiane (Laos) over the drafting of the joint statement, some ASEAN diplomats on July 24, 2016 wished to abandon the consensus principle within the ASEAN and replaced it with the majority principle.

Before this meeting, the nine member countries of the ASEAN agreed unanimously to include the call for countries to respect diplomatic and legal proceedings (i.e. the PCA) in the resolution of East Sea disputes and anti-militarization of the East Sea in the draft joint statement. However, on July 23, 2016, the meeting reached a deadlock after Cambodia rejected the inclusion of any opinion related to the PCA ruling of the case between the Philippines and China or “militarization of the East Sea”, which used to appear in previous ASEAN joint statements, in this joint statement.

On July 25, 2016, the meeting announced its statement, generally expressing deep concerns over recent and current developments in the East Sea and acknowledging some ministers’ concerns over island reclamation and escalation of activities in the region, which had undermined trust and had increased tension and might be detrimental to regional peace, security and stability. The statement affirmed the importance of the maintenance and promotion of peace, security, stability, and safety and freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea. The statement reaffirmed the need to increase mutual understanding, refrain from activities which might further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes according to international law. The statement emphasized the importance of non-militarization and refrainment of activities including changing of the status quo, which might further complicate the situation and escalate tension in the East Sea. The statement stressed the importance of full, effective implementation of the DOC while urging the parties concerned to work soon and effectively through the COC including increasing regular meetings between ASEAN and Chinese officials and meetings of the joint working group on the implementation of DOC. The above-mentioned realities reflected looseness within the ASEAN.

2. Some priorities in the Vietnamese - Indian relationship

Vietnam and India need each other, but their bilateral relationship is still faced with quite a few difficulties, especially in the present context.

On the part of Vietnam, it is enjoying a good number of development opportunities but is also faced with numerous difficulties and challenges. At present, Vietnam ranks 14th in the world in terms of population, but its economy only ranks 48th and its GDP per capita ranks 133rd. Faster growth is an urgent requirement in order to cope with the danger of “aging before becoming rich” when the golden population period will end in the next ten years. Its public debts are many. The pressure of debt payment is large. The settlement of bad debts is far from substantial. Policies and resources for development in coming periods are very limited.

Vietnam’s economic picture in the first half of 2016 was dark to some extent. Its GDP grew at a slower rate than expected. The World Bank predicted that Vietnam’s economic growth would reach about 6%, 0.2% lower than its prediction earlier in the year. Vietnam’s GDP growth in the first half of 2016 was only 5.52%, lower than in the same period of 2015 (6.32%) and its annual target of 6.7%.

The main reason was the slowdown in the growth of the agricultural and mineral exploitation industries, natural disasters (such as droughts and salt water penetration in the Central region and Mekong River Delta), marine pollution in Ha Tinh, and investment mistakes.

India is also faced with some difficulties in terms of its capacity and cooperation with other countries. Both Vietnam and India have been negatively affected by multidimensional, complicated, dramatic, unpredictable transformation in the world and regional situations.

In the current context, for the Vietnamese - Indian relationship to thrive, it is necessary to adopt the following solutions:

Firstly, the two countries need to tighten their bilateral cooperation and make further efforts in ensuring navigation and aviation security in the East Sea.

Here, the most common issue is one of ensuring security and safety of international navigation and overflight in this region. India is a power which wishes to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council when this organization is expanded, and Vietnam has expressed its support for this wish. Obviously, India and many other countries have genuine interests in regional skies and waters. Therefore, China’s expansion in the East Sea and its nine-dash line are unacceptable, not only to Vietnam but also to India.

As far as the Chinese - Indian relations are concerned, India does not only have border issues with China. China’s expansionist activities in the East Sea have set a bad precedent for its similar behavior, such as foundation of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the Indian Ocean. The basis for resolving all disputes in the East Sea is the international law.

India’s position about security and safety of navigation and overflight in the East Sea is far from strong, does not equate its role as a power with legitimate interests in the region, and does not provide solid guarantee for its announced “Look East Policy”. Therefore, the Vietnamese - Indian relations need to promote India’s position more substantially, given numerous developments in the current international context.

Secondly, Vietnam and India need to seek more effective cooperation in all areas.

The ASEAN+ form of cooperation has not proved to be really effective. The most effective form is bilateral cooperation. The ASEAN is not, and will not be, like the EU although it is trying to switch from an “association” to a “community”. Since there are still a good number of unresolved issues within the ASEAN, this is a sensitive point of which a non-ASEAN country (currently China) can take advantage for its own benefit.

As far as Vietnamese - Indian bilateral cooperation is concerned, India’s investment in Vietnam has been increasing fast in recent years. In 2015, it climbed by 179% compared to 2014 to reach US $540 million. However, India has only moved up two places to the 28th place among 110 countries and territories with investment in Vietnam. Bilateral trade between the two countries was equivalent to more than $8 billion in the fiscal 2013 - 2014 and $9.3 billion in the fiscal 2014-2015(1). Regarding defense, India is one of Vietnam’s providers of military equipment, weapons and military personnel training. Thus, India has played an increasingly important role in Vietnam’s development. These figures are positive at the present. However, they are very low compared to the two countries’ scope for strategic cooperation and their general cooperation potential.

Indian investors are enjoying significant opportunities as Vietnam has become part of the ASEAN economic community and has joined important trade agreements, especially the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Because of free trade agreements, Indian businesses with investment in Vietnam will be imposed a zero percent export tax. Each country has its own problems or difficulties, which must be resolved during the implementation of signed agreements. However, the history of international relations provides a common lesson: seeking similarities within differences, being sincere, positive, and progress-oriented, and taking appropriate steps to create good results for parties concerned.

Thirdly, it is essential to establish a Vietnamese studies center in India.

A good sign of Vietnamese - Indian cooperation is the foundation of the Centre for India Studies (CIS) at Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics in Hanoi launched by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang in 2014. Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Indian President said, “I believe this center will thrive to become the hub of academic exchange between the two countries and will enrich the bilateral relations between us”(2).

Although existential for only a while, the CIS has done a lot of work and has organized several symposiums. It has conducted some studies and has published a number of valuable publications. It has made an active contribution to the promotion of friendly cooperation and mutual understanding between the two countries’ scientists, politicians and people.

However, this is only what has happened in Vietnam, so a Vietnamese studies center needs to be established in India. Such center will surely help to promote cooperation between the two countries in general and intensify people-based diplomacy in particular. 

The world will keep seeing unpredictable changes. The road to sustainable development in each country is not smooth; so is the Vietnamese - Indian strategic cooperation. However, this cooperation will be successful if both countries make great efforts and seize development opportunities.


(1) According to statistics by Vietnam News Agency.

(2) According to http://cis.org.vn

Prof., Dr. Mach Quang Thang

Institute of Party History

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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