During the visit to Vietnam by Modi in 2016, economic cooperation was highlighted as a strategic priority in the ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” between the two countries
Having witnessed various strategic convergences in 2016, ties between India and Vietnam are on an upswing.
Ton Sinh Thanh, Vietnam’s Ambassador to India, believes that ties are bound to get deeper and broader in the current year.
India has particularly pushed its ties with Vietnam, as one of the key anchors of its ‘Act East’ policy. and these have been elevated to the status of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
Thanh is posted in New Delhi as Vietnam’s Ambassador to India, Nepal and Bhutan. In an exclusive interview with IR&A, Thanh outlined his vision for bilateral ties.
Q. 2016 saw great developments in ties between India and Vietnam. What have been some major highlights you would like to flag?
In 2016, a lot of progress was made in the bilateral relations between Vietnam and India. The two countries exchanged many important visits such as those by the two defence ministers. The foreign consultation and strategic dialogue between the two foreign ministries happened.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Vietnam after 15 years. The year ended with the official visit to India of Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, President of the Vietnam National Assembly.
During the visit to Vietnam by Modi, our strategic partnership was upgraded to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ and many agreements of cooperation were reached in the areas of defence-security, economy, science-technology, culture-education.
Q. Trade between India and Vietnam features as a significant priority in bilateral ties. What steps were taken in 2016 to enhance these?
Bilateral trade between India and Vietnam has seen growing over the past many years. India is now among the top ten trading partners of Vietnam. According to data from Vietnam, two-way trade between Vietnam and India in 2016 reached USD 5.4 billion, in which Viet Nam’s export to India was USD 2.69 billion and Vietnam’s import from India was USD 2.71 billion. However, according to Indian government data, trade volume crossed USD 9.2 billion in fiscal year 2014-15.
Both sides have agreed on a new trade target of USD 15 billion by 2020. Indian investments in Vietnam have remained constant at around USD 1 billion but are expected to rise in the coming years. Major sectors of investment are energy, mineral exploration, agro-processing, sugar manufacturing, agro-chemicals, IT and auto components.
During the visit to Vietnam by Modi in 2016, economic cooperation was highlighted as a strategic priority in the ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” between the two countries.
Many business delegations have been exchanged. The third session of the Indo-Vietnam trade sub-committee was held in New Delhi in March 2016. Vietnam actively participated in the India-CLMV conclave 2016 in Chennai. As a result of investment promotion activities taken by Vietnam in 2016, several big economic groups of India have shown their interests in investing in Vietnam.
Q. Defence cooperation between India and Vietnam is emerging in a big way, especially since the transfer of missile and missile technology by India to Vietnam is in the offing. How do you see ties developing in this domain in 2017?
The defence ties between Vietnam and India have been developing strongly over the past years. Vietnamese Defence Minister Ngo Xuan Lich paid an official visit to India in December 2016 just few months after the upgrade to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
On his first visit to India, the Vietnamese defence minister was accompanied by the commanders of all services and a large group of defence enterprises. This visit has further enhanced comprehensive cooperation between the two countries in the field of defence. The missile sector is also one of the areas in the two countries' defence cooperation. Vietnam appreciates the valuable assistance from the Indian side, especially in patrol boats building, naval and air force training.
In 2017, the two sides will focus on implementing the bilateral defence agreements reached during the visits of the two defence leaders, such as the visit to India by former Defence Minister Phung Quang Thanh in 2015, the visit to Vietnam by former Indian Defence Minister Parrikar in 2016 and recent visit to India by Defence Minister Ngo Xuan Lich.
Q. India and Vietnam celebrated the 45th anniversary of their diplomatic relations in January 2017. Apart from economics and defence, peace-keeping has been another domain of close cooperation for the two nations. What have been the most significant steps taken in this regard?
During the visit to India by Ngo Xuan Lich, India and Vietnam pledged to cooperate comprehensively in all areas, including peacekeeping cooperation. India is the largest contributor, the most sacrificed, and also the most experienced country in peacekeeping operations led by the United Nations.
In terms of peacekeeping cooperation, India is willing to assist Vietnam in training peacekeeping mission officers, in sharing practical experience, training in English language, and supplying equipment.
A good example of peacekeeping cooperation was the FTX-2016 international "humanitarian demining" exercise co-hosted by India and Vietnam in March 2016 in Pune.
Q. As India works to bolster its 'Act East' policy, and given that Vietnam is a significant member of the ASEAN community, how has it assisted and enabled India in connecting to the East Asian part of the world?
Vietnam fully supports the “Act East” policy of India and is willing to be an active bridge for India to develop ties with other members of ASEAN. Being the coordinator for ASEAN in the dialogue partnership with India from 2015-2018, Vietnam is in a very favourable position to promote further the Strategic Partnership between ASEAN and India. Vietnam is working closely with other ASEAN members and India to celebrate 25 years of Dialogue Partnership and 15 years of Strategic Partnership this year.
Q. People-to-people ties are often seen as ways to promote cooperation and cordiality between nations. Promotion of tourism and educational exchange are also a part of the bilateral agenda. What steps are proposed to be taken in the current year to give these interactions a boost?
We attach much importance to educational, cultural and people-to-people ties, which is considered as one of the five pillar of the strategic partnership between the two countries. Increasing number of Vietnamese students come to India to study under different scholarship programmes including the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, General Cultural Scholarship Scheme (GCSS), Educational Exchange Programme (EEP) and the Mekong- Ganga Cooperation Scholarship Scheme (MGCSS). There has been active exchange of scholars, students, many film festivals, art exhibitions, fashion shows in both countries.
Tourist flow between our two countries is also on the rise. Last year, around 90,000 Indian tourists arrived in Vietnam and thousands of Vietnamese pilgrims came to see Buddhist holy sites in India. However, this is still not commensurate with the huge potentials of the two countries in tourism sector. It is expected that with the direct flights from Ho Chi Minh City to New Delhi to be opened by Viejet Air from this July, connectivity between the two countries would be improved and the tourist and people-to-people relations would have a great chance to be boosted.