PM Modi visited Vietnam in 2016, on his way to China for the G-20 summit. The visit, the first by an Indian prime minister in 15 years, made it obvious that India was no longer hesitant to impress it’s footprint in China’s periphery. The Indian government has made no secret of its desire to play a forceful role in the Indo-Pacific region, given China-Pakistan military nexus, up north. PM Modi himself has argued that India can be an anchor for peace, prosperity, and stability in Asia and Africa. A more ambitious outreach to Vietnam, therefore, should not be surprising.
Indian warship INS Kiltan reached Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday with 15 tonnes of humanitarian relief supplies for people affected by floods in central Vietnam.
In the backdrop of PM Modi signing key agreements with Vietnam counterpart on 21 December, with special emphasis on defence and strategic cooperation, the warship will undertake another freedom of seas “passing exercise” with the Vietnam People’s Navy in South China Sea, from 26-27 December.
China Pleads with Vietnam
No Third Party(India) in Code of Conduct negotiations
China blatantly claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons. However, several ASEAN member countries, including Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei, have counter claims.
India-Vietnam strategic cooperation started in 2015, when the two signed a Joint Vision Statement for 2015-20, which propels them to regular defence exchange and interaction, defence trade, training, and cooperation in the development of new technologies. ASEAN nations have approached India, exploring the idea to procure major defence and weapon systems, including the Akash and BrahMos missiles.
PM Modi and his counterpart, the Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, met in Vietnam in September 2016, they upgraded the relationship to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ which signalled a serious and calculated push by India to strengthen strategic ties with one of its most important partners in Southeast Asia.
In the last few years, India has exported personal protective items or bulletproof gear and armour plating for military vehicles to the Philippines. Already defence deals with Indonesia and Vietnam to sell Indo-Russian missile, BrahMos is under finalization. With BrahMos under consideration by BRICS countries in Africa, Gulf allies like UAE and now in the South China Seas, it logically lends itself to similarity in equipment, towards joint operations in future, in close quarters with the QUAD, against China.
Maritime cooperation between Vietnam and India remains the focus, with Vietnam giving India the right to use its port in Nha Trang, situated close to the strategically significant Cam Ranh Bay, overlooking the Chinese illegally claimed seas. The Indian Navy has been making regular visits to this southern Vietnamese port, especially this year’s patrolling of the South China Sea by Indian Navy. Vietnam has even asked India to develop this naval facility.
With its back against the wall, now China has recently been wooing Vietnam, to have talks on South China Sea, one on one, without reference to a third party. Obvious to all, that is reference to India, which has now been shunned by Vietnam, and reaffirmed India-Vietnam cooperation and strategic vision in South China Seas.
Enemy of Enemy a Natural Friend?
Vietnam has been harassed for a long time from the aggression of China, in the South China sea and on the border also. India has been having meddling from China in similar tones, along with support to Terrorist state Pakistan, and shielding of the terror infrastructure worldwide, by China.
India and Vietnam enjoy strong bilateral relations for a long time in their history. Right from Nehru and Ho Chi Minh’s time in 1950’s to even today with Modi and Nguyen Tan Dung. Both the countries had been majorly affected by the Chinese policies in this region. Vietnam just like India has suffered from China’s intrusion in their sovereign land.
China knows about this co-operation and they know that they have been surrounded with rivals who are almost equal in strength when they come together.
The biggest bone of the contention between India-Vietnam and China is the issue of oil-exploration in the South China sea which China shouldn’t have any control on and which they have constantly meddled to influence their control. The Spartly islands or the collection of 14 islands in the South China sea is the major issue of conflict. China should not have any control on these islands and they continue to boost their strength and try to push India and other neighboring countries away.
China currently claims 90% of the ownership in these islands in the South China sea which the United Nations had clearly rejected. They claimed that they should control this region due to their 2000-year-old history under the nine-dash-line. Which is not accepted by United Nations and the adjoining countries in this region like Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Japan.
India recently had deployed its Naval ships to counter china’s claims in this region. US also doesn’t like China’s growing dominance in this region and their testing of missiles for nuclear warheads.
India is clearly, not only supporting Vietnam because of its good relations with them, but because this region requires their meddling so that China’s immoral beliefs can be challenged.
Geography Stumps China Every time
Bandit in the Sea South Of China
The territories of Philippines and Vietnam are within the 200 nautical miles of international sea ruling(as per UNICLOS law). Philippines, particularly have 16th-century old maps showing the Spratly Islands and the Panatag shoal when Philippines was still called Las Islas Filipinas under Spanish colony.
China on the other hand, even in early 1900 maps, didn’t reflect a faintest notion that they are even remotely Chinese territories. Evidently, still a lot of Filipino seafarers run big cargo and cruise ships in many countries and a lot of aspiring foreign seafarers even study maritime at their universities.
Geographically speaking, these contested waters are much nearer to Vietnam and Philippines than China. Vietnam is not claiming the whole of South China Sea like China, but rightfully claiming what is theirs, in accordance to UN laws, similar to the neighbour’s claim, particularly the West Philippine Sea for the Philippines which includes the Spratlys and the Panatag Shoal (which fall within the legal 200 nautical miles).
Legally speaking, Philippines won the international court ruling in Hague debunking the nine dash line as there were no known historical or legal bases to China’s claim. They only became a hot topic in China in 1946, when Communists were on the roll in China. Anyway, how could China not lose the case when it was invited to attend court hearings to counter the court proceedings but they didn’t attend because for them they own the whole South China Sea, no ifs or buts. Reality is, they can’t present enough valid evidence so they lost the face to be in attendance. So legally, Philippines owns a part in that area which is the West Philippine Sea.
Vietnam is also doing the same to counter China’s aggressive claims.
Encircling China Slowly but Surely
China is a bully in South China Seas, and incessantly being a nuisance to all the countries in the region, including India’s strategic ally Vietnam.
India and Vietnam have an agreement on cooperative oil exploration in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea. Indian companies ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) and Essar Oil are presently active in major ventures for offshore oil and gas exploration in Vietnam.
The Indo-Pacific region is the hub of trade and global economy and is also the fastest growing region of the world. India and Vietnam are key strategic partners for promoting peace, prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, and singularly exist as a bilateral relationship, without impinging on India’s quest in the region along with the Quad. Substantial partnership among navies, coast guards and security agencies to secure sea lanes of trade and communication, to counter terrorism, terror financing, drug & human trafficking and piracy, are in order.
Spastically assessing the trade relationship, there are 132 Indian projects with total investments of about $ 1.35 billion, with India ranked at 25 in terms of total investments into Vietnam. This is expected to rise in the coming years, while business hubs are migrating from China to neighbouring countries like Vietnam , Bangladesh and India. Indian companies have been involved in sectors like consulting, energy, mining and agricultural growth, and solar and energy cooperation in Vietnam.
The two leaders released a joint vision document and a plan of action for bilateral engagements during 2021-23, with India extending a $100-million defence line of credit for 12 high speed patrol boats for Vietnam. The boats being built for the Vietnam Border Guard are meant to enhance coastal security and prevent illegal activities, with an eye towards China. This is while negotiations for BrahMos are in finalization stage.
Hence the seven agreements for cooperation in areas of defence, petrochemicals and nuclear energy, against the backdrop of concerns in both countries about China’s aggressive actions across the region, underlines the fact that it is the very logical step towards South East Asia having ‘good riddance’ of the Communist Chinese threat to global peace.
25 Dec 20/ Friday Written By: Fayaz