Taking the India-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to the next level: Scholar

WVR - As Minister of Public Security To Lam was elected as the new President, Professor Dr. Reena Marwah has written an article suggesting that President To Lam will elevate the India-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to new heights by pursuing a foreign policy of multilateralism, diversifying foreign relations, and embodying the diplomatic identity of the "Vietnamese bamboo tree." The World and Vietnam Report would like to present extracts of the article to our readers.
Taking the India-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to the next level: Scholar

To Lam was elected as President of Vietnam for the 2021–2026 tenure during the 7th session of the 15th National Assembly in Hanoi on May 22. (Photo: VNA)

On the morning of May 22, the National Assembly in Hanoi confirmed Minister of Public Security, General To Lam’ as new President. In his inaugural address, the new President assured the National Assembly that he would effectively deploy the foreign policy of multilateralism, diversifying foreign relations, imbuing the diplomatic identity of "Vietnamese bamboo tree", proactively and positively. He expressed his commitment towards combining the Party's external affairs with State diplomacy and people to people diplomacy, in addition to promoting and deepening the relationship between Vietnam and other countries, especially neighboring countries and traditional friends.

Persistence, patience and pragmatism coupled with independence and national interests are the hallmark of the foreign policies of India and Vietnam. While these elements define the bamboo analogy for ensuring that Vietnam cautiously balances and manages its position amidst intensifying great power competition, India, too, remains steadfast in ensuring that its foreign policy is devoid of external pressures even as it champions the cause of the Global South. With its vision of “The World is One family,’ India has been a force in shaping the global economy. Given the similarities in growth patterns among India and Vietnam and their shared goal of building an “inclusive, free and open Indo-­Pacific,” New Delhi and Hanoi share a vision for a genuinely multipolar Asia, and a multipolar Indo-Pacific.

The bulwark for this shared vision is the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of 2016. Ever since, bilateral ties have been on an upswing. With several high-level visits on both sides, it is no surprise that Vietnam’s President To Lam visited India at the invitation of Shri Ajit Doval, National Security Adviser to the Prime Minster of India from 9-10 April 2023. It is for this reason that during their delegation-level meeting on 10 April 2023 in New Delhi, on bilateral security cooperation, both sides expressed their commitment to “further deepen the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries and enhance the linkages on strategic, security and defense matters, contributing to maintaining peace, prosperity and stability of both countries, the region and the world at large.” The leaders further reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, maritime safety and security and freedom of navigation and over-flight in the Indo-Pacific Region. Both sides also emphasized the importance of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and reaffirmed their belief that any differences must be resolved peacefully by respecting international law, without resorting to threats, aggression or the unilateral or forceful change in the status quo. They also exchanged views on the recent developments in their respective regions. Shri Nityanand Rai, Minister of State of Home Affairs had also called on General Ph To Lam. (Indian Embassy in Hanoi, April 11, 2023). It is interesting to note that the current President To Lam, a Vietnamese politician, has been Minister of Public Security of Vietnam since 9 April 2016. He has evidently been integral to the process of galvanising India-Vietnam relations since 2016.

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) and the way forward

It is worth noting that ever since India embarked on its ‘Look East’ policy (LEP), in the early 1990s, there are few countries with which India upgraded its relations within a short span of time. India’s relationship with Vietnam developed to a strategic partnership in 2007 and a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2016, soon after India’s LEP advanced to the Act East Policy. India’s strategic partnership with Vietnam reflects it’s high appreciation of the Indian factor in its foreign policy since the Southeast Asian country promoted multilateralism and diversification in its international relations.

Vietnam has also repeatedly affirmed its support for various policies of India. During his visit to India (2014), Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung affirmed that the Party, the State and people of Vietnam are conscious of the great support and assistance extended to Vietnam by India in the years of its struggle for national Independence and reunification as well as national construction and defense in contemporary times. Additionally, Vietnam has supported India's Look East/Act East policy, and has reinforced India’s position in becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council

Vietnam also endorsed India’s membership in regional cooperation mechanisms such as ASEAN Regional Forum, (ARF), ASEAN-India Summit meeting, East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM+) and Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF). It has always perceived India as a strategic partner to balance its relations with other major powers and to protect its national interests. In the emergent Indo-Pacific geopolitics, Vietnam's views converge on many aspects with India's vision with both countries emphasizing inclusivity, i.e the participation of all countries in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Vietnam has also welcomed India's Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). In Vietnams’ view, India’s IPOI helps facilitate conducive conditions to reap advantages in implementation of its multi-directional, multi-lateral and diversified foreign policy.

Even prior to the 2016 formalisation of the CSP, Vietnam has attached importance to defense cooperation with India, its traditional friend. Bilateral defense cooperation became institutionalized in 1994. India hence emerged as an important partner of Vietnam in important areas of Vietnam's defense, including military training and education.

While defense related partnership will remain a vital link in securing the seas around India and Vietnam, there are other aspects of bilateral cooperation which must be prioritized by the new President of Vietnam. These include: a) Forging connectivity by land, sea and air, thereby providing a further fillip to people to people contacts and tourism; b) Strengthening the economic linkages to enhance bilateral trade and new supply chains, promote development partnerships and commit to sustainable development goals; c) Promoting defense industry cooperation, promoting new partnerships - cyber security, maritime security, readiness to recover after disasters; d) Cooperation in science and technology, information and communication technology, space, civil nuclear, renewable energy, digital economy; e) Promote practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region based on the convergence between the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and the India Initiative on the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI); Strengthen strategic partnerships on regional and global issues as climate change, money laundering, illicit trafficking among others.

It is evident that Vietnam will always be a priority partner for every leader, just as Vietnam considers traditional friends and neighbors as reliable friends in its relentless pursuit of “building and firmly protecting the socialist Vietnamese Fatherland”. With the unity between "the Party's will and the people's heart", Vietnam's affinities with friendly, reliable nations and India's burgeoning alliances with like-minded socialist democracies will continue to converge.

* Professor, Dr. Reena Marwah, Author of India-Vietnam Relations: Development Dynamics and Strategic Alignment, 2022, Springer; Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi, India.

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