Indian President Ram Nath Kovind's state visit to Vietnam: What's on the cards?

On invitation from the President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong, President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind is scheduled for an official State visit to Vietnam from 18-21 November 2018. The President's visit comes at a time when the momentum of bilateral ties between India and Vietnam is at a high level. Over the years, relations between the two nations have strengthened, as reflected in several high-level visits by leaders from both sides. President Kovind's visit is scheduled just a few months after External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj visited Vietnam in August as well as the former Minister of State for External Affairs Shri M J Akbar, who paid a visit to the country from 10-13 September this year. Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Giriraj Singh, also visited Vietnam in September 2018. From the other side, a delegation from the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) led by Nguyen Ngoc Quang, Secretary of the Party Committee of Quang Nam Province had paid a working visit to India from 16-20 October 2018 to further strengthen cooperation between the CPV and Indian political parties.
Amidst multiple areas of bilateral partnership, defence cooperation, which is considered to be a significant one, is expected to be in the spotlight during the President's visit. India and Vietnam have nurtured their 46 years of bilateral relations, starting from the Strategic Partnership in 2007 to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2016. The Indian Armed Forces have been engaged with the capacity building of the Vietnamese Armed Forces, especially providing training in operating the Russian-built Kilo-class submarines and SU-30 fighter jets. Vietnam's navy is a part of India's multinational naval exercise MILAN. Talks are underway to increase maritime cooperation in the South China Sea for free and open Indo-Pacific by initiating collaboration between Coast Guards from both the sides. In the military sector, Indian and Vietnamese armies held their first bilateral military exercise VINBAX in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh from January 29 from February 3, 2018. It is anticipated that President Kovind will put emphasis on increasing India's footprints in defence production and greater cooperation in areas such as personnel training, technology, and defence research.
Bilateral trade between India and Vietnam has seen enormous growth over the past few years. India is now counted amongst the top ten trading partners of Vietnam. According to sources, trade between the two countries has reached the figure of US$12.8 billion in 2017-18, registering an impressive increase of 26.96 % and is advancing to meet the set target by 2020. Recently, a high level delegation from Vietnam led by Tran Thanh Nam, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development from Vietnam visited India, accompanied by senior government officials from Vietnam and Vietnamese businessmen from the agriculture sector. The purpose of the visit was to meet a delegation from Trade Promotion Council of India (TPCI) to discuss business opportunities and future cooperation between India and Vietnam, aiming to achieve the target of bilateral trade of US$15 bn by 2020. The target was set at a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, when the latter visited India in March this year. Given India's market size and continued economic improvements, alongwith Vietnam's rapidly rising economic profile, President Kovind is likely to put investment opportunities for Vietnamese companies in India as a priority.
Vietnam holds a significant position in India's 'Act East Policy' and both countries share an excellent relation with each other in the energy sector. Last year, despite harsh oppositions from Beijing and their continued firmness in the South China Sea, Vietnam renewed agreement with India's ONGC Videsh by an additional two years term, for oil exploration in Block 128. Indian business giants, including TATA Group, Adani Green Energy Ltd., and Suzlon Energy Ltd. have set foot in Vietnam very promptly after Vietnam welcomed foreign investments. So far, India has around 180 projects in Vietnam with the total assets of $814 million, standing 28th amongst the countries investing in Vietnam. President Kovind might discuss ways to make bilateral energy ties stronger with the counterpart by improving cooperation in greater access to renewable energy, oil, and natural gas and could also seek for a trilateral energy security partnership in South China Sea region.
Connecting dots from the cultural aspects, Vietnam appreciates the cultural and religious similarities between the two nations, which have helped in promoting the tourism industry in Vietnam. To further facilitate these cultural ties, VietJet has announced, earlier this year, four direct weekly flights, from New Delhi to Hanoi. Discussions relating to the same are however still in its initial phase. Spirituality, on the other hand, has unveiled a fresh and interesting aspect to India-Vietnam partnership. With the resurgence of Buddhism in Vietnam, the country has found a deep connect with India, which is home to Buddhism. In this respect, both Vietnam and India have time and again stressed on the importance of a better regional connectivity for tourism. As cultural diplomacy holds a significant position in Indian foreign policy, announcing a direct flight between India and Vietnam will eliminate most of the hurdles from the aspect of regional connectivity.
Vietnam is already a large recipient of Indian educational scholarships. Several Vietnamese students are coming to India to learn Sanskrit and given the interest, India may soon have to increase its quota of scholarships to these students. Given India�s proficiency in English-language-based education as well as science and technology learning, Vietnamese scholars in India are considered to be provided with a short-term English course lasting for three to six months so that they can gain the maximum out of their academic pursuit in India. Finally, greater promotion of Indian studies in Vietnam and Vietnamese studies in India will serve as a bridge between the two nations and enhance the understanding between the people of both countries.
One emerging sector which can further enhance the bilateral cooperation between India and Vietnam is traditional medicine, also known as, bio-politics. Traditional Medicine has a long and honoured history in Vietnam, as Vietnamese people have discovered hundreds of medicinal remedies and accumulated a large range of experience in health care, disease prevention and treatment which have remained useful. For example, eating ginger as an anti-cold and flu treatment, anti-malaria plants such as Artemisia and Thuong Xanh, turmeric for stomach issues etc. are some of the unique medicinal remedies. It can be closely related to India's own traditional medicinal practice called 'Ayurveda'. India and Vietnam can develop collaboration over these natural and organic medicinal systems and can help each other in bringing out cutting-edge research in the health sector. More so, it would also boost the economy of two nations as both of them have herb production in abundance which can be traded in global markets at reasonable prices.
India-Vietnam relations have been mutually responsive and cordial since their foundations were laid by founding fathers of the two countries-Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. With the first State visit of Indian President Ram Nath Kovind to Vietnam, it is much expected that it will give a substantial boost to the bilateral engagement, making the relationship a more comprehensive one. With shared apprehensions on China bringing India and Vietnam closer than ever before, it is likely to witness that India and Vietnam will continue expanding their bilateral ties in the future.
(Contributors: Abhishek Mohanty, Niharika Saikia, Keshav Jha, Syed Kamran Ali and Alakh Ranjan. The contributors are Researchers at the Centre for Vietnam Studies, New Delhi)