Why Vietnam matters?

Sonu Trivedi

India's outreach to Vietnam has been a clear indication of an open challenge to China in its backyard. The growing engagement between both countries will act as a security provider
In the 46th year of diplomatic relations, India and Vietnam have witnessed several high level visits and exchange of delegations. The forthcoming visit by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, will be the third such bilateral visit this year, which was earlier preceded by the visit of the late President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Tran Dai Quang in March 2018 and the Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visit earlier in January 2018. Several ministerial level delegations and inking of defence agreements between the two countries have also happened this year. It is hoped that the President's visit will consolidate the already existing political trust and cement strong defence and security cooperation between the two countries.
Some of the potential areas of cooperation in the non-traditional security areas include information technology, artificial intelligence, cyber security, solar alliances, traditional medicine, agricultural innovation, disaster management and climate change. As an emerging market and supplier in the regional value chain, Vietnam together with India could play a significant role in the global value chain. Capacity building and entrepreneurship development under development cooperation initiatives are already making progress and leaving their imprints.
Ram Nath Kovind is also expected to visit the ancient relics of Cham civilisation in My Son, which stand a time-tested testimony to our civilisational inheritance. The historical and cultural linkages between the two civilisations abound our mythologies and ancient literature. It is believed that Hinduism and Buddhism became the mainstream religion of the Chams living in the central and southern part of Vietnam. The architectural style of My Son relics, which is today a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the ancient archaeological remains scattered in the coastal areas of Vietnam from Da Nang to Binh Thuan, speak about these historical legacies.
Over the years, Vietnam has emerged as a significant player in India's foreign policy projection-a partner in sub-regional, regional, and multilateral fora. It is an integral member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and plays an important role in India's Act East policy. India is one of the three countries with whom Vietnam shares Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, together with China and Russia.
The elevation of the strategic partnership between the two countries to that of comprehensive strategic partnership is a clear indication of goodwill, trust and importance the two countries place on their relationship. It is also an acknowledgment of the existing strong bilateral defence and security ties and our mutual desire to contribute to regional peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity. Moving beyond the ideological linkages, both countries have endeavoured to revamp their relations in the changing geo-politics of the Indo-Pacific.
From strategic partnership in 2007 to a comprehensive partnership in 2016, the two countries have built up synergies for deeper cooperation between them. These have been envisaged in a multi-faceted and a multi-sectoral cooperation on a wide range of issues covering political, defence and security relations; trade and commerce; energy cooperation; science and technology; capacity building; connectivity links; health, education, culture, tourism and people to people exchange; and cooperation in international, regional and sub-regional forums.
Vietnam's geographical location in Asia Pacific has added to its geo-political importance for the regional players like China, India, Australia and Japan and also for the external powers like the United States and its re-balancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific. In the changing architecture of the world politics from trans-Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific, Vietnam emerges as a significant actor shaping the 'great game' politics in the region.
Given the evolving regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific, role of Vietnam in the emerging quadrilateral partnership in the region becomes significant. As Vietnam faces mounting pressure from China amidst its growing assertiveness in the disputed waters of its East Sea, it is looking to multiple partners in Asia and beyond. Vietnam has reached out to the United States and stepped up security cooperation with Japan, Australia long with India and a number of its Southeast Asian neighbours.
Amidst Vietnam's quest for multiple partners in Asia and beyond, India has been of very special strategic interest to Vietnam. Over the years, New Delhi has gradually expanded its defence and naval cooperation with Vietnam and assisted in its efforts in modernising the military force. India's outreach to Vietnam has been a clear indication of its open challenge to China in its backyard. It is believed that Vietnam's growing engagement with India will also lead to a stable balance of power and as a security provider in the region.
Fearing the growing aggression of China, Vietnam has welcomed and embraced India in this particular stance. The high-level comprehensive strategic partnership between India and Vietnam is equally important as it shares the anxieties and act as deterrence against the increasing Chinese presence in the region.
According to security experts, since China continues to increase its influence, defence and maritime cooperation and procurements from countries like India, the United States and Japan enable Vietnam to uphold its position.
Internal synergies between India and Vietnam have also played a significant role in bringing the two countries on the same page building upon mutual trust and cooperation over the years.
Vietnam as an emerging middle power and India as a net security provider in the region has the convergence which makes them an ideal partner for all seasons at the sub-regional, regional and multilateral forums.
Given the cultural-religious linkages, based on their closer association with the historical kingdoms and the impact of Buddhist philosophy to the anti-imperialist struggle during the colonial rule and foreign intervention during the Second World War and thereafter, both the countries have developed closer ties and a shared destiny based on a shared world view.
In the context of the geo-strategic paradigm and the forces shaping the internal dynamics of Vietnam, its foreign policy orientations vis-a-vis the great powers in the region and its engagement with India is a critical area of concern.
(The writer is a Fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and Assistant Professor at University of Delhi)