Vietnam and India are both facing aggressive China at their maritime and land borders respectively. The aggression which has been unleashed by China in the eastern Ladakh and also in the Arunachal Pradesh given the fact that China has been trying to change the line of actual control (LAC)so as to suit its own larger strategic motives. The US has made it very clear that it acknowledged Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India while reflecting the same in the case of South China Sea. It has warned China not to change the status quo in South China Sea. In this context the situation that both India and Vietnam are facing are identical. While India has made it very clear that despite several rounds of commander level talks (next one scheduled for October 12) it has not allowed Chinese encroachments and has made a very strong position on those heights which might see winter mobilisation of the armed forces from both sides. Vietnam, on the other hand, being the chairman of the ASEAN has made it very clear that the aggression that the China is releasing in the South China Sea would jeopardise any negotiations which are happening with regard to code of conduct and also hinder any negotiation process which is critical for developing regional sea code.
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made statements in support of both India and Vietnam because of the ongoing aggressive tactics that China has adopted against the two Asian neighbours. In the case of India, the aggression of the China at the borders has been a major issue during the discussions in the Quad meeting held in Japan on October 6, it has also brought to the fore China ‘s attitude towards its neighbours. The Quad countries need to undertake countermeasures in this regard. The Quad countries have also undertaken a number of initiatives such as in encrypted communication between the military forces, highly specialised information exchange through dedicated software, and sharing of intelligence on a real-time basis. The logistic support agreement that India has entered into with the Quad countries particularly Australia, the US and Japan has developed a new network where the Quad partners can sustain their surveillance and intelligence collection as well as maritime sorties over a longer period of time. More recently India, France and Australia have also undertaken their first trilateral meeting to discuss issues related to Indian Ocean and how the Indian Ocean can be secured from political instability and aggression from external powers having revisionist agenda.
France has a number of assets in the Indo Pacific region and therefore it is seen that in case of any extension of the Quad, France will be a legitimate entrant into this. Vietnam which is being seen as a critical player in the developing dynamics in South China Sea has also been quoted by the Quad members to be a part of the futuristic Quad plus initiative. It is proposed that the Quad plus would include Vietnam, Korea and New Zealand so as to make it a more comprehensive umbrella network for a larger logistics and strategy cooperative network which can have a larger footprint in the Indo Pacific region. Therefore, these kinds of configurations are already providing the platform for both India and Vietnam to work on building synergies and talk in synchronised way to develop common agenda for countering China. It has been time and again stated that in terms of cooperation in various sectors such as space, cyber and intelligence cooperation there is much which needs to be done between the two countries. India has opened the space sector for participation by private multinational entities as well as friendly countries, and both India and Vietnam can work on developing spy satellite network which can provide real-time data utilised by both the countries. It can be done through joint venture programmes and also engaging the technical research institutions from the both sides to develop geospatial observation satellites which are focused on a geosynchronous orbit.
In areas such as maritime security there is much which is desired from both the sides. The cooperation with regard to Coast Guards and sea police, and also conducting naval exercises in South China Sea as well as group sail with like-minded countries would enhance maritime security and built intraoperative capabilities. Vietnam has been looking for developing its coastal security networks, and India has been helping many of these littoral countries in Indian Ocean for coastal monitoring stations and donated few of the coastal radars which can help in monitoring the large coastline. In this context capacity building training and building better understanding is critical. The two countries should also start addressing the South China Sea as East Vietnam Sea in the joint statements so as to draw attention to this cause.
While both India and Vietnam are emerging economies and are looking for post Covid recovery therefore the two countries are trying not to enter into a war or skirmish in the contested borders- land and maritime. India and Vietnam have been conducting exercises in the South China Sea in the past but it needs to be reinvigorated so that proper messaging should be conveyed to China. Further, as both India and Vietnam would be joining as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in 2021 therefore it has become pertinent for the two countries to join hands together and raise issues in the highest table so as to draw attention to the Chinese aggressive moves in its periphery. This attention calling motion would do a lot good given the fact that most of the Europe in countries – UK, Germany and France have raised issues of concern in the UN and have castigated China on claiming territorial seas and Exclusive Economic Zones in the South China Sea. The, US on its own, has been conducting massive show of force and there has been concerns that this might lead to major tension in the region.
In this context it is important to note that India and ASEAN need to reinvent the maritime security dialogue given the fact that Vietnam is now chair of ASEAN. This concept was proposed by India during the visit of the ASEAN heads of the states/leaders during the Republic Day parade in 2018. Even in the ASEAN outlook for the Indo Pacific there has been much reference with regard to the utility of the maritime security in conceptualising the Indo Pacific and creating secure structures so that maritime trade and commerce can be carried on unhindered. Vietnam can create necessary structures in which the ASEAN and the committed dialogue partners can contribute to the larger issue of security in the region. The Treaty of Amity and cooperation need to be framed so that there are penalising actions and also possibility of unified response in case of recalcitrant nation or nations.
The two countries being the emerging leaders in South Asia and Southeast Asia can do a lot more if the political interactions and the need to address their security concerns gets the resonating responses from both sides.