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Southeast Asia

Vietnam-India Relations in 2020 and prospects for the future

Photo: VGP



India Vietnam relations in the context of COVID 19 pandemic has open new avenues in terms of further cooperation between the two countries. One of the important pillars of the comprehensive strategic partnership signed between the two countries in 2016 was developing economic complementarities, promoting trade and investment, political understanding and promoting defence corporation.

India has been proposing that Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) and the ASEAN outlook towards the new geopolitical concept have inherent complementarities which can be explored for promoting trade, investment and better understanding on security challenges in this region. The two countries conducted the 17th joint commission meeting in August 2020 and the meeting explored new areas for corporation which included trade, science and technology, and promoting corporation in critical areas such as marine sciences, new emerging technologies, civil nuclear energy, renewable energy and space.

India has instituted a new division in its External Affairs Ministry which deals with New Emerging Strategic Technologies (NEST) looking into governance, legal and technical aspects of this new domain. India and Vietnam need to look into promoting joint projects and also looking into feasible technologies which can be harnessed by both the sides. Also developing better coding and encryption software should be the motto of taking the relationship to the next level.

While interacting with the CLMV countries very recently, Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar has categorically stated that there is a need for quick impact projects (QIP) which can be initiated and also brought to fruition in areas such as water resource management, sustainable development goals, developing digital connectivity and also conservation of heritage. Out of the 12 quick impact projects which have been earmarked for Vietnam, India has undertaken initiatives to start seven projects in water resource management and five projects related to developing educational infrastructure in Vietnam.

While both India and Vietnam will be serving as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in 2021, coordination between the two is important to raise issues of security in South China Sea, dams on Mekong and Brahmaputra by China would be common points of convergence. Also looking into the possibilities of cooperation with the regional supply chain resilience need to be discussed between the two countries which are the emerging economies in South and Southeast Asia.

In the last week of November Vietnamese defence minister General Ngô Xuân Lịch has invited India defence Minister Rajnath Singh for discussing areas of cooperation in developing capabilities in defence industry as well as collaboration in training and sharing best practices under the United Nations peacekeeping operations. One of the interesting facets of the ties between the two countries is to develop corporation in the field of hydrography. The hydrography is critical for understanding marine life as well as exploring possibilities of minerals and sulphates at the sea surface. The hydrographic data is also critical for protecting the marine life and also for defence purposes particularly submarines operations in the underwater terrain.

One of the possibilities that can be explored between the two countries has been in developing institutionalise framework for research in defence, and developing the industrial defence complex. As it is well known that Vietnam is one of the major defence spenders in the region but it also wants to develop its defence industry so asked to cater to its increasing needs in terms of maintenance, developing systems and also better avenues for training office personnel particularly in simulation and virtual reality (VR).

Prime Minister Modi in his speech given at 17th ASEAN- India summit Stressed on the need of promoting physical, digital, financial, maritime and economic connectivity between India and ASEAN. He also stated that there is a need for maintaining freedom of navigation and over flight in South China Sea. The statement itself showed how India is keen that the SCS should abide by the UNCLOS and the parties to the dispute should maintain restraint. It was alluding to Chinese assertive activities in the waters and how the tensions have mounted in recent months.

In the India-ASEAN Plan of Action 2021-2025, the stress has been on developing maritime security architecture. It also stated that International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Maritime Organisation (IMO) provisions need to be complied with in the region. India is keen on developing better understanding with ASEAN nations on capacity building, technical cooperation, and developing common standards for maritime information sharing. In all these initiatives support of Vietnam would be critical. Vietnam has been seen as the important player in the region because of its successful fight against COVID-19 and India also looks for export of Indian vaccine to the country whenever it passes the trials stage. Also developing common research area in medicine and protecting communities form transmission of such kind of diseases would figure high in the dialogue between the two countries.

As it has been seen in the year 2020 that cyber, space and cooperation between think tanks and technical institutions would be vital for taking the Comprehensive Strategic partnership to the next level. It is possible that India would institute new dialogue forum on science and technology, and jointly collaborate in developing software related to cyber security and also military communication. India would be keen to sign a logistics support agreement with Vietnam in future given the outreach of the Indian navy and the similar kind of agreement has been discussed with the Philippines in the past. With the Malabar exercises getting bigger and more intense in participation, Indian navy would seek logistical support in the Pacific Ocean and East Seas.

India is opening its space sector for the private players and Vietnam could harness the resources that India ahs and can work on launching few weather satellites as well as other satellites which can be instrumental in broadcasting and telecommunication. India and Vietnam have developed the unique forums to address new challenges and it would be prudent for both sides to look into possibilities and develop better understanding on trade, investment and services. As already direct flights have provided stimulus to developing economic links but the regular interactions have been marred by the pandemic. It would be good to see that formal interactions between political leaders and also institutions would put the comprehensive strategic partnership on the higher orbit.

Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]

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Southeast Asia

Learning to build a community from a ”Solok Literacy Community”in the West Sumatra



Established on September 21, 2020 in Solok City, West Sumatra Province, Indonesia. Solok Literacy Community initiated by the young people of Solok City has grown rapidly into a community that has its own trendsetter among young people. Bringing narratives smelling of education, The Literacy Solok Community has a movement with measurable progressiveness that can be seen from its flagship programs.

Starting from the free reading stall movement that has been moving in various corners of Solok City over the past few months. The concept of film surgery that provides proactive discussion space for all segmentation in society. “Diskusi Ngopi” activities which in fact is the concept of FGD (Focus Group Discussion), run with interesting themes and issues so that it can be considered as one of the favorite programs that are often attended by many young people in Solok. Then a class of interests and talents aimed at reactivating the soft skills and great talents of the children of Solok City.

Solok Literacy Community has a long-term goal of making Solok City as a Literacy City in 2025. With these noble targets, of course we together need small steps in the form of programs that run consistently over time. Because after all, a long journey will always begin with small steps in the process of achieving it.

Many appreciations and positive impressions from the surrounding community continue to be received by the Solok Literacy Community. This is certainly a big responsibility for the Solok Literacy Community to continue to commit to grounding literacy in Solok City. Solok Literacy Community activities can be checked directly through instagram social media accounts @solok_literasi. Carrying the tagline #penetrategloomy or penetrating the gloom and #lawanpembodohan, members of the Solok Literacy Community or better known as Soliters, will always make innovative breakthroughs in completing the goal of making Solok City 2025 as a Literacy City.

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia Submit Extended Continental Shelf Proposal Amidst Pandemic: Why now is important?



Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah*

Indonesia’s active cases of coronavirus have been getting more worrying with more than 100.000 active cases. With nearly a year of pandemic, Indonesia’s not only facing a serious health crisis but also an economic catastrophe. People lose their jobs and GDP expected to shrink by 1.5 percent. Jakarta government therefore should work hard to anticipate the worst condition in 2021.

With this serious economic threat, Indonesia surely has to explore maximize its maritime geographic potential to pass this economic crisis and gain more national revenue to recover from the impact of the pandemic. And there where the Extended Continental Shelf submission should play an important role.

Recently this week, Indonesia submit a second proposal for the extended continental shelf in the southwest of the island of Sumatra to the United Nations Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Continental shelf is that part of the seabed over which a coastal State exercises sovereign rights concerning the exploration and exploitation of natural resources including oil and gas deposits as well as other minerals and biological resources.

Therefore, this article argues that now is the right time for Indonesia to maximize its Continental Shelf claim under the law of the sea convention for at least three reasons.

First, one could not underestimate the economic potential of the Continental Shelf, since the US Truman Proclamation in 1945, countries have been aware of the economic potential from the oil and gas exploration in the continental shelf.

By being able to explore and exploit natural resources in the strategic continental shelf, at least Indonesia will gain more revenue to recover the economy. Even though indeed the oil and gas business is also hit by the pandemic, however, Indonesia’s extended continental shelf area might give a future potentials area for exploitation in long term. Therefore, it will help Indonesia prepare a long-term economic strategy to recover from the pandemic. After Indonesia can prove that there is a natural prolongation of the continental shelf.

Second, as the Indo-Pacific region is getting more significant in world affairs, it is strategic for Indonesia to have a more strategic presence in the region. This will make Indonesia not only an object of the geopolitical competition to utilize resources in the region, but also a player in getting the economic potential of the region.

And third, it is also showing that President Joko Widodo’s global maritime fulcrum agenda is not yet to perish. Even though in his second term of administration global maritime fulcrum has nearly never been discussed, this momentum could be a good time to prove that Indonesia are still committed to the Global maritime fulcrum by enhancing more maritime diplomacy.

Though this is not the first time Indonesia submit an extended Continental Shelf proposal to the CLCS, this time it is more likely to be accepted by the commission. Not to mention the geographical elements of natural prolongation of the continental shelf that has to be proved by geologist.

The fact that Indonesia has no maritime border with any neighboring states in the Southwest of Sumatra. Therefore, unlike Malaysia’s extended continental shelf proposal in the South China Sea that provoke many political responses from many states, it is less likely that Indonesia extended continental shelf proposal will raise protest from any states.

However, the most important thing to realize the potential benefit of the extended continental shelf as discussed earlier, Indonesia should have a strategy and road map how what to do after Indonesia gets the extended continental shelf.

*Arie Afriansyah is a Senior Lecturer in international law and Chairman of the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at University of Indonesia.

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Southeast Asia

The China factor in India’s recent engagement with Vietnam



Photo courtesy - PTI

In its fourth year since the elevation of ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, December 2020 witnessed an enhanced cooperation between New Delhi and Hanoi, ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to defence and maritime cooperation, amid common concerns about China.


In an effort to boost defence cooperation, the navies of India and Vietnam conducted atwo-day passage exercise (Passex) in the South China Sea on December 26 and 27, 2020, reinforcing interoperability and jointness in the maritime sphere. Two days before this exercise has begun, an Indian naval ship arrived at Nha Rong Port in Ho Chi Minh City to offer humanitarian assistance for the flood-affected parts of Central Vietnam.

Before this, in the same week, during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on December 21, both countries inked seven agreements on miscellaneous areas of cooperation and jointly unveiled a vision and plan of action for the future, as both countries encounter the common Chinese threat in their respective neighbourhoods.

Vietnam’s disputes with China

India’s bone of contention with China ranges from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Both Vietnam and India share territorial borders with China. Well, it seems odd that despite its common socialistic political backgrounds, China and Vietnam remains largely hostile. 

Having a 3,260 km coastline, covering much of the western part of South China Sea, Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps with Chinese claims based on the legally invalid and vaguely defined Nine-Dash Line concept, unacceptable for all the other countries in the region, including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

In 2016, China lost a case brought out by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague when the court ruled that Beijing’s had no legal basis to claim ‘historic rights’ as per the nine-dash line. China rejected the ruling and continued to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it has been doing since 2013, some of them later militarized to gain favourable strategic footholds in the sea and the entire region.

The Paracel and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea has been historically considered part of Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the First Indochina War, gave the erstwhile South Vietnam control of territories south of the 17th Parallel, which included these island groups. But, China lays claims on all of these islands and occupies some of them, leading to an ongoing dispute with Vietnam.

China and Vietnam also fought a border war from 1979 to 1990. But today, the disputes largely remain in the maritime sphere, in the South China Sea.

China’s eyes on the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean has been long regarded as India’s sphere of influence. But with the Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar megaproject proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and the Maritime Silk Road connecting three continents, which is part of it, China has grand ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Theories such as ‘String of Pearls’ shed light on an overambitious Beijing, whichattempts to encircle India with ports and bases operating under its control.

China has also opened a military base in Djibouti, overlooking the Indian Ocean, in 2017 and it has also gained control of the strategic port of Hambantota in the southern tip of the island of Sri Lanka, the same year.

Chinese presence in Gwadar in Pakistan, where the Maritime Silk Route meets the land route of BRI, is also a matter of concern for India. Moreover, the land route passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is under Pakistani control, but is also claimed by India.  China has also been developing partnerships with Bangladesh and Myanmar to gain access to its ports in the Bay of Bengal.

Notwithstanding all this, India’s response has been robust and proactive. The Indian Navy has been building partnership with all the littoral states and small island states such as Mauritius and Seychelles to counter the Chinese threat.

India has also been engaged in humanitarian and developmental assistance in the Indian Ocean region, even much before the pandemic, to build mutual trust and cooperation among these countries. Last month, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Sri Lanka to revive a trilateral maritime security dialogue with India’s two most important South Asian maritime neighbours, the islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Foe’s foe is friend

The Indian Navy holding a Passex with Vietnam in the South China Sea, which is China’s backyard, is a clear message to Beijing. This means, if China ups the ante in the Indian Ocean or in the Tibetan border along the Himalayas, India will intensify its joint exercises and defence cooperation with Vietnam.

A permanent Indian presence in the South China Sea is something which Beijing’s never wish to see materialise in the new future. So, India’s engagement with Vietnam, which has a long coast in this sea, is a serious matter of concern for Beijing.

During this month’s virtual summit, Prime Minister Modi has also reiterated that Vietnam is a key partner of India in its Indo-Pacific vision, a term that Beijing vehemently opposes and considers as a containment strategy against its rise led by the United States.

Milestones in India-Vietnam ties – a quick look-back

There was a time when India supported Vietnam’s independence from France, and had opposed US-initiated war in the Southeast Asian country in the latter half of the previous century. Later, India hailed there-unification of North and South Vietnams.

Even though India maintained consulate-level relations with the then North and South Vietnams before the re-unification, it was elevated to ambassadorial level in 1972, thereby establishing full diplomatic ties that year.

During the Vietnam War, India supported the North, despite being a non-communist country, but without forging open hostilities with the South. Today, India partners with both France and the United States, Vietnam’s former colonizers, in its Indo-Pacific vision, comfortably along with Vietnam as geopolitical dynamics witnessed a sea change in the past few years and decades.

Way ahead

Today, these two civilizational states, sharing religio-cultural links dating many centuries back, is coming together again to ensure a favourable balance of power in Asia. Being a key part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and ‘Quad Plus’ conceptualisation, Vietnam’s role is poised to increase in the years to come as China continues to project its power in Asia and beyond.

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