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.