AS CHINA rises, Vietnam is mapping out a strategy to partner with India in an effort to protect freedom of navigation and unimpeded trade in the Indo-Pacific region.
The countries will join efforts to maintain a law-based order and “not let the Indo-Asia Pacific be balkanised into spheres of influence manipulated by power politics, hindered by protectionism or divided by narrow nationalism”, Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang said during a visit to India.
Balkanisation is a geopolitical term used to negatively describe the division of the former Ottoman Empire in the 19th century and in this context refers to the potential fragmentation of Asia as superpowers such as the United States and China strengthen their influence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Quang was visiting India to mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries at a time when the momentum of relations and cooperation between New Delhi and Asean is at a high level.
India and Asean held a summit in January coinciding with India’s Republic Day when Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and other Asean leaders were invited as guests to highlight closer ties.
There is a widespread perception that this will be an Indo-Pacific century, much as the last was dominated by rising US influence around the globe. However, Quang told India’s academic community that it required a common vision if the region is to become a hub connecting resources and harmonising interests for continuous, more dynamic and more sustainable development.
“This aspiration will only come true when all countries make the effort to establish effective mechanisms to maintain peace, stability and the rule of law, so as to ensure the common security, prevent conflict and war, and effectively address security challenges, both traditional and non-traditional,” he said.
Vietnam and India have established the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and the 2017 Action Plan to forge cooperation and bilateral ties. Hanoi has stated that it supports more physical and economic connectivity, notably maritime links.
The two countries were working to develop a “blue-sea economy” through maritime connectivity, port cooperation and environmental protection and the sustainable use of maritime resources, Quang said.
“We should also make efforts to foster the maritime order and settle disputes peacefully on the basis of international law, including the 1982 United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he added.
Although he did not elaborate, the statement reflected a clear stance regarding territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea.
Defence and security cooperation between Vietnam and India has grown in recent years. New Delhi has been training Vietnam’s military to operate Russian-made submarines and jet fighters, with cooperation including providing spare parts, the maintenance of military hardware and port visits by Indian ships.
The two countries signed a coastguard cooperation agreement in 2015. A US$500-million (Bt15.6-billion) credit line for defence procurement was also extended to Vietnam during a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016.