The relation between India and Vietnam has been one of the most sustained and ever-growing bilateral relations, India has ever had with other ASEAN member countries. Vietnam has been interested in buying BrahMos missiles and provided India blocks in its EEZs to explore. The bilateral relations are improving and the latest virtual meet has taken it to another level. The two countries agreed to jointly train pilots, look for collaboration in shipbuilding and submarines. In addition to this, they also signed an agreement for cooperation in the field of hydrography, to enable sharing of data and assist in the production of navigational charts.
Hydrography as a science deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of oceans and seas. The countries use ships, and SONAR to map out the physical features of all that is beneath the surface of these gigantic water bodies. It helps to find materials and reservoirs of Oil and Gas which are highly valuable, and if India and Vietnam share the data of hydrography. It means that Vietnam will be able to unlock the reserves of economically profitable resources present in Vietnam’s contested Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and the possibility of any Chinese confrontation will be reduced too. Vietnam is also increasing its strategic collaboration with the USA and Japan, thus, we can see clear convergence among Vietnam and quad member countries.
As per the Defence Ministry spokesperson, “During the talks, both ministers reaffirmed the strong India-Vietnam defence cooperation which is a key pillar of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries. They discussed various ongoing projects and the future trajectory of bilateral defence engagements,” adding “Vietnamese Defence Minister also invited the Raksha Mantri for ADMM (ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting)-Plus meeting being hosted by Vietnam on December 10, 2020, virtually.”
Earlier too, Hanoi had invited New Delhi to come to the South China Sea, for surveying and allied activities and had allotted Indian firms blocks to find oil and gas reserves. Indian firms thus spent a lot of time in the surveying activities and spent a lot of time in the South China Sea. It was very beneficial for the Vietnamese, given they were able to ease the containment by Beijing. However, solely for economic reasons, it was not so beneficial, as no reserves were found.
In addition to the agreement on Hydrography, India & Vietnam are also contemplating to increase their “comprehensive strategic partnership & friendship” by partnering in shipbuilding and submarines as well as increasing the frequency of coordinated training.
The fact that Vietnam has invited India again, is really bad news for China. Although Beijing could have earlier confronted such an action, the current hollowness of Chinese economy makes it really difficult for them to counter the action. And it is not in isolation, Vietnam and the Philippines, both are engaging actively with India as well as other quad countries, so the quad countries are bringing the battle in the Chinese ‘perceived’ backyard.
The actions and activities that are supposed to follow will certainly dent the Chinese claims in the South China Sea. China has for long played its long hand against the ASEAN countries and it has been difficult to get back to the Chinese, given the power differential. However, with the entry of India coupled with the quad countries too, China will see its claims diluted in the long term.