India-Vietnam Defence Ties a Pillar for Indo-Pacific Stability
4 July 2023
India and Vietnam have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in which defence and security cooperation plays a central role. Both states have growing reservations about China’s aggressive intent in the Indo-Pacific region. The potential for India-Vietnam ties to be a strategic deterrent against threats to regional stability has perhaps never been greater.
India and Vietnam have a longstanding history of cordial relations rooted in cultural, civilisational and economic ties. In recent years, this relationship has deepened significantly, especially in the realm of defence cooperation. India and Vietnam’s defence partnership is of significant strategic importance, with room for close collaboration in the near future.
On 19 June 2023, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh met with General Phan Van Giang, the minister of national defence of Vietnam. Gen. Giang’s two-day tour coincided with speculation that India may be considering selling BrahMos missiles to Vietnam for USD 625 million. Vietnam has expressed an interest in purchasing BrahMos to bolster its coastal defence operations.
The informal ties between India and Vietnam can be traced back to ancient times when Indian traders sailed to Vietnam’s shores, fostering cultural exchange and trade. However, it was during the Cold War era that their bond became stronger due to shared concerns about regional stability and the spread of communism. India supported Vietnam’s struggle for independence, and diplomatic ties were established in 1972. Since then, the defence partnership between the two nations has grown steadily, largely driven by their mutual interests and shared vision for a stable Indo-Pacific region.
The first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on defence cooperation between India and Vietnam was signed in 1994, marking the beginning of their defence cooperation. The two countries then agreed to jointly conduct military drills, anti-piracy activities in the South China Sea (SCS), and anti-insurgency training in a formal defence protocol signed in March 2000. The sides elevated their ties to that of a Strategic Partnership in 2007, which was further emboldened by entering into a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) in September 2016. Defence and security cooperation has remained a crucial element of the CSP, with both sides stressing the need to strengthen already-existing areas of cooperation.
Considering the evolving geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific, the strategic importance of this defence partnership cannot be overstated. Both countries have faced territorial disputes and challenges to their maritime security, making collaboration in defence crucial. Vietnam, with its long coastline along the South China Sea, has been assertive in safeguarding its sovereignty against competing claims, particularly from China.
It continues to be one of Southeast Asia’s strongest critics of China’s unilateral actions in the SCS. The Paracel and Spratly islands are included in China’s self-declared maritime border, known as ‘the nine-dash line’. Among Southeast Asian countries, the SCS territorial and maritime boundary disputes with China primarily involve Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as Indonesia, albeit to a lesser extent. India, on the other hand, has been steadily enhancing its presence and influence in the region and is viewed by these Southeast Asian states as a potential counterbalance against China’s growing aggression. A strong partnership between India and Vietnam can serve as a strategic deterrent against any potential threat to regional stability.
Areas of Collaboration
The defence partnership between India and Vietnam encompasses a wide range of areas. Military-to-military exchanges, joint training exercises, and high-level visits have become routine, allowing both nations to gain a better understanding of each other’s defence capabilities. Additionally, defence industry cooperation has been a growing aspect of their partnership. India has provided Vietnam with military equipment, including patrol vessels, missiles and radars, bolstering Vietnam’s maritime surveillance capabilities. This not only enhances Vietnam’s defence capabilities but also promotes India’s defence industries, contributing to the “Make in India” initiative.
Furthermore, intelligence sharing and cooperation on cybersecurity have emerged as crucial areas of collaboration. As both countries face common non-traditional security challenges such as cyber threats and terrorism, exchanging information and expertise is vital for ensuring national security. This cooperation establishes trust and strengthens bilateral ties, fostering a sense of shared responsibility for addressing common security concerns.
The India-Vietnam Joint Vision for Peace, Prosperity and People, which was unveiled in December 2020, serves as the foundation for a new era of defence cooperation between the two partners. The implementation of agreements on defence industry cooperation, as well as more frequent high-level and institutionalised exchanges aimed at strengthening the security cooperation are important for the growth of India-Vietnam ties.
There is immense potential for further collaboration. Both countries have expressed a commitment to deepening their defence ties through joint research and development, technology transfer, and collaboration in defence production. India’s expertise in advanced defence technologies such as aerospace and naval systems can greatly benefit Vietnam’s defence modernisation efforts. Additionally, the partnership between India and Vietnam can serve as a model for other countries in the region, encouraging greater cooperation and collective security measures.
The India-Vietnam defence partnership has evolved significantly over the years, driven by shared interests, historical ties, and the need for regional stability. This partnership is not only crucial for the defence and security of both nations but also contributes to the broader goal of maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. As both countries continue to deepen their collaboration in defence, the future prospects of India-Vietnam relations appear bright.
The Indo-Pacific area is geographically centred on India and Vietnam. Both nations would have a significant impact on this strategic area, which is evolving into a key arena for competition among the great powers. The 2020 joint vision statement between India and Vietnam acknowledges the value of this collaboration in tackling the changing geopolitical and geoeconomic scenario in the region and beyond. The breadth and scope of the bilateral defence cooperation has also greatly increased as a result of the Joint Vision Statement on Defence Partnership, which was signed in 2022. Vietnam is a crucial supporter of India’s Act East policy and a crucial ally in its Indo-Pacific strategy. Along with continuing to work together on regional and international problems of mutual interest, the India-Vietnam defence partnership also looks set for exponential growth, having barely scratched the surface of what it could potentially evolve into.
Disclaimer: The article expresses the author’s views on the matter and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of any institution they belong to or of Trivium Think Tank and the StraTechos website.
Abhyuday is pursuing an MA in Defense and Strategic Studies from Bareilly College, M.J.P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly. His areas of interest include defense affairs, international relations and geopolitics. His writings have appeared at The Kootneeti, The Indian Defence Review ,Defence and Security Alert, Global Strategic and Defense News Analysis and Defence Research and Studies.
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