With relations between India and Vietnam celebrating 45 years now and India Vietnam ties upgrading to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the future seems to be holding a lot of potential for the two nations. The rising power that India is, in not just South Asian region but with considerable clout in the Indo Pacific, power balance will be more balanced than before, opined Vietnam envoy to India, Ton Sinh Thanh.
India is one of the three nations with which Vietnam has Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the other two being China and Russia. It was during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit two years ago that the partnership was elevated to such a status. Different from CSP, Vitenam has Strategic Partnership with 11 countries. Vietnam boosts of US$ 2100 per capita per annum.
This year will see more exchange and dialogue between India and Vietnam. Visits from India includes a just concluded visit of Defence Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman. A Defence Dialogue is soon going to take place in Delhi. External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj will vist Vietnam to co chair a joint meeting in the end of August. According to sources the President of India is likely to visit Vietnam by the end of this year.
Regarding India's role in the South Eastern region and the Indo Pacific for establishing peace and stability, Vietnamese Ambassador to India, Ton Sinh Thanh said, “India is moving fast, it is becoming a strong player in the region, and will now look over a bigger space in the Indo Asia Pacific region, its role will be played out in the extended neighbourhood. We welcome India's new role and its engagement in the region, so does the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)'. Thanh said, 'India's increasing role and growing power will act as a balancing element in the region'. He was speaking at an interaction organised by the Indian Women's Press Corps in New Delhi.
Trade between India and Vietnam needs much more to be done. Ambassador Thanh said, ''FTA between Indian and ASEAN should be upgraded and expanded for the pact to deliver desired results. There is need to expand the agreement to include more products, the Ambassador emphasised. ''Vietnam wants to diversify trade with different countries specially india which is a big market and a big investor.''
''Trade between 2 countries last year was US$ 7.56 billion but this is a very small amount compared to the world. Last year trade with the world was US $ 420 billion. Last year investment from India to Vietnam was only a little more than US $ 800 million which is very small in comparison to the total of US $300 billion investment from the world. Indian companies are invetsing to the tune of US$ 40 billion a year in the world but in Vietnam just US$ 100 -150 million a year which is very small. There is a lot of potential for Indian companies to invest in Vietnam. Big groups like Mahindra and Adani are looking for investing in Vietnam. Vietnam has a good foreign investment regime, labor cost is low. Vietnam is much lesser in trade with India even in the ASEAN countries. With Singapore it is US$20 billion and with Indoneasia, Malaysia around US$18 billion trade," Thanh informed. Vietnam has a 100 billion trade with China.
He said textile was one sector where Vietnam imported to a tune of around US $10 billion every year. He expressed that India has the capacity of meeting our demands for textile inputs. If trade was opened up, we could be importing a lot of items from India'', he said. ''There a potential of 20 billion trade in textile to vietnam from India which is a possibility waiting to be explored. Vietnam needs it and this is the time. Presently investment from India is merely US$ 1 billion, there is scope for much more like in energy, specially in solar energy and tourism''.
India and Vietnam commonalities abound as both countries are rapidly growing economies, the Ambassador said. Vietnam's growth rate last year was at 6.8 per cent and in the previous years, it has even touched 9 per cent. The Ambassador said that while the defence ties were robust, the economic relation could still be taken much forward. And the cultural ties needed to be tapped. He informed Vietnam exports are more than the country's GDP. The South eastern country is trading with more than 200 countries presently.
India, although, has objections to China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Vietnam is still studying the various aspects of the initiative. “We have to figure out if it is good for us or not. If it is good, we will join it, if not, we will stay away from it,” he said. Unlike India, however, Vietnam had attended the big BRI meet that China organised last summer.
The ambassador said that India's vision on the Indo-Pacific, which was revealed in Modi's address at the Shangri-La Dialogue recently, was similar to Vietnam's approach, which is about inclusiveness, openness and engagement rather than confrontation. “We, in fact, refer to the area as Indo Asia Pacific,” he said.
Vietnam has issues with the growing Chinese footprint in the South China Sea and it wants a rules based order to prevail (like India does). “Vietnam will raise its voice, asking for support from other countries, including those outside the region bcause so many vessels pass through the seas (which makes other nations also stakeholders).”
In the absence of direct flight from New Delhi to Hanoi tourist traffic to Vitenam and India is considerably poor. It is a roadblock that the two governments are working upon. The Ambassador informed that connectivity between the two capitals is being worked out and talks are being held. Currently, only Jet Airways operates flights to Ho Chi Minh City from New Delhi and Mumbai via Bangkok.
Last year 110,000 toruists visited Vietnam while 22 million Indians travelled abroad. 3.5 million Indians went to South Asia out of them 1.6 million went to Thailand alone. Vietnamese come to India for pilgrim.
Vietnam is expecting 1,70,000 visitors this year, as per reports. The number of Indian tourists to Vietnam has risen from 16,000 in 2010 to an estimated 1,10,000 last year, Thanh informed and called for promoting India as a destination for Vietnamese. The envoy said 20 million Indians travel overseas every year, while only 90,000 of them go to visit Vietnam. Thanh said the first direct air service between Vietnam's most populous city Ho Chi Minh City and New Delhi is likely to commence by the last quarter of this financial year.