NEW DELHI: Vietnam and India’s defence relationship has the “potential to go further down the road” and has “room for development,” says Dr Le Dinh Tinh, Director General of the Institute of Foreign Policy and Strategic Studies in Hanoi. India has been exploring Brahmos supersonic missile transfers to third countries since 2014 and Russia’s Deputy Chief of Mission Roman Babushkin told StratNews Global in an interview in September, “We know about the interest from Southeast Asia and South America,” adding, “final bureaucratic clearances are coming soon in order to allow this missile to be exported to third countries.”
On Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga choosing Vietnam as his first foreign trip after taking over in September, Dr Tinh says is to “reinforce the bilateral relationship and send a message to the world that Japan places a lot of importance on the region”. In talks in Hanoi on October 19, Suga and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed to Japanese exports of defence equipment and technology. Neither mentioned China by name, but in a speech in Hanoi, Suga criticised Beijing’s aggression indirectly, saying: “There is a move in the South China Sea that goes against the rule of law and openness…and Japan strongly opposes any attempt that escalates tensions.” Both countries have territorial and maritime disputes with China in the East and South China Seas. In June, Chinese Coast Guard vessels deliberately rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat. China has also been objecting to India’s oil exploration projects in Vietnamese waters.
Speaking to StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi, Dr Tinh stressed Vietnam and Japan have “balanced” foreign policies and support the “rule of law, openness, transparency and freedom of navigation” with the key principle of the “centrality of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). On Australia being invited for the Malabar naval exercises in the Quad(Japan, Australia, India and the U.S.) in end November and reports of a larger Quad Plus including Hanoi, Dr Linh said, “Vietnam supports any initiatives or groupings or ideas as long as they are conducive to peace and stability in the region and complement ASEAN’s growth and centrality, not as a mechanism against any third country.”
At a virtual meeting of the India-Vietnam Business Forum on October 20, Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary, East in the External Affairs Ministry, stressed “Vietnam is a key pillar of our ‘Act East Policy’ and an important partner in India’s ‘Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative’, which is based on our shared values and interests in promoting peace, stability and prosperity of our region.” Vietnam, the ASEAN chair this year, has invited India (one of the group’s 10 dialogue partners) to take part in a virtual summit scheduled from November 13-15.