Similarities in foreign policy between India and Vietnam

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (T) and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi before a meeting in New Delhi, January 24, 2018, commemorating the 25th anniversary of ASEAN – India relations

Former French ambassador to India for 4 years, last October, Mr. Claude Blanchemaison has just published in France a book about India, titled “L’Inde, contre vents et marées.” Blanchemaison’s book is of particular interest because he is both an agent and observer of the geopolitical situation of our planet’s second-most populous nation and now the second-largest economy.

The book “L’Inde, contre vents et marées” by the former French ambassador to India mainly outlines the challenges facing the country that is aspiring to become the world’s third-largest economic power, after the United States and China.

To that end, can India rely on its young population, its digital literacy, its cultural diversity, and its pluralistic political system? According to author Claude Blanchemaison, to realize the above ambition, leaders in New Delhi must first solve structural problems at home and maintain a balance in relations with external partners.  But the current situation is not very favorable, after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, making it very difficult for India’s anti-terrorism policy. In addition, Australia’s AUKUS alliance with the United Kingdom and the United States is affecting the balance in the Indo-Pacific region.

Before working in New Delhi, Mr. Claude Blanchemaison also served as the French ambassador to Vietnam from 1989 to 1993, a country with which he still maintains many connections. The former French ambassador to Hanoi is the author of the book “La Marseillaise du général Giap”, published in October 2013. Therefore, it can be said that he is a person who knows very well the situation of relations between India and Vietnam, two countries that, according to him, have similarities in foreign policy.

Former French Ambassador to India and Vietnam Claude Blanchemaison gives an interview to RFI in Paris on November 12, 2021 (RFI)

Before talking about Vietnam-India relations, let’s learn about India’s current position from the point of view of former Ambassador Blanchemaison:

“Since India’s independence in 1947, Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, has been one of the founders, along with Sukarno (the late president of Indonesia), Nasser (the late president of Egypt), the founder of Non-aligned Movement, bringing together countries that do not favor either side, neither the Soviet bloc nor the Western bloc led by the United States.

Even though it’s a matter of history, it should be remembered that the Non-aligned Movement still exists and still meets regularly. But now times have changed, India has a government belonging to a different party. This country on August 15 next year will celebrate 75 years of independence. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, India was already the 5th largest economic power. It is not known how the pandemic will affect this economic position of India, but I believe that the Indian economy has strong resilience and will quickly return to the fast growth path.

First of all, India has a young, dynamic population, with 55% of the population under the age of 25. Second, the country already has solid conditions for economic growth. When it first gained independence, India also suffered from famine, heavily dependent on food imports, but today India is not only self-sufficient in food but also exports cereals, milk, and even exports, and meat to some Asian countries. In the service sector, India is now the world champion in IT services.

Regarding international relations, India does not want a military alliance with any country. However, since about 20 years ago, the country has established partnerships with many countries. These partnerships, strategic partnerships, or enhanced partnerships, vary from country to country. France was one of the first countries to sign a strategic partnership agreement with India in 1998, under President Jacques Chirac. The relationship between the two countries has developed a lot since then, with political and strategic discussions between the foreign and defense ministers, as well as between the military leaders of the two sides.

According to author Blanchemaison, India’s current diplomacy is also inherited from the founding of the non-aligned movement:

“It can be said that this country has inherited a culture of non-alignment diplomacy, a culture that I call strategic in all directions, a policy somewhat similar to Vietnam. India wants to be friends with all countries, it doesn’t want to be an enemy of China, even though China is a big rival, a neighbor with a border dispute with India.

India handles relations with China very flexibly, which I would say Asian style, which means that we don’t have disagreements on certain points, such as borders, that we disagree on everything, there are many areas where we can work together, as is the case with China, as with many other countries.

India today also inherits from Nehru’s time a very close cooperative relationship with Russia, which was formerly the Soviet Union. Historically, it can be said that the Soviet Union was once the protectorate of India. Even now, as Pakistan makes it difficult for India on the Cachemire issue, it is Russia who defends India in the Security Council and uses its veto power to block discussion of the case. Russia is still India’s top arms supplier, albeit on a smaller scale than it was 30 years ago, but Russia remains an important partner.”

On the one hand, developing relations with the United is also increasingly expanding its relations with Asian countries, as observed by former Ambassador Blanchemaison:

For Asia, India has implemented a very dynamic ‘Look East’ policy, especially with ASEAN countries, including Vietnam. Before joining ASEAN, Vietnam had a very close relationship with India, which I personally noticed when I was the French ambassador to Vietnam. An Indian ambassador is an important and influential figure in Vietnam.

Now India has further tightened ties with many ASEAN countries. Only New Delhi feels awkward towards Burma due to the military coup because it does not want to see the military take power in a neighboring country and especially because this increases Chinese influence.

In addition to ASEAN, India has also strengthened ties with other Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea, as well as with South Pacific countries. For several years now, India also participated in maritime exercises with the United States, Japan, and Australia. These four countries are part of a group called QUAD but the New Delhi government does not want this informal group to favor military issues but wants the countries in the group to cooperate on sustainable development and cooperation so that QUAD does not appear to be a military organization. Despite its complicated relationship with China, India definitely does not want to follow the path of Australia by forming military alliances with the US and UK to fight China.

However, according to the former French ambassador to New Delhi, India also has the same stance as Western countries, such as France, or other QUAD member countries, that is, must protect the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea against Beijing’s construction of artificial islands in these waters. But Mr. Blanchemaison said that both India and Vietnam are trying to avoid military conflict with China at all costs. The former French ambassadors to New Delhi and Hanoi emphasized the similarities in foreign policy between the two countries:

I think India is a very good partner for Vietnam and vice versa, Vietnam is also a very good partner for India. As I said earlier, the two countries have similarities, that is, having a foreign policy in all directions, doing everything with all countries, trying to not have an enemy country. Only due to historical problems, the consequences of the British division of territory, India still has a rival country, Pakistan.

Like most Asian countries, India has China as its main trading partner. That is a fact. India believes that it must continue its policy of cooperation with China in all areas where there are no conflicts or confrontations between the two countries. I think Vietnam also has the same policy.

Of course, Vietnam has many disputes with China, especially over the South China Sea, which I call after Vietnam the East Sea, and relies on the support of many countries. Support here does not mean a military alliance like NATO. Neither country, India nor Vietnam, would like to see a military alliance like this in Asia.

But to create a deterrent effect, Vietnam invites Indian oil and gas companies to explore and exploit in the East Sea, because India also has a huge demand for energy, although it will not invest very much heavily into oil and gas as doing so would be contrary to India’s commitment at COP 26 to be carbon neutral.”

According to author Blanchemaison, even in terms of armament, Vietnam is also moving in the direction of diversifying its supply sources, like Vietnam:

Currently, India’s arms industry is still weak, although it is on a strong growth trajectory, it is still heavily dependent on imports. What this country is doing is diversifying its import sources. Arms imports from Russia now account for less than 50%. But there is also the relocation of production facilities to India, such as the Sukhoi fighter currently assembled in India. India can also deliver some of these Sukhoi to Vietnam if Vietnam orders directly from Russia.

I think Vietnam is also looking to diversify sources of weapons imports. Currently, there is no international arms embargo against Vietnam and Vietnam can rely on India’s experience in diversifying arms imports. (Translated)


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