The pathway for India’s foreign policy transformation has commenced with Vietnam acting as a key player for India to geopolitically position itself with the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN).
2018 has been a turning point in the Indo-Vietnam foreign relations with the visit of the Vietnam President, Tran Dai Quang to India. Delivering a lecture at The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi, Vietnam President Quang commented on the bilateral relations between the two countries by stating that India is a traditional and faithful friend of Vietnam.
Since the reunification of Vietnam, India has strongly supported Vietnam’s progress and this relation gets reiterated through the president’s visit in the forty sixth year of foreign relations. This historic event was preceded with the participation of the ASEAN leaders at the sixty ninth republic day ceremony held in New Delhi. Thus, the meeting between India and the powerful bloc of leaders further reiterates India’s growing ties with the East Asian nations solidifying its Act East Asia foreign policy.
India’s foreign policy principles of Non-alignment and strategic autonomy have contributed vastly to its foreign policy paradigm from Look East Asia to Act East Asia. These principles have allowed India to maintain a pivotal position and respect in Asia. This also got reflected in the Vietnam President’s remark on India making a significant contribution to Asia and actively participating in regional linkages thereby making it a suitable candidate for permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Along with Vietnam, United States has also extended support in India becoming a permanent member of the UNSC and has played a greater role in the Asian cause. East Asia and the Pacific are geo-strategically important regions for India, Vietnam and the United States.
US foreign policy has changed its focus from Asia-Pacific to Indo Pacific to integrate India’s geographical significance, economy and population into the conventional conception of the Asia-Pacific for balancing the economic and defence engagements in the region.
The position of Vietnam forms an important political geographical location connecting India and US for the greater global agenda. This foreign policy doctrine has strengthened Vietnam’s multiple sectors of cooperation with India and US. Assessing the economic relations, Vietnam stands as the 16th largest trading partner of US. In comparison, India has ranked Vietnam to be its 8th largest trading partner.
Along with economic cooperation, the three countries have discovered the scope in building defence ties. US through its defence policy on Vietnam, has stressed on the need to build their maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief management. India has also bolstered its defence ties with Vietnam as they recently signed a pact on civil nuclear cooperation.
In this context, the visit of the Vietnam President has taken India’s relations with Vietnam to a whole new level and thereby foreseeing a stronger bond with the ASEAN bloc and beyond. This can be seen through increasing ASEAN’s investments in India amounting to over USD 70 billion. Whereas in comparison, India, alone has invested more than USD 40 billion in the same period on the ten ASEAN countries. (The Hindu Business Line, November 2017) The growing investments, trade, security and maritime links between India and the south-eastern nations, is a clear indication on India moving in the right direction on its Act East policy.
In 2016, Prime Minister Modi in Vietnam said, “The India-Vietnam partnership will benefit Asia and the rest of the world”. On similar lines, U.S President Trump, praised Vietnam along with the other southeast Asian nations by stating “Southeast Asian nations is one of the great miracles of the world." On evaluating the growing ties and the statements of these leaders, it can be seen that there is a multi-dimensional foreign policy approach fostering within this bloc of countries. Therefore, a new era of diplomacy has emerged with India’s Act East Asia foreign policy and USA’s Indo-Pacific foreign policy being centred around Vietnam and ASEAN bloc countries.