Last month, Hash V. Pant wrote an astute piece on India’s deepening strategic partnership with Vietnam:
New Delhi’s abiding interest in Vietnam, though, is in the defense realm. It wants to build relations with states like Vietnam that can act as pressure points against China. With this in mind, it has been helping Hanoi beef up its naval and air capabilities.
Given that Vietnam and India use similar Russian and erstwhile Soviet defense platforms, New Delhi could easily offer defense technologies to Hanoi. Talks are ongoing for India to sell the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, an Indo-Russian joint venture. Such arms could allow Vietnam to project regional power and improve deterrence against China.
The two nations also have stakes in ensuring sea-lane security, as well as shared concerns about Chinese access to the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Hence, India is helping Vietnam to build capacity for repair and maintenance of its defense platforms. At the same time, the armed forces of the two states have started cooperation in areas like IT and English-language training of Vietnamese Army personnel. The two are also sharing their experiences in mountainous and jungle warfare.
Naval cooperation, however, remains the focus. Here, Vietnam has given India the right to use its port of Nha Trang in the south; the Indian Navy has already made a port call. It is not entirely clear what the final arrangement would look like, but the symbolism of this is not lost on China.
The U.S. shares interests with India and Vietnam in the region. One hopes that we’ll at some point see a post-communist regime in Vietnam that can be a genuine partner.