Vietnam has underlined the significance of defence ties with India saying it will continue to purchase military equipment from India to defend its sovereignty. In an exclusive interaction with TOI, Vietnam’s ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh also said Vietnam would continue to seek greater Indian role in exploring oil and gas blocks off the coast of Vietnam in South China Sea, despite the opposition from China, as these fell in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Accusing China of having changed the status quo in South China Sea (SCS), the ambassador said people could see for themselves if the situation there was similar to the one witnessed at Doklam where Indian and Chinese soldiers were locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff for over 2 months.
“The status quo in SCS has been changed by Chinese construction of artificial islands and installation of military equipment that threaten the freedom of navigation in that area. So one can easily ascertain whether it is similar to what happened in Doklam,” said Thanh. He added that Vietnam was relieved that the Doklam issue has been resolved. China and Vietnam are currently involved in a fresh spat in SCS with Hanoi strongly protesting China’s military drills around the Paracel Islands which Vietnam claims.
While the two countries remain in touch over the sale of anti-ship cruise missile BrahMos to Vietnam, New Delhi had recently denied reports in the Vietnam media that Hanoi had already procured the missiles from India. The denial came at the peak of India’s Doklam standoff with Beijing.
Excerpts from an exclusive interaction with Ambassador Thanh:
Could you talk to us a little bit about the status of bilateral ties with focus on defence and security cooperation…
There are five major pillars in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between India and Vietnam, namely politics-diplomacy, defence-security, economic-trade, science-technology and culture-education. Among them, defence-security cooperation is the most intensive and effective pillar between Vietnam and India. It covers a wide range of activities including exchange of delegation at all levels, defence dialogue, naval ship visits, training and capacity building, equipment procurement, transfer of technology and coordination in international arenas such as ARF, ADMM-Plus. The expansion of defence relations with India plays an important role in uplifting the defence capacity of Vietnam. Not only Vietnamese naval officers but also air force personnel are being trained in India. With $100 million Line of Credit (LOC), we are going to receive some patrol boats from India. With $ 500 million LOC (as announced by India earlier), we can purchase more equipment from India. In short, India helps us to improve our defence capacity in many ways.
What’s the status of negotiations for purchase of BrahMos anti-ship cruise missiles by Vietnam from India?
Like many other nations, Vietnam has to purchase defence equipment from different sources, including India, to meet our need of defending our sovereignty and territories. However, we don’t have any specific information on what exactly our defence ministry is buying from India. One thing you can be sure of is that whatever we purchase will be only for self-defence.
India is hosting a summit of Asean leaders next year in January. Who is expected to attend from Vietnam and also participate in the Republic Day celebrations?
Vietnam will be very happy to be a part of the special India-Asean summit and India’s Republic Day celebrations. We are quite sure that a very high-ranking leader of Vietnam will attend the events.
The standoff between India and China at Doklam has ended much to the relief of India. As demanded by India, China has stopped constructing a road there. As a country which has itself faced Chinese maritime territorial aggression in South China Sea, how does Vietnam look at the Doklam dispute? Do you think countries in southeast Asia could in a similar manner deal with such aggression, or even belligerence, from China?
The consistent position of Vietnam is that all disputes in international relations should be settled by peaceful means on the basis of international laws. Vietnam hopes that India and China will peacefully solve the disputes and differences between them in accordance with international laws, for peace and development in the region and the world over. It is also our desire to have friendly and good relations with both India and China. Therefore, we are very happy to see relations between India and China back on track. A peaceful ending of the Doklam standoff is indeed a relief for all of us, including Vietnam. The important lesson learnt from here is that forward-looking diplomatic communication and persistent negotiations are the right and appropriate channels to resolve differences.
What are the similarities you have noticed between China’s conduct in South China Sea and the way it behaved at Doklam?
In South China Sea, China claims a huge area that overlaps with the claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. China and Asean had reached the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea to maintain status quo in the region. However, in reality the status quo in South China Sea has been changed by Chinese construction of artificial islands and installation of military equipment that threaten the freedom of navigation and aviation in the area. So you can see for yourself whether it is similar to what happened at Doklam.
Do you think other Aseans nations need to take a stronger position on growing Chinese expansionism?
We would like to look at the position of Asean in a broader manner. Asean needs to be stronger in all respects – economically, politically and culturally. Especially, it should have unity and solidarity to cope with the challenges and to realise its dream of becoming a community, playing a central role in the region. At the same time, Asean needs to have good relations with all major powers. In this connection, we welcome their constructive role in maintaining peace, security, freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded commerce in South China Sea.
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