President Kovind’s choice of Vietnam as the first Southeast Asian country to visit is not surprising. A close ‘ally’ of India for over 70 years, and not limited to official diplomatic ties, Vietnam is critical for India’s foreign policy at the regional and systemic levels.

Vietnam – A background –

  • Domestically, since the start of its Doi Moi policy — its political and economic renewal campaign —in 1986, Vietnam has made dramatic strides.
  • While earlier it imported agricultural products, today it is a major exporter. Agricultural competence has furthered Vietnam’s entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
  • One of the core areas of President Kovind’s visit is focussed on furthering cooperation in agriculture and innovation-based sectors, pushing the potential for increasing bilateral trade to $15 billion by 2020.

Cooperation in Healthcare –

  • The 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, in 2016, highlighted the importance of linking economic growth to universal health care, whereby 80% population would be covered by health insurance.
  • India too, since 2011, has been focussing on the need to deliver accessible and affordable health insurance to weaker sections of society.
  • A potential area of convergence in the realm of health care through joint public-private partnership agreements can be explored by the two countries.

Security concern –

  • Today there is increasing commonality of security concerns between Vietnam and its ASEAN partners — as well as with Australia, India, Japan and the U.S., particularly in the areas of maritime security and adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • In pursuance of this, the two countries have planned a bilateral level maritime security dialogue in early 2019.

Focus on sub-regionalism –

  • As ASEAN continues to focus on its centrality in the region, there will undoubtedly be shifts in how smaller members of ASEAN perceive the centrifugal forces of China’s rise.
  • Vietnam has helped to mitigate these by focussing on both sub-regionalism and regionalism as the core of its priorities. India too looks at both sub-regionalism and regionalism as priority avenues to pursue its foreign policy.
  • The India-Vietnam Joint Statement of March 2018 reiterates the focus given to sub-regionalism and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation framework.
  • India and Vietnam can jointly explore the potential for enhancing capacity building and providing technical assistance and training within the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam sub-regional grouping.

Conclusion –

Both India and Vietnam possess the capacity to find compatibility in areas promoting defence cooperation and infrastructure simultaneously. While the ties have progressed under the Look East and Act East Policies, going forward they need to factor in pragmatism, helping relations to move forward. India’s ability to look beyond the prism of optics will remain a core challenge.

SourceThe Hindu

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