| Indian Ambassador to Vietnam Pranay Verma
Vietnam and India have interests on both bilateral and regional scale. In addition, the Vietnam-India comprehensive strategic partnership boast great potential for stronger development, especially when both sides will officially open direct air routes connecting their cities later this year, said the Indian diplomat.
VOV: It has been three years since Vietnam and India upgraded their bilateral ties to the “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” level. What has been done so far to carry out our vision?
Ambassador Pranay Verma: Vietnam and India have enjoyed excellent relations throughout their existence as modern, independent nations, with a tradition of helping each other during adversities, showing sensitivity to each other’s concerns and aspirations, and supporting each other’s national development.
These bonds of friendship and cooperation have been affirmed frequently in our relations, most recently when both our countries elevated their relations to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Vietnam in September 2016.
This marked an important milestone in our relations and has led to our bilateral engagement growing from strength to strength.
If you simply count the number of visits exchanged by the top leaders of the two countries in the last few years, it would give you an idea of the tremendous momentum in our relationship, with each visit enriching the scope and substance of our cooperation.
Our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership today is demonstrated in wide-ranging collaborative pursuits – from political engagement to economic and development partnership, defence and security cooperation, and cultural and people-to-people contacts.
It is also reflected in our commitment to take a long-term and strategic view of our relationship based on our converging visions for, and our common interest in, the peace, stability and prosperity of our shared region.
Today, Vietnam is an important pillar of India’s Act East Policy and a key partner for our Indo-Pacific Vision.
As Vietnam assumes the leadership of ASEAN and the membership of the UN Security Council next year, we look forward to further strengthening consultations and coordination with Vietnam on important regional and global issues, guided by the spirit of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
VOV: India is one of Vietnam’s top trading partners, but trade and investment exchanges is still beyond our expectation. What do you think about this? What should we do to fully tap the potential area?
Ambassador Pranay Verma: Vietnam is an important economic partner of India. From a mere US$200 million trade in the year 2000, our bilateral trade has reached nearly US$14 billion this year.
We are confident of achieving the US$15 billion trade by 2020, a target set by our leaders.
Today, Vietnam is our fourth largest trading partner in the ASEAN region. For Vietnam, India is the 10th largest trading partner.
Our investment ties have also grown, with Indian investments reaching about US$1.7 billion, if you include those routed through third countries, covering a number of areas such as energy, minerals, agro-processing, IT, and auto components etc.
We have well-established institutional mechanisms to review and pursue cooperation in trade and investment.
I, however, agree with you. As two of the fastest growing economies in the world today with several complementarities, our economic engagement still remains below its potential.
Given India’s capabilities in a number of sectors of Vietnam’s interest such as pharmaceuticals, IT, energy and infrastructure, there is a huge potential for new investments in these areas.
Similarly, with India’s emphasis on investment – both domestic and foreign – as a major driver of economic growth, we look forward to more Vietnamese investment in India, which is currently at just about US$25 million.
One of the reasons hampering closer economic ties between our two countries has been the lack of direct connectivity. We hope that the new direct flights being introduced from next month will bring our businesses closer and create new momentum in our trade and tourism ties. With our shared Buddhist heritage, tourism itself can be a major force-multiplier in our economic and people-to-people relations.
VOV: Security and defence cooperation is another important front of our relations. The credit line provided by the Indian Government allows Vietnam to buy defence equipment from India. What is the significance of this action in our military relations?
Ambassador Pranay Verma: Defence and security cooperation between India and Vietnam is an important pillar of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and reflects the deep levels of mutual trust and understanding between them.
From traditional exchanges between the Ministries of Defence of the two sides, this engagement has today diversified to wide-ranging contacts between the services and military-to-military exchanges, including visits of senior military leaders as well as bilateral exercises. Our Navies are engaged in regular mutual ship visits and port calls.
A further enhancement of these engagements is through a fast-growing defence industrial and technological collaboration focusing at defence modernization and capacity building.
As you mentioned, a concessional Line of Credit of US$100 million is already being utilized for building 12 high speed patrol boats for Vietnam’s Border Guard Force.
During the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Vietnam in 2016, India committed to extending another US$500 million of concessional defence Line of Credit, which is being finalized by identifying specific projects to cater to Vietnam’s own requirements.
An important aspect of this partnership is to strengthen Vietnam’s defence manufacturing. For example, out of the 12 high speed patrol boats for Vietnam’s Border Guard Force being built under the Indian Line of Credit, 7 will be manufactured in Vietnam.
VOV: India and Vietnam share a common view on the territorial disputes in the East Sea or internationally known as South China Sea. How India can contribute to a peaceful resolution of escalating tensions in this waters?
Ambassador Pranay Verma: India’s position on South China Sea is consistent and has been articulated on several occasions in the past, most recently by our Foreign Ministry’s spokesman last week.
South China Sea is part of the global commons. India, therefore, has an abiding interest in the peace and stability of the region. India firmly stands for the freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded lawful commerce, in the international waters in accordance with international laws, notably the UNCLOS. India also believes that any differences must be resolved peacefully by respecting legal and diplomatic processes and without resorting to threat or use of force.
India stands ready to work with international partners to maintain and promote peace, stability and development in the Indo-Pacific region.
VOV: Thank you very much.