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Ambassador's Interview with VITV on the 5th Anniversary of India-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Posted on: September 18, 2021 | Back | Print

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VITV: Dear Ambassador, 2021 marks the 5 years anniversary of Vietnam-India comprehensive strategic partnership. What are your feelings about this event?

Ambassador Pranay Verma: Thank you very much, first of all, to invite me for this interview – it is an opportunity for me after a long time to also reach out to your viewers and wish them all the best in the midst of the ongoing pandemic and hope they are all keeping safe.

On your question on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, let me say that India and Vietnam have a long history of friendship. This special relationship that we have has been affirmed at various points in our history, most recently when we elevated our relationship to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in September 2016 when Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi visited Vietnam.  This year we are celebrating the 5th anniversary of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which is an important milestone in our relationship.

During these five years, our engagement has expanded considerably – not just in the number of areas where we are cooperating but also the quality of our engagement. These include frequent high-level exchanges that have taken place during the last five years.  These five years of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership also show that both sides take this relationship very seriously. They show the growing maturity of our partnership. They show that we take a long-term and strategic view of our bilateral ties.  They also show that there is a deep reservoir of mutual trust and understanding that continues to underpin our traditional friendship. And lastly, I think they have shown that India-Vietnam bilateral relationship is not just about bilateral engagement but has important regional and global significance as well.

VITV: What remarkable achievements have the two countries achieved in bilateral cooperation?

Ambassador: As I just mentioned to you, there is a wide range of areas in which we are cooperating today. This includes our political exchanges, our trade and economic relationship, our defence and security partnership, our development partnership, our energy cooperation and of course our cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

In all these areas, we have made significant achievements over the last five years. Our political relations continue to be marked by frequent high-level exchanges between our top leaders. Even during the time of COVID pandemic, they have been maintaining contact with each other telephonically and through videoconferences.  We just had a very successful Virtual Summit in December last year between our Prime Ministers where they adopted a historic “Joint Vision for Peace, Prosperity and People” that will guide the future of our relationship. So, we have an excellent momentum in our political relationship.

Our trade and economic engagement has also grown significantly.  You know, we had a trade of just US$ 200 million in year 2000. Today, we have reached about US$ 12 billion. Even during 2020, when we were affected by COVID-19, our trade volume was almost US$ 11 billion, which is quite commendable. Of course, given that we are two fastest growing economies in the region, there is much scope for us to further enhance our trade and investment engagement.

Our defence partnership is growing with significant speed. Our militaries maintain constant exchanges; the ship visits are happening; our navies conduct exercises together. We have also put a lot of emphasis on developing our defence industry cooperation and this is being done with two defence Lines of Credit that India has extended to Vietnam to help Vietnam acquire capabilities in maritime security through acquisition of high-speed guard boats and similar platforms. This partnership is also geared towards developing Vietnam’s defence manufacturing capabilities.

As regards energy partnership, we have a long history of cooperating with Vietnam in the energy sector.  One of our top energy companies has been present in Vietnam for more than 30 years now in one of Vietnam’s offshore projects which has been mutually beneficial for both our countries by contributing to our energy security.

Our Development Partnership has grown significantly.  We have a long history of development partnership, where programmes geared towards socio-economic development have been extended at many locations and in many sectors. We have been currently undertaking what is called Quick Impact Projects, or QIPs. These are small projects, but they have the advantage of quick gestation; in 4-5 months you can complete a project, creating a community infrastructure which directly benefits the local communities where it is implemented, thus making a positive impact on the lives of common people. These QIPs are a very fine example of how our partnership contributes to common people’s benefit. We are also collaborating in the newer areas such as developmental applications of civil nuclear and space technology. 

Our cultural exchanges have also achieved new levels through archaeological conservation projects that we are undertaking for some of our shared heritage in Vietnam.  For example, India’s Archaeological Survey of India is doing a conservation project at the My Son World Heritage site of Cham temple complexes. This is again a fine example of our cultural cooperation having a practical benefit.

In addition, we are also looking at promoting greater people-to-people exchanges.  We had started direct flights in 2019, which brought about significant increase in number of people travelling from both sides to each other’s country. Unfortunately, that stopped because of COVID pandemic. But we are confident that once the situation is normalised, we will be able to resume these direct flights and maintain people-to-people connection through direct travel connection.

So, there are lot of areas in which we have achieved significantly over the last five years. 

Multilaterally, too, India and Vietnam have engaged significantly.  India considers Vietnam to be an important pillar of its Act East Policy as well as its Indo-Pacific vision.  We have excellent coordination in ASEAN. Particularly when Vietnam was chairing ASEAN last year, we had many occasions of excellent coordination to help Vietnam successfully should its responsibilities as the ASEAN Chair. Similarly in the UN, India and Vietnam are concurrently serving in the United Nations Security Council as non-permanent members this year, which has provided excellent avenues to us for meaningful multilateral cooperation.  In August, India chaired the United Nations Security Council, and our Prime Minister hosted a Special Open Debate on Maritime Security where the Prime Minister of Vietnam was one of the key invitees. We were very happy that that platform showcased our excellent cooperation on the multilateral stage.

VITV: What events does the Embassy of India hold to celebrate this 5th anniversary?

Ambassador: Because of the COVID pandemic and social distancing restrictions, we have not been able to organize physical events, but we have been trying to make up for that by doing online events, conferences and webinars. This is also the period in which we are celebrating the 75th Independence Day of India which was on 15th August. We have plans to celebrate it over the next one year as a special anniversary year for our 75th Independence Day.  So, these two occasions have an excellent opportunity to showcase India-Vietnam partnership. As a keynote event to mark both occasions, we held a Special Webinar on our relationship and with the theme of India@75 showcasing several aspects of our contemporary relations, developments in India, developments in Vietnam and how we are constantly engaging with each other to take our relationships forward. 

We are also doing a number of other online events showcasing our cooperation in specific areas such as trade engagement, cultural interaction, shared historical and cultural heritage like Buddhism etc.   

In defence cooperation, we had two Indian Navy ships visiting Vietnam coinciding with our Independence Day, which also gave us an opportunity to highlight our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.  The two navy ships not only made port-calls in Vietnam but also held exercises with Vietnam People’s Navy ship. 

So, activities that we can do under the current constraints of the pandemic, we have been doing as a way to showcase the excellent achievements we have achieved in our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.  We are also going to have the 50th anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between India and Vietnam in January 2022. That will be again a great opportunity for us to take that message further forward.

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VITV: Being Ambassador of India to Vietnam, what are the areas that you are interested in and want to make a personal mark?

Ambassador: Well, I would say connecting our people… I think that is the most fundamental foundation of any relationship and that’s an area where I would like to focus more to be able to promote our people-to-people exchanges. That requires connectivity – physical connectivity as well as digital connectivity between us. It also requires generating awareness about our history of splendid interaction and cooperation, both historically as well as two modern nations that attained independence in the 20th century. I would like to do that by reaching out particularly to the youth. We have doing that by visiting universities in Vietnam and taking to students about India-Vietnam relations, about how much we have contributed to each other’s national development, how we have stood by each other during difficult times and how we have always been steadfast partners in our developmental journey. It is very important to make the youth of our countries understand the significance of this partnership.

I am also interested in showcasing our shared historical civilizational connection. Sometimes the depth of our historical connection is not well understood.  If you look at our shared Buddhist heritage, I think it provides a very strong foundation to our contemporary bilateral ties as well.  The Cham monuments in Central Vietnam, again, are excellent examples of how closely we were linked with each other even in those days.  So, these are some areas that I would like to focus more on in order to bring our people closer together.  That is the foundation for building the future of our relationship.

VITV: But I believe that as an excellent Ambassador from India to Vietnam, all these efforts of yours would fall in place in the future.  You will achieve this soon Ambassador that is not a big deal for you.

Ambassador: It will always require help from friends like you in media. Media is an excellent way to reach out to our younger generation.

VITV: What are the common goals of the two countries about economic development?

Ambassador: If you are talking about our development vision, I think there are many common points between our two countries. First of all, we both are two rapidly growing economies.  We are also two aspirational societies which have a young demography.  In many ways our aspirations mirror each other.   If you look at our development vision, both our countries are seeking sustainable and inclusive development – development, which is environmentally sustainable and which also does not leave anyone behind.  It is a very important common point of our development vision. 

In addition, both our countries are focussed not just on economic growth, but also empowerment of our people…, empowering people through use of technology, empowering people through good governance, empowering people by bringing them into the mainstream of developmental activities. 

Another important common point is our aspiration for deeper integration with global community and global economy, and for making contributions to the world through our capacities, whether it is by contributing to the global value chains or, as we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, by building capacities in health care.  For example, Vietnam, during 2020, significantly contributed to the global healthcare concerns by providing masks and PPEs.  We did that too, along with medicines that were supplied to nearly 150 countries around the world.  So, using our national capacities to make a change for the better for the international community is a vision that we share with each other.

Vietnam has an ambitious agenda of transforming into a middle-income developed country by 2030 and high-income developed country by 2045, and we would do everything possible to help Vietnam to achieve those goals.  Similarly, in India, we are quite committed to achieving over the next few years the target of making India a five trillion dollar economy.  We are about three trillion dollar right now.  Adding another two trillion dollars in our economy is going to create huge capacities and capabilities from which partner countries like Vietnam can benefit significantly.

VITV: Vietnamese people are grateful and thankful for India’s help. 

VITV: What fields are India’s investors currently interested in Vietnam?

Ambassador: Indian investment in Vietnam is worth about US $ 900 million, if you only consider direct investment coming from India.  Many Indian companies are also coming through third country routes to invest in Vietnam. If you add them too, it would be about US$ 2 billion of Indian investment.  Among the areas in which our investors are engaged, I already mentioned energy where we have a long-standing presence in Vietnam.  Some of our big companies are also present in mineral sector of Vietnam. Other areas are agro-processing and agro-chemicals. Areas which are coming up fast as part of our investment basket is IT and automotive sector.  So, these are some of the areas of investment. But I think as our economies grow and our capacities grow, we will see many more sectors in which investors from both sides will be looking at each other for new opportunities

VITV: In the coming time, what aspects should India and Vietnam promote to make the cooperation between the two countries more effective?

Ambassador: I would say connectivity is one thing that we need to do more, not only to bring our societies and people closer, but to also connect our economies better. Connectivity in both manifestations – physical as well as digital.  For physical connectivity, as I mentioned, direct flights had started in 2019 and will hopefully start again after the COVID-19 situation normalizes. That will make a significant positive impact in terms of bringing our businesses closer together, helping our economies cooperate more closely, besides giving a boost to our tourism sector. 

In terms of physical connectivity, we also have a plan for connecting India and Vietnam on land.  We are geographically not very distant.  India’s northeast is quite close to Vietnam and therefore, land connectivity is a very natural option that we need to explore.  It was historically there. In modern times, we need to rebuild this land connection.  And to this end, there is a proposal for what we call a Trilateral Highway which connects India’s northeastern region with Myanmar and Thailand.  We are doing studies and we have found a lot of scope for extending that Trilateral Highway to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In fact, there has been a serious study done on that recently and such an extension has been found feasible.  We are discussing that with our ASEAN partners. And we hope that it will become a reality soon in truly connecting our two countries.  That will have a multiplier effect on several aspects of our engagements.

We also need to do more to promote our digital connectivity.  COVID-19 has brought to the fore the importance of digital connectivity.   We are having this interview through the digital means, and that is happening everywhere else too.  Our businesses are using digital connectivity.  I think COVID-19 has both shown importance of digital connectivity and also pushed us into adapting better to digital technologies.   So, all this hopefully will have a salutary impact on our engagement, including some newer areas like cooperation between our start up and innovation ecosystems, as well as areas like smart city and healthcare.  I would say COVID-19 has taught us to take an entirely fresh look at what healthcare cooperation can achieve.  We are not just talking about pharmaceutical trade, but also medical devices, healthcare infrastructure, use of technology in healthcare and so on. There are so many digital applications in healthcare which are proving so valuable as we are dealing with COVID-19.  All these are areas in which we can cooperate to make our engagements much more productive.

VITV:  How India and Vietnam support each other to deal with Covid-19 pandemic?

Ambassador: During COVID-19, our two countries have closely maintained exchanges including at the level of our top leaders as well as at functional level, to learn from each other how we are dealing with this pandemic.  COVID-19 is a global problem and requires collective efforts to deal with it.  In that spirit, we are closely engaged with Vietnamese agencies.  We are also having our medical experts talking to each other, sharing the best practices that we are adopting in managing the pandemic.  India has had its share of devastation caused by COVID-19 earlier this year, which taught us many lessons and given many experiences to share.  Vietnam is facing similar challenges while undergoing the fourth wave of the pandemic currently.  Our health Ministries have maintained close contacts and exchanged views on pandemic management. 

Recently, when India had its very serious second wave earlier this year, Vietnam sent us very valuable support through both Government as well as people-to-people channels – support such as oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators etc. which were greatly appreciated by India.  Similarly, now that Vietnam is undergoing its fourth wave, we have stepped up our support. Recently an Indian Navy ship has brought 100 metric tons of medical oxygen and 300 oxygen concentrators to help medical management of COVID-19 in hotspot areas like Ho Chi Minh City.  This shows how we have always been helping each other during difficult times.  I think COVID-19 has taught us the importance of working together. 

I would also mention that our pharmaceutical companies have also been providing some critical life-saving drugs to Vietnam in dealing with COVID-19.  Our biotechnology companies and pharmaceutical agencies are also engaged with Vietnam for development of Vietnam’s domestic vaccines.  They are also talking about areas like transfer of technology in vaccine production. 

At people-to-people level, there has been a show of solidarity.  The Indian community in Ho Chi Mih City has put together its resources and gifted an ECMO machine to the Hospital of Tropical Disease in Ho Chi Minh City.  Recently, the Indian community in Hanoi has also contributed to COVID-19 Vaccine Fund of the Government of Vietnam.  These are demonstrative of solidarity at the people-to-people level and really show the human connections that goes into building our strategic partnership.  If you talk about our strategic partnership, it is not just about our geopolitics and geo-economics, it is also about the solidarity between our two peoples.

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VITV: About the outlook of this relationship in the future, what can you say?

Ambassador: Well, I am very optimistic about this relationship’s future.  I believe this relationship is full of promise.  As I mentioned to you, we are two aspirational societies with very youthful demography. Our development visions have many overlapping areas. We are two rapidly growing economies.  We both are committed to overcoming shared challenges like climate change and poverty to achieve sustainable and inclusive development.  We have a lot of similar views on many regional and international issues, which automatically creates ground for closer cooperation on regional and international stage. We both are committed to international law and believe that India-Vietnam cooperation provides a factor of stability in our shared Indo-Pacific region. So, I am most optimistic about this relationship. And I am sure, just as we have achieved rapid growth in our ties over the last five years of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, we will be achieving even more rapid and more qualitatively higher engagements over the next five years.

VITV:  I also share the same view with you, Ambassador.  I think that our relationship in future would be more than this and we will achieve more and more things.  So, thank you ambassador for taking your time and answering my whole lot of questions.

Ambassador:  Thank you very much for this interview. I look forward to continuing our exchanges, and through your channel, continuing this engagement with all your viewers in Vietnam.

VITV:  Yes, of course. It will be my pleasure.  I hope next time I will see you physically in our studio, not on online platform like this.  It is good to see you in person.  Have good luck and stay safe.

Ambassador:  My best wishes to you too. It was good to see you again.