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Ambassador’s Remarks at a Webinar hosted by RIS on “Promoting India-Vietnam Cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI): Perspectives and Prospects” (24 June 2020)

Posted on: July 14, 2020 | Back | Print

Address by Shri Pranay Verma, Ambassador of India to Vietnam

(Co-Chair)

 

Thank you very much Prof Chaturvedi, Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau, and the Department of Science and Technology. I can see Shri Varshney there and my senior colleague from the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Ambassador Bhaskar Balakrishnan. Also good to see our good friend Dr. Le Van Toan from the Centre for Indian Studies in Hanoi.

I am very happy that RIS and DST have taken this initiative, suitably encouraged by Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau, to bring a new focus on science diplomacy between India and Vietnam. Science and technology has always been an important part of external outreach of India. Many of our Embassies world over have designated officials to handle S&T cooperation. I am very happy that S&T cooperation has been and continue to emerge as an important theme in our engagement with Vietnam.

As part of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Vietnam launched in 2016, as Ambassador Sanh Chau also mentioned in his remarks, science and technology has been identified as one of its five pillars. The focus under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership framework is to diversify our engagement in various areas – areas that are important for our national development. As aspirational societies endowed with youthful demographies, S&T cooperation between India and Vietnam has a crucial role to play in our collaboration and efforts to support each other’s national development, of which India and Vietnam have a long tradition. Clearly, S&T cooperation continues to find an important place in the emerging landscape of our engagement.

If you look at S&T cooperation between India and Vietnam, we do have a focus on S&T cooperation through a long-existing framework agreement. At the same time, if you review the various collaborations that have been undertaken, S&T keeps appearing in its various avatars and sectoral focus in those engagements. Of course, we have a framework agreement on S&T, which was signed in 1976 and renewed in 1996 and then there have been several renewals of programmes of cooperation under that arrangement. Under those programmes of action, we have identified a number of specific areas of cooperation and as years have gone by, we have gradually moved into more advanced aspects of S&T. But that’s just one dimension of our S&T cooperation, where we have made headways in some areas, but not so much in others.

However, in some specific areas and sectoral focus of our collaboration, there have been some real success stories of our S&T partnership.  For example, under our engagement in agriculture, which Ambassador Pam Sanh Chau also noted, the establishment of the Cuu Long Rice Research Centre in Can Tho in southern part of Vietnam in 1976 and then the Buffalo and Forage Research Centre in Ho Chi Minh City established in 1978 have been great examples of our early engagements with Vietnam with a distinct focus on applied S&T as a tool for socio-economic development and as an important part of our bilateral development partnership.

Then came a phase in our partnership where a number of lines of credit from India played a very important role in promoting technology-based sectors of Vietnam, such as railways, textiles, hydropower and steel. These are some fine examples of the usefulness of our development partnership for Vietnam’s national development. Some of the current captains, for example, of Vietnam’s textile industry are companies which started their industrial journeys benefitting from the Indian lines of credit.

So I think, S&T as a key aspect of our engagement with Vietnam has always been there as part of our broader engagement. In specific areas, as Ambassador Sanh Chau mentioned in his remarks, our cooperation in peaceful use of outer space through a framework agreement and also the framework agreement on peaceful uses of atomic energy, both concluded in 2016, are two examples that highlight the modern S&T applications remaining a priority in our bilateral engagement with Vietnam. In fact, Vietnam was among the first countries with whom India signed an intergovernmental agreement in peaceful uses of atomic energy, much before our civil nuclear agreement with many other countries came up.

In the current phase, apart from these areas of our collaboration where there is a distinct S&T focus, our defence industrial cooperation with Vietnam has also emerged as an import important part of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Our defence lines of credit are not just about providing defence supplies to Vietnam of its needs, but they are also about helping Vietnam in producing some of them in Vietnam, which contributes significantly to Vietnam’s own manufacturing capabilities.  

Again, in oil, gas and energy sector, the presence of Indian energy company ONGC, now OVL, in Vietnam since 1980s is an example of how technology has welded our partnership in key sectors. In the new era, we are seeing Indian companies showing interest in investing in Vietnam’s renewable energy sector, which is among the emerging areas of our cooperation and which we hope will continue to grow.

We are, therefore, already witnessing the advantage of having an applied, sectoral focus of science and technology in our collaborations across wide-ranging verticals. I also believe that such sectoral and applied focus of S&T helps us grow our cooperation in a much more purposive and targeted manner, which we are seeing in some of our key cooperation areas.

Promoting innovation and enhancing capabilities of our enterprises, particularly to enable them to become part of global value chains, should be an important focus as we move forward in our S&T cooperation. I would urge RIS and DST to consider that as an important objective and purpose of the strategies we propose for our future S&T engagement.  Among the potential areas of cooperation, I would say that agriculture should continue to be an area of interest for us.  While India has contributed to Vietnam’s agricultural development over the years, today there is a lot that we can learn from Vietnam, given Vietnam’s own impressive growth in agricultural productivity and Vietnam’s success in integrating agriculture research with agricultural production, industry and marketing.

I entirely agree with some of the areas that Ambassador Sanh Chau has identified for our future S&T partnership, such as biotechnology, material science, pharmaceuticals, Industry 4.0. I would also add oceanology.  As two great maritime countries, oceanology is an area of interest to both of us. If you look at India’s Indo-Pacific Ocean’s Initiative (IPOI), which was launched by our Prime Minister at the East Asia Summit in Bangkok last year, there is a big focus among several verticals of IPOI on aspects of S&T where oceanology is at their centre. So, whether it is maritime resources, maritime ecology, maritime capacity building, or maritime science and technology, all these are areas which can be brought under the framework of oceanography and oceanology. We should therefore look at this sector in a more meaningful way.

Healthcare sector is another area that needs to be at the focus of our attention. Particularly now that COVID has posed a new and unprecedented challenge for all of us, I think there is great scope for our scientists to work together – not just in terms of controlling the pandemic, but also in finding a solution for it. Vietnam’s success in managing COVID makes it an ideal partner for such collaboration. Application of ICT in healthcare sector as well as pharmaceuticals are also related areas where we are working to promote our cooperation with Vietnam not just as trading partners, but also in building Vietnam’s capacities. For example, India has been associated with a telemedicine healthcare project in Vietnam’s Hai Phong Medical University under the cooperation framework of IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa), of which we have received a very positive feedback in terms of the role the project has played during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are examples of a very action-oriented practical cooperation under the rubric of science and technology that we should aspire for and promote.

We are closely working with Vietnam in capacity building programmes. Again, there is a broader technology focus in many of them. For example, for our e-ITEC programme that was launched in 2019, we chose Vietnam among a small group of four countries to introduce some new-era S&T courses through remote links.  Of course, we have a long-standing partnership with Vietnam under the ITEC cooperation framework. But the e-ITEC programme launched last year, (even though it was the pre-COVID times!), the use of remote links proved to be an excellent medium to reach a target audience using the platforms of online/distance learning between universities which are centres of excellence on both sides. In this case, IIT Madras from India and Vietnam National University in Hanoi partnered in this e-ITEC programme. The first course covered areas like data analytics, big data etc. which are really cutting-edge subject matters. Similarly, the one thousand post-doctoral fellowships in our IITs for ASEAN students which was launched recently, we have seen a significant interest and a number of enrolments from the Vietnamese students.  

In the ICT sector, and you cannot miss it if you are talking about S&T cooperation these days, some of the leading names in Indian IT sector have been present in Vietnam for some time and building local capacities in areas such as software development etc. Some other Indian IT companies are also exploring new investments in Vietnam.

There is increasing attention from Vietnamese provinces in reaching out to us for collaboration in smart city development. That’s an area where we have our own focus in India. There may be scope for the two sides to pool in their resources and knowledge in this emerging sector.

Our start-ups also offer us a platform to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation. There is very vibrant start-up community in Vietnam just as we have in India. But I don’t yet see much linkages between them. They need to be brought in contact with each other. Some areas where our start-ups could explore cooperation may include Fintech, IT-enabled services, innovation, healthcare applications etc. 

In conclusion, I therefore believe that if you start taking stock of the amount of S&T-oriented cooperation that we are having which are focussed on different technologies, their applications as well capacity building programmes centred on them, you realise that there is actually so much that we are already doing. At the same time, we still have ample scope for expanding cooperation to newer areas of S&T that have a focus in our national development. What we do need to do is to structure them and connect them under a more action-oriented, target-driven and outcome-generating collaboration rubric.

I once again thank RIS to give us the opportunity to present our points of view on this important subject. I look forward to your deliberations and to learning from experts who have more experience not just of the subject matter but also in the conduct of science diplomacy.

Thank you very much!     

 

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