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Transcript of Ambassador ’s Interview with VOV1, VTC and VOV5 (7 August 2020)

Posted on: August 07, 2020 | Back | Print

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Q 1.  Thank you very much for joining our interview today! As the Ambassador of the Republic of India to Vietnam since 2019, could you share with us your feelings about the capital city of Hanoi and Vietnam as well? What are your priorities during your term in Vietnam?

Amb: I have completed exactly a year as the Ambassador of India to Vietnam today. Last year this day (August 7), I had presented my credentials to President Trong in the Presidential Palace. 

The last one year has been a great experience. Hanoi is an amazingly vibrant place, with a rare blend of history, tradition and modernity. I find people very warm and positive towards India, which is really great to see. I have travelled to many provinces of Vietnam in the last one year and have seen the country endowed with so much of history and natural beauty, whether mountains or coastal beaches. In many ways Vietnam is like India where we have diversity of topography. There is also a deep cultural history that we share which is visible when one travels around in Vietnam. Our heritage conservation project in Quang Nam province at the My Son Cham temple complex is an example.   

Q 2.  So what are some of your priorities during your term in Vietnam?

Amb: The most important priority is to implement the vision of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.  There are many aspects to it. First, we would be keen to strengthen our development partnership that can make a difference in the lives of the common people, either through capacity building programmes or through quick impact development projects that we are undertaking in many provinces. 

Second, we need to bring our people closer together. For this, connectivity is important.  For long, there was a problem of direct connectivity between our two countries. To overcome that, we started direct flights last year. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 that has got disrupted, but we hope to resume these connections as soon as the situation returns to normal.

Connectivity is an important priority for us not only to promote tourism but also to bring our businesses closer together. Trade and business engagements are a very important aspect of our engagement with Vietnam and we would definitely work on taking our trade engagement with Vietnam to even more substantive levels. 

Thirdly, we would like to continue building on our robust defence cooperation which is an important aspect of our strategic partnership. In addition to our regular defence exchanges, there is significant focus on defence industrial cooperation, where defence Lines of Credit from India is helping build Vietnam’s defence industrial capacities.

Lastly, an important priority for us is to further enhance our regional cooperation and multilateral engagement, particularly as both India and Vietnam are going to be concurrently non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. There is therefore a wide scope for multilateral cooperation between our two countries. We would also like to work together for regional peace and prosperity based on the deep convergences between India’s Indo-Pacific Vision and Vietnam’s ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific.  

Q 3.  Year 2020 has to date been a turbulent year, especially with COVID-19 ravaging worldwide. In such circumstances, how do you assess cooperation between Vietnam and India? What are the highlights of bilateral ties?

Amb: Indeed, COVID-19 has created many disruptions. However, that has not prevented us from engaging with each other, including at the highest levels.  As you would be aware, Prime Minister Modi spoke with Prime Minister Phuc on telephone on April 13 and held detailed discussion not only on COVID-19 situation but also other aspects of our bilateral relationship. 

We are also sharing a lot of COVID-19 related experiences with each other. We have organized on-line capacity building programmes related to COVID-19 management in which we have invited Vietnamese participants to join.  Our military medical departments have also held tele-conferences to learn from each other’s best practices about COVID-19 management.   

Our businesses are also reengaging after initial disruptions.  I have already participated in about six or seven business conclaves in the last few months which have been organized online by business chambers on both sides.  It is good to see businesses showing interest in reengaging through online platforms. We hope this trend will further grow.

Our development partnership is going on. As I said earlier, our small projects and capacity building programmes are continuing. Just this morning, we signed an agreement for setting up an Advanced IT Training Centre at the Post and Telecommunications Institute of Technology in Ho Chi Minh City, to be set up with Indian assistance of over $ 1 million to create a state-of-the-art facility for IT training and skilling. This will not only help IT professionals but also local Vietnamese industries which are seeking to build their digital capacities.

On another important front of our development partnership, the Indian archaeological experts have continued their heritage conservation project in My Son in Quang Nam province and in course of their conservation project, have found some magnificent icons of our civilizational interaction, including a 9th century Shiva Linga.

Similarly, our defence partnership continues to grow. Of our defence Lines of Credit – the first one of $100 million is already under implementation for building 12 high-speed patrol boats for Vietnam. The first boat is expected to be delivered from India this year. Seven of these boats will be built in Vietnam, for which construction is likely to commence in the near future.

Our two countries are also having good engagement in multilateral domain by continuing exchanges in the context of ASEAN as well as many global and regional issues.

So, as you can see, in many areas across the whole gamut of our partnership, we are continuing to move forward despite the pandemic.  That gives us great satisfaction.

Q 4.  What are the steps being taken by India to deal with the challenge of COVID-19?

Amb: COVID-19 has affected India, just as it has affected many other countries. The steps taken by Government of India to deal with the pandemic span all three fronts – healthcare, livelihood, particularly of those belonging to marginalized and vulnerable sections of society, and economic revival.

If you look at just the number of COVID-19 infections in India, it does not present you the real picture, unless you realize that you are looking at a country of over 1.3 billion population. So, while there are 1.9 million positive cases in India by today, there are also 1.4 million out of those 1.9 million who have completely recovered. Our recovery rates have now gone over 68%, whereas the case fatality rate has gradually come down to less than 2.1%, way below the global average of more than 5%. This has been possible due to some very decisive and early actions taken by the Government, including actions taken to restrict movement and an unprecedented national lockdown, to prevent the spread of the virus.

The pandemic itself has led to a significant capacity added to our health infrastructure, which will not only help in dealing with the current pandemic but also other healthcare concerns after the pandemic is over.  To give you an example, today we are testing almost 1 million people every day which is a huge number of people being tested and also one of the reasons why we are finding more cases in India.  The world’s largest COVID hospital today is in India – a 10,000 bed hospital in Delhi.  We have today more than 11,000 COVID treatment facilities in India, with over 1.5 million isolation beds for COVID patients. Production of medical supplies has reached unprecedented levels. For example, we were not making any PPE kits in India until January. Today we are not only producing them at a rate of 500,000 per day but are actually so self-sufficient that we are exporting these PPE kits to other countries. 

On the medical front, India is also actively engaged in researching for vaccines. Our two vaccines have already reached human trial stage and the initial feedback is encouraging. As the “pharmacy of the world”, India produces 20% of world’s generic medicines and 62% of all global vaccines. India is therefore going to play a leading role in these efforts. Already, to manage the pandemic, we are supplying supportive medicines to almost 150 countries all over the world.  We are also challenging smartest brains in India and the world to come up with a drug molecule to treat COVID-19 through a Drug Discovery Hackathon.

On the livelihood side, Government is extending support to a large number of our people who are not well-off and have been hit badly by the pandemic, particularly the migrant workers. Government has launched a food security programme to provide free food worth $20 billion. Similarly, Government has given $ 25 billion of support under the Prime Minister’s Poor Welfare Programme, which includes $6 billion of loan extended to more than 300 million farmers.   

Thirdly, on economic revival, some very concrete and transformative steps are being taken. Prime Minister Modi has laid the vision of a “human-centric globalization” for economic revival with care and compassion. He has also envisioned a “self-reliant India” – Aatma Nirbhar Bhaarat as it is called in Hindi – which is self-sustaining and resilient, not by isolating India, but by building capacities at home so that India can integrate better with the global value chains.  

Prime Minister Modi also believes, and he has spoken about it recently, that India’s revival must lead the global revival.  Given India’s size, capacities and ambitions, it has to be a major factor in global revival.  And the steps that we are taking in India are not incremental; they are transformative. So, if you look at the stimulus package that we have announced, it is almost $ 300 billion or 10% of our GDP. There have been transformative reforms carried out in the agriculture sector which we believe has to be a major driver of India’s economic revival since many people in India still depend on agriculture. How to modernize agriculture, how to make it more productive so that farmers can benefit from modern technologies and a more liberalized market for agricultural products – are all part of this transformation. Similarly, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), which are economic foundations of any developed economy – is another very important sector where we are focusing to bring about a transformative change as part of our vision for revival. 

As Prime Minister Modi has envisioned, this pandemic can be an opportunity in the midst of the crisis by positioning India to be a major contributor for global revival and global well-being.  We are welcoming foreign investors and partners to take advantage of the three O’s - Openness, Opportunities and Options - that India offers to the world today. This is the vision with which we are moving forward.

Q 5.  Will India share the vaccine with Vietnam once it is able to manufacture in India?

Amb:  I think once the vaccine is found, it will be a ‘global good’ for the humanity. In fact, the effort today has to be not just about finding or producing the vaccine but having a vaccine which can be shared and shared affordably with all the people in the world.  The COVID pandemic is a global challenge and therefore, has to have a global response with global benefits from global actions.   

Q 6.  So how is your assessment about Vietnam’s fight against COVID?

Amb: Vietnam has managed the COVID situation really well. There was not a single death here, until unfortunately the second round of infections started two weeks ago. Vietnam is one of those countries which took very early and decisive actions and maintained information flow about the pandemic in a very transparent manner. Vietnam also took very concerted actions to ensure widespread testing, contact-tracing, quarantining and a whole-of-Government and whole-of-society mobilization against the pandemic.

Q 7.  At the 16th ASEAN-India Summit in Thailand last November, Prime Minister Modi said that India is promoting its “Act East” policy and “Indo-Pacific vision” with ASEAN centrality as a core principle. What is Vietnam’s position in India’s strategy and India’s general policies toward regional peace and security?

Amb: “Act East Policy” is one of our fundamental visions in engaging with our extended neighbourhood to India’s East. Vietnam figures very prominently in that vision. Vietnam is a key pillar of India’s Act East Policy across all its three pillars – known as the three C’s – commerce, connectivity and culture. 

India’s Indo-Pacific Vision is based on our belief that the opportunities and challenges that exist in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans cannot be artificially separated. The Indo-Pacific also represents a geography that, in our view, reflects the new growth realities of the world. India’s Indo-Pacific Vision is for a free, open, peaceful, prosperous and above all, an inclusive region, with rules-based order and respect for sovereignty of nations. It is based on ASEAN-centrality. It embodies a positive construct of development and connectivity, in which India can play a unique role by virtue of its geographical location and economic strengths. To translate this vision into practical cooperation, at the East Asia Summit in 2019, Prime Minister Modi also articulated our Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), which provides a detailed template for partnership-based cooperation across areas such as maritime security, ecology and environment, as well as connectivity.

We are happy that ASEAN countries, including Vietnam, have come up with their own Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which is broadly similar to our Indo-Pacific Vision and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative. Together, they provide a useful roadmap to promote regional integration, physical and digital connectivity, and economic cooperation. As a close partner of India with multifaceted political, economic and security cooperation and as a key link in India’s engagement with ASEAN, Vietnam is clearly an indispensable partner in our Indo-Pacific Vision, based on our shared values and interests in promoting peace, stability and prosperity of our region.

Q 8.  In 2020, Vietnam serves as the ASEAN Chair and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. How have Vietnam and India have cooperated to promote peace and development in the region and the world?

Amb: India and Vietnam have a strong tradition of engaging with each other in multilateral forum. Vietnam is already a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. India is going to join the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member in January 2021. Our concurrent presence in the Security Council provides a renewed basis for us to work together on many global issues. 

If you look at the worldview of our two countries, our overall approach to international relations have several common points. We have shared values and interests.  We also have similarity of views on most regional and international issues. We both support multilateralism. In fact, India has come up with the vision of “Reformed Multilateralism”, as we believe that multilateralism in its current form is not reflective of the global reality. The “Reformed Multilateralism” is about making multilateralism more democratic, effective, flexible, credible, representative and transparent. This is a vision where Vietnam will find a great degree of convergence with us.

In addition, both India and Vietnam bring voices of moderation, inclusivity and equity in the global discourse, which are important for international conduct in today’s world.  We both respect international law and rules-based order. Both our countries are today contributing to regional and global peace and development through UN Peacekeeping, as well as through our committed actions towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals and dealing with Climate Change. So, there are several aspects of our multilateral engagement where we can and are working together.

Q 9.  Economic and trade cooperation is one of the main pillars of the Vietnam-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Two-way trade hit 11.3 billion USD in 2019 and the two countries target 15 billion USD this year. These figures are relatively modest compared to Vietnam’s trade with China (more than 116 billion USD), the US (more than 60 billion USD), and the EU (more than 56 billion USD). What are the reasons, and what should be done to improve trade ties between Vietnam and India?

Amb: In our trade engagement, if you compare where we were and where we have come, it is quite impressive.  We had a trade of $ 200 million in year 2000. Today we are at US$ 12 billion. In 2019, India was the 7th largest trading partner of Vietnam.  But I do agree that it is still not up to the mark and not commensurate with the levels of our economic development and the fact that we both are among the fastest growing economies in the world today.  So there needs to be a new push to move our trading engagement forward.

COVID-19 has brought disruptions in this engagement but I also think it opens up new opportunities.  COVID-19 has pushed us into rethinking the way we engage with each other and it is there that new opportunities emerge. Given our supply chain as well as demand disruptions in the wake of COVID-19, we are all exploring new supply chains and new partnerships. I think this is an opportunity for us to actually expand our trading engagement by identifying new supply chains located in each other’s country. 

We also need to do more to build connectivity – connectivity in physical sense but also in digital domain which will become increasingly important with the COVID pandemic continuing to be around us. We have to learn to apply technology more and more in conducting business. We also need to get our businesses to engage more with each other through more focused B2B engagements, including through on-line platforms.

We also need to set new and ambitious targets and back it up with a strong plan of action so that each side is clear about what to achieve and how to achieve.  That is a practical way to move forward.

At the same time, we also need to upgrade our regional trading architecture. For India and Vietnam, it is the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA). This architecture is of 2009 vintage and has never been reviewed. So, in its present form, it does not reflect today’s economic realities and unable to meet our expectations. We really hope that Vietnam as the Chair of ASEAN can help in launching the review of AITIGA at the earliest, since that is an important foundation for taking forward our trade engagement.  

As India is positioning itself as a driver of post-COVID global economic revival and aspiring to become a $ 5 trillion economy, these create immense opportunities, demands and capacities for a partner country like Vietnam.  Vietnamese businesses must approach their economic engagement with India from this larger strategic perspective.

Q 10. Could you please tell us about the forthcoming engagements between political leaderships of the two countries?

Amb: Right now, we have a number of ASEAN related events where we expect our leaders to engage, in whatever format – online or otherwise – that could be possible in the midst of the COVID pandemic.  We have EAS Foreign Ministers’ meeting where our External Affairs Minister will be participating. Similarly, our Defence Minister will be participating at the ADMM+ meeting that Vietnam will host. Then we have the East Asia Summit and ASEAN-India Summit where our top leaders will be interacting with each other.  Therefore, the second half of the year will have a number of opportunities for political-level engagement. In which format they happen will of course depend on how Vietnam as the host decides to go about them, keeping in view the COVID pandemic situation. 

Q 11. Yoga has been warmly welcomed in Vietnam over recent years evidenced by nearly 10,000 people taking part in celebrations of International Day of Yoga in five Vietnamese provinces in June. Many yoga instructors from India have come to work in Vietnam. How do you see this trend and what do you think Vietnam and India should do to boost people-to-people exchanges in addition to “yoga diplomacy”?

Amb: Yoga is a gift of ancient Indian civilization. We are very happy that the International Day of Yoga right since its inception in 2015 is celebrated in Vietnam every year with great fervor.  The widespread popularity of Yoga across the length and breadth of Vietnam also reflects our mutual cultural affinity.  Yoga has acquired a new meaning today in the midst of the COVID pandemic, as it shows us the way forward in our common pursuit of health, wellness and happiness. Yoga, in that sense, connects the entire humanity. Given the stress and strains of modern day living, by helping us unite our mind and body with the nature, Yoga will continue to have a great therapeutic value. I therefore see the importance of Yoga only growing in the times to come. 

Among other ways in which we can promote people-to-people exchanges between our two countries, I would suggest promotion of film and television series.  India’s Bollywood is a globally recognized brand. It is time we bring more Indian films to Vietnam, and maybe find a way to get Indian films to be shot at some of Vietnam’s scenic locations. This will hugely popularize Vietnam in India and give a boost to tourism. There are some Indian TV series being aired by Vietnam’s TV channels that are quite popular. We need to do more.

Also, Buddhism as our shared heritage can help us boost tourism, and academic and scholarly exchanges. Similarly, Vietnam’s Cham culture carries great symbolism of our historical and cultural association that can attract popular attention.  Lastly, in India and Vietnam, we both have our own pop cultures that appeal to the youth. We need to find a way to use that pop culture to connect our youths.

Q 12. India has been extending support to ASEAN countries in the field of space science. Could you please tell us more about India-ASEAN Space Project?

Amb: Development aspects of Space technology offers huge opportunities for cooperation and a robust platform for development partnership. There is a wide range of developmental applications of space technology, such as remote sensing, weather forecasting, resource exploration, forestry, agriculture, urban planning, communications, navigation, tele-medicine, tele-education and so on. With Vietnam, we have been able to capture all these in a Framework Agreement for Exploitation and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes that was signed in 2016. We really hope to make the best use of this cooperation framework. We are already engaged with Vietnam in capacity building and training programmes related to space applications. We would like to scale up these engagements further to make space technology an important pillar of our development partnership.

With regard to the ASEAN-India space cooperation with particular reference to Vietnam, we are in the process of setting up a Tracking and Data Reception Station and Data Processing Facility in Bin Dzuong, as one of ASEAN-India cooperation projects. From the Indian side, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and from the Vietnamese side, the National Remote Sensing Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources & Environment are collaborating on this.  

Q 13. Our two Foreign Ministries are planning a meeting late this August – could you tell us more details about this meeting?

Amb: India and Vietnam have Foreign Ministerial-level Joint Commission mechanism that meets periodically and takes stock of the entire gamut of the relationship.  The last Joint Commission meeting was held in August 2018. Next meeting is due this year. Our two Foreign Ministries are in touch with each other to work out a mutually convenient schedule and format for this meeting.

Q 14. We have seen reports of a number of measures taken by Government of India in Jammu & Kashmir. Can you elaborate?

Amb: We have just completed one year since the reorganization of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) took place by creating two Union Territories (UT) – one UT of J&K and another UT of Ladakh.  It is also one year since our Parliament repealed one of the temporary provisions in the Constitution of India, known as Article 370, which essentially was a barrier that prevented Jammu and Kashmir to stay in step with the socio-economic development that was taking place in the rest of the country. 

Since then, in the last one year, a number of measures have been taken by the Government of India, which are geared towards making the UT of J&K to be a part of India’s socio-economic growth and development story. These measures are essentially on three fronts – first, to provide good governance, second, to bring socio-economic justice to the people of J&K, and third, to achieve socio-economic development for them.

Several concrete steps have been taken to this end.  These foremost include making applicable a number of central laws to the UT of J&K, which were earlier not applicable to J&K even though these laws are meant for promoting and protecting the social, economic and political rights of women, children and under-privileged sections of society and ensuring a more transparent and accountable governance.  For example, the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which was earlier not applicable to J&K, has been extended to UT of J&K, so that children of UT of J&K can have access to this very fundamental right. Similarly, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act as well as Right to Information Act have been extended to UT of J&K. So, a number of legislative measures which were earlier applicable in the rest of the country but not in J&K, have now been extended to UT of J&K with a view to bring about good governance and socio-economic justice.

A number of other measures have been taken in the last one year which are showing results. I will just give you a brief idea about those.  A significant attempt has been made towards strengthening the grassroots institutions of J&K by holding, for the first time, elections for the Block Development Council in October 2019.  These elections saw a massive turnover of 98% voters.

Government of India has also taken a slew of measures to support and promote J&K’s economy based on local strengths.  J&K is famous for its apples and saffron. In the last few months since J&K became a UT, we have been able to have more than $10 million worth of apple procurement from J&K.  Similarly, Kashmiri Saffron, which is a globally famous and a very unique produce, because it is grown at such an altitude only in J&K, has now received its own Geographical Indicator (GI) tag. Just as Champagne is recognized from the place of its production in France, the Kashmiri saffron has now got its own identity.

Government of India is also working to attract large-scale investments to come into J&K to promote its economic development.  Earlier, outside investments were not permitted into J&K.  Now, we have been mobilizing global investors conferences which are eliciting very encouraging response.  For example, recent investment roadshow for J&K have resulted in signing of 168 investment MOUs worth almost US$ 2 million across 14 priority sectors in manufacturing and employment-generating areas.  We are building two IT parks in J&K to promote entrepreneurship.  In infrastructure development, over 500 projects, which were pending for long, have been completed with a total outlay of $ 80 billion, while over 2000 new projects worth almost $ 800 million have been approved.  Over 300,000 households have got electricity in the last one year.  We also recently hosted Indian Winter Games at the famous location of Gulmarg in J&K in March 2020.

The health infrastructure in J&K has also been significantly strengthened with an investment of over $ 1 billion. Today, we have two Central-level, super specialized hospitals set up in J&K. Even in terms of COVID management, UT of J&K is one of the best performing UTs/States of India.  After the COVID pandemic broke out, we had the first specialized COVID hospital of India set up in J&K.  Today, there are 17 COVID hospitals with more than 60,000 beds, 20,000 intensive care beds, 2500 isolation beds, 3000 doctors and almost 10,000 paramedics taking care of the fight against COVID situation in J&K.

So, all these clearly show that a very concerted effort is being made towards bringing good governance to the UT of J&K and making it a part of India’s development story. We are very proud that we have been able to achieve this much in a short span of one year. We are committed to continuing to move forward in that direction.

***

07 August 2020

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