Interview with H.E. Mr. Nguyen Thanh Hai, Ambassador of Viet Nam to India

“Trade is one of five pillars in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Viet Nam and India.”

 India and Viet Nam have a long history of strong bilateral relationship stretching back to pre-modern age. Can you comment on the diplomatic relationship between the two countries since 1972?

India and Viet Nam have excellent relationship. The two countries have always supported each other in our struggle for independence in the last century and in our cause for national development today. Viet Nam’s late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong once said that the relationship between India and Viet Nam is as clear as a blue sky without a single cloud.

50 years since its diplomatic establishment in 1972, being cultivated by generations of leaders and peoples of the two countries, Viet Nam – India relationship has witnessed excellent growth on the basis of similar cultural values and civilizations and shared strategic interests.

Diplomatic relationship has been constantly strengthened. We are delighted to witness many important achievements in the relations between the two countries, especially since the establishment of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership during the visit to Viet Nam by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016.

The fact that India is among the five countries having a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Viet Nam demonstrates the significance of this relationship. Meanwhile, Indian leaders always affirm that Viet Nam is an important pillar of the Act East policy and a key partner in India’s Indo – Pacific Vision. Two sides are working closely for the successful implementation of the Joint Vision Statement for Peace, Prosperity and People adopted by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2020.

Since establishment of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the two countries frequently conducted high-level exchanges and contacts on the sidelines of major international forums. Most recently, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephone conversation in April 2022.  Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh met with India’s Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar in Phnom Penh in November 2022, met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi twice this year on the occasion of attending G7 summit and outreach meetings in Japan in May 2023 and at the sideline of ASEAN – India Summit in Indonesia in September 2023. Speaker of the Lok Sabha Om Birla also paid a visit to Viet Nam in April 2022 after the Chairman of the National Assembly of Viet Nam Vuong Dinh Hue visited India in December 2021

High-level visits and exchanges have contributed remarkably to tightening the solidarity, friendship and cooperation between the two countries, most remarkably recently are visits to India by Viet Nam’s Minister of Public Security To Lam (April 2023), Minister of Defense Phan Van Giang (June 2023), Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Minh Hoan (June 2023), Minister of Justice Le Thanh Long (July 2023). From India, Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh visited Viet Nam (June 2022). Strategic trust is constantly being reinforced.

Furthermore, bilateral cooperation mechanisms such as the Sub-Committee on Trade (August 2023) have been effective in identifying specific measures to promote relations between the two sides in various fields. Viet Nam and India actively support each other at international and regional forums, including ASEAN-led forums and mechanisms. The two sides coordinated closely in 2021 when both served as non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi met his Vietnamese counter-part Prime Minister of Viet Nam Mr. Pham Minh Chinh recently on the sidelines of G-7 Summit in Japan. What were some of the major the issues mentioned in the meeting?

Meeting of the two countries’ leaders play a very crucial role in guiding the directions of bilateral cooperation.

At the meeting on 20 May 2023,the two Prime Ministers reaffirmed they attached importance to the traditional and long-lasting friendship between Viet Nam and India, discussing measures to realize the vision on advancing the two countries’ comprehensive strategic partnership. Prime Minister Modi affirmed that Viet Nam is one of India’s strategic partners of top importance.

Two Prime Minister expressed interests and determination in bringing multi-faceted cooperation forward. Apart from promoting political-diplomatic ties, there are other  areas of great potential for cooperation such as trade, investment, service, finance-banking, tourism, science and technology, innovation, among others.

Prime Minister N. Modi said economic and trade cooperation remains an important pillar of the Viet Nam-India relations. Both sides discuss concrete measures to facilitate their business circles’ market access and investment into respective countries.

Both leaders agreed to continue promoting the role of consultation mechanisms and dialogues, expand cooperation in the domains of both sides’ strength, and coordinate closely and share positions on regional and international issues of shared concern at both bilateral and multilateral levels.

The two Prime Ministers underlined the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and aviation and upholding international law.

They called on parties to fully and effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea Sea and soon reach a practical and effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that is in line with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; and create favorable conditions for the settlement of disputes in the East Sea via peaceful means.

There has been a robust growth in bilateral trade volumes between India and Viet Nam. According to the Indian embassy in Hanoi, bilateral trade shot up from just $200 million in 2020 to $14.14 billion in 2021-22. How do you see this partnership evolve in the near future?

Trade is one of five pillars in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Viet Nam and India. According to Viet Nam statistics, bilateral trade between Viet Nam and India exceeded US$ 15 billion for the first time in 2022, reaching the target set by the leaders of the two countries and bringing India to be the one of eight leading trading partners of Viet Nam.

The key Vietnamese exported products to India are mobile phones and components, computers, electronic products and components, chemicals, plastics and agriculture products like rubber, coffee, pepper, and cashew. The main Indian exported products to Viet Nam are iron and steel products, textile materials, fishery, corn, pharmaceutical, and auto spare parts.

However, there is vast untapped potential in bilateral trade between Viet Nam and India and both sides need to work closely together   to explore ways for enhancing balanced and sustainable trade between the two countries.

When it comes to enhancing bilateral trade, actions need to be taken in several important areas of work. First and foremost, it is imperative to encourage more extensive engagement between traders from both countries. This can be achieved through initiatives such as business delegation visits, fostering increased interaction between the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and facilitating participation in each other’s trade promotion activities, exhibitions, and fairs. Besides that, both sides should persist in simplifying import procedures to streamline import and export activities for enterprises in both nations. There’s immense value in strengthening and expanding trade cooperation across sectors with substantial cooperative potential, including agriculture, fisheries, textiles, footwear, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, fertilizers, machinery and equipment, and consumer products. These measures collectively contribute to the promotion of bilateral trade and economic ties between our two countries.

In recent times, multiple bilateral ministerial level discussions and agreements regarding the defense sector have been undertaken. What are the developments underway to strengthen Indo-Vietnamese defense cooperation?

Defense cooperation is an important area of cooperation in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries for the benefit of the people of each country, for peace and stability in the region and the world., The two countries have maintained regular defense interaction and cooperation, even during the Covid-19 period. The defense ministers of the two countries regularly interact, hold virtual meetings, meetings on the sidelines of international conferences and organize official visits. Milestones in defense cooperation include the visit of, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh to Viet Nam in June 2022 and the official visit of General Phan Van Giang, Minister of National Defense led a high-ranking delegation of the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense to pay an official visit to India in June 2023. The two sides have signed a number of defense cooperation documents, the most important and overarching of which is the Joint Vision Statement of Viet Nam – India Defense Partnership towards 2030. Recently, the Government, Ministry of Defense and Navy of India have gifted the Vietnamese Navy a missile corvette. The two sides continued to cooperate in training and joint exercises on UN peacekeeping, defense projects using credit loans from the Government of India. The two militaries continued to visit each other’s forces, hold consultations, exchange expertise and promote cooperation in potential areas such as cyber security, military medicine, disaster relief in accordance with the demand and capacity of both sides. The two countries will continue the effective cooperation and support for each other in multilateral for a such as ADMM+… in accordance with the Joint Vision Statement on bilateral Defense Partnership towards 2030.

The Minister of National Defense of Viet Nam General Phan Van Giang was recently on a visit to India. What were some of his major engagements here in New Delhi?

In order to strengthen the friendship and maintain commitment to defense cooperation between the two countries, at the invitation of His Excellency Rajnath Singh, Indian Defense Minister, General Phan Van Giang, Politburo member of the Communist Party of Viet Nam, Minister of Defense led a high-ranking delegation of the Ministry of National Defense of Viet Nam to pay an official visit to the Republic of India from June 17 to 19, 2023. During the visit, Defense Minister Phan Van Giang attended a welcoming ceremony and had official talks with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh to exchange and promote bilateral defense cooperation. Defense Minister Phan Van Giang paid a courtesy visit to the President of the Republic of India Droupadi Murmu. Earlier, General Phan Van Giang and the delegation of the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense came to lay a wreath at the National War Memorial in New Delhi. The Vietnamese Defense Minister also visited the headquarters of Defense Research and Development Agency, Ministry of Defense of India to be briefed about potential cooperation in the field of defense industry.

Vietnamese government’s robust investment initiatives have catapulted the country as a lucrative foreign investment destination. What are some of the priority sectors for collaborations between the Indian and the Vietnamese investors?

According to data from Viet Nam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment, India ranks 24th out of 142 countries/territories investing in Viet Nam. Accumulated from 1988 until 2022, with a total of 351 valid projects, Indian businesses have invested 1 billion USD into Viet Nam. Major sectors of Indian investment are energy, mineral exploration, agro-processing, sugar, tea, coffee manufacturing, agro-chemicals, IT and auto components. On Viet Nam’s side, as of 2021, Viet Nam has six investment projects in India with a total estimated investment of US$ 28.55 million, primarily in the areas of pharmaceuticals, information technology, chemicals and building materials. These figures are quite modest when compared to our aspirations and the untapped potential.

Viet Nam aim to become a modern and industrialized country by 2030, and a high-income developed country by 2045. In February 2021, the 13th Party Congress of the Communist Party approved a ten-year economic strategy that calls for shifting foreign investments to high-tech industries and ensuring those investments include provisions relating to environmental protection.

Viet Nam possesses many advantages when it comes to attracting foreign investment. The country boasts a well-established system of around 300 economic zones and industrial parks, with great ease of doing business and tax incentives, making it an attractive destination for businesses looking to set up operations. Furthermore, Viet Nam boasts a large pool of skilled labor, offering a competitive advantage in terms of human resources. Its market potential is substantial. When foreign businesses invest in Viet Nam, they will not only have a market of over 100 million Vietnamese but they can also tap into the broader ASEAN market of 650 million people and trade opportunities with more than 60 key economies through various Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) that Viet Nam has with other countries.

Viet Nam is keen on attracting investments from India, particularly in sectors where there is a synergy between Viet Nam’s demands and India’s strengths, including high technology, support industries, innovation, digital economy, infrastructure development, and pharmaceuticals.

What are the new developments in the aviation sector between Viet Nam and India post-Covid-19?

After the Covid-19 pandemic, Viet Nam reopened international tourism and witnessed impressive growth in the Indian market. The tourism industry in Viet Nam is also a largely untapped market for Indian businesses. Viet Nam has become one of the most favored destinations for Indian weddings, MICE and for leisure. Vice versa, India has become popular amongst Vietnamese travellers due to its rich culture and history. From the beginning of the year to July 2023, more than 212.000 Indian tourists have set foot in Viet Nam which means on average there are over 1000 Indian tourists coming in to Viet Nam every day.

We are delighted to see an impressive growth in our aviation connection, from only 06 flights/week in 2019 to nearly 60 flights/week now. On the Vietnamese side, Vietjet Air was the first carrier to resume direct routes between the two countries post Covid-19 and has continuously broadened its network in India. They have been operating 32 flights/week from Viet Nam to Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Kochi since August 2023 and planning to introduce 04 more flights to Tiruchirappalli from Q4/2023. Viet Nam Airlines, the national carrier of Viet Nam, also introduced their second route in India, from Mumbai to Viet Nam with 07 weekly flights in May 2023, increasing their total India – Viet Nam frequency to 14 flights/week. On the Indian side, apart from Spicejet’s well-established Delhi – Ha Noi cargo route, IndiGo have also increased their weekly frequency from 07 to 14 flights between Kolkata and Hanoi/Ho Chi Minh City since this summer.

However, there is significant space to enhance our cooperation in air connectivity since the demand for travel between Viet Nam and India is huge.  We hope that there will be more Indian carriers establishing new routes to Viet Nam so that Vietnamese tourists can explore the many beautiful cities of India and vice versa.

I think that seeing in believing. The more people travel, the more opportunities for trade, investment, and economic cooperation between our two countries will develop.

India has a long-standing development partnership with Viet Nam that has made positive contributions towards capacity building and socio-economic development of Viet Nam. What are some of the ongoing – recent projects being funded by India in Viet Nam?

India and Viet Nam share a robust development partnership, encompassing various sectors like capacity building and socioeconomic growth. Through the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) framework, India has established a significant presence by launching Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) to bolster community infrastructure. With a dedicated annual revolving fund of USD 250,000, these projects, valued at US$ 50,000 each, aim to bring immediate benefits to the grassroots communities. Since 2017, 18 QIPs have been realized across 17 Vietnamese provinces, and during 2020-21, 8 more projects were initiated in 5 provinces.

In December 2020, India culminated 7 grant-in-aid projects, committing around US$ 1.54 million, to uplift the Cham community in Ninh Thuan province. Reflecting the deep-rooted cultural ties, India is also allocating US$ 2.25 million for the preservation and renovation of ancient Cham monuments in Quang Nam Province.

Further consolidating this partnership, as of July 2022, India has an impressive portfolio of 317 projects in Viet Nam, valued at over 1 billion USD, positioning India 23rd among 129 foreign investors in the nation.

We appreciate India’s assistance to Viet Nam’s growth. Not only does it support through the MGC framework, but it also pledges continued assistance via initiatives like the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC), e-ITEC, Ph.D. fellowships, and digital connectivity projects. This multifarious approach underscores India’s dedication to nurturing and enhancing its relationship with Viet Nam.

How do you see Indo-Vietnamese partnership through multi-lateral initiatives like Mekong-Ganga Co-operation or the larger ASEAN grouping?

India has been engaging in bilateral and sub-regional security cooperation with its neighbours including with nations in the Mekong sub-region. The growing ties with Mekong nations including Viet Nam indicate deepening mutual trust and convergence of interests in the rapidly changing regional geopolitics.

Through the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC), India engages with the five nations in the Mekong sub-region with focus on socio-economic and cultural cooperation such as connectivity, trade, tourism, etc. The MGC could explore new areas of cooperation including non-traditional security issues and potentials for such collaboration are high.

In its undertaking off its Act East Policy, India has made a number of contributions to the capacity building and socio-economic development of the members of MGC, including Viet Nam. Under the Mekong Ganga Cooperation initiative, India has been implementing Rapid Impact Projects (RIPs), each worth around US$50,000, in different provinces of Viet Nam to develop community infrastructure.

Viet Nam has encouraged and supported India’s stronger engagement with ASEAN. We are delighted that ASEAN and India have established comprehensive strategic partnership in 2022 and now both sides have adopted the Annex to the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN – India Partnerships for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2021 – 2025) to deepen our ties, including in such areas as maritime cooperation, tourism and connectivity, promoting private sector engagement, investment and finance with focus on SMEs, development partnerships, innovation, resources and knowledge sharing and  regional security infrastructure. India and Viet Namhave great roles in building regional stability and development. The two countries need to strengthen cooperation for the benefit of each country for peace and prosperity of the region and the world.


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