ASEAN - India and the active role of Vietnam

Update: 15:21 | 31/01/2018
On the occasion of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s attendance at the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit and official visit to India from 24 to 27 January, 2018, Vietnamese Ambassador to India, Ton Sinh Thanh, took time to answer some questions from The World and Vietnam Report.
asean india and the active role of vietnam Deputy FM lauds Vietnam’s role in ASEAN-India ties
asean india and the active role of vietnam Vietnam, India release commemorative postage stamps

Can you highlight some of the remarkable results of relations between ASEAN and India? 

Ever since India and ASEAN became sectoral dialogue partners in 1992, bilateral relations have been constantly upgraded and expanded. In 1995, the relationship achieved the status of full dialogue partnership. The following year, India was given the opportunity to participate in regional cooperation mechanisms led by ASEAN, such as the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). In 2002, the two sides upgraded their relations to Summit Level Partnership and in 2012 the leaders decided to lift their ties to Strategic Partnership. 

In 2017, ASEAN and India celebrated 25 years of dialogue partnership, 15 years of summit-level partnership and 5 years of strategic partnership. The bilateral cooperation has expanded in all sectors. In the political-security sector, India is a partner in ASEAN security cooperation mechanisms such as the PMC, ARF and ADMM+. India joined the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and signed the Joint Declaration for Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism. The two sides also endorsed the ASEAN - India partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity in 2004 and continually implement action plans for the period of 2004-2010, 2010-2015 and 2015-2020.

asean india and the active role of vietnam
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. (Photo: VNA)

In the economic sector, the two sides signed the Trade in Goods Agreement in 2009 and the Trade in Services and Trade in Investment Agreements in 2014. Two-way trade has increased 25 times, from 2.9 billion USD in 1993 to 76 billion USD in 2017. To date, ASEAN is India's fourth largest trading partner and India is the seventh largest trading partner for ASEAN. In 2017, exports to ASEAN accounted for 10.4% of India’s total exports and imports from ASEAN accounted for 10.6% of total import value of India. Direct investment between ASEAN and India has also seen a sharp rise in the past 25 years. By 2017, ASEAN has invested over 70 billion USD in India and has received over 40 billion USD.

In terms of tourism, recent years have witnessed steady growth at over 7% per year. ASEAN is the fourth largest destination for Indian tourists, while India is the 7th for ASEAN. The annual average number of Indian visitors travelling to ASEAN countries reached more than 3 million. 

In the culture and society sector, cooperation between the two sides' has expanded in many fields, including human resources, people exchange, the media, academics, youth, education, preservation and restoration of historical monuments. India has also contributed positively to the implementation of regional integration initiatives of ASEAN.

In your opinion, which factors have contributed to the deepening of relations between ASEAN and India?  

Cooperation between ASEAN and India is growing consistently. With great potential and prospect for growth, along with determination on both sides, I believe this relationship will continue to expand in the future.

The foundation for the development of this partnership is their close geographic location, which shares a common land border, as well as close sea links. India and ASEAN countries also have a long traditional relationship encompassing many common cultural, historical and religious values. The relations between the two sides have always been friendly and peaceful throughout history.

ASEAN and India not only share common security challenges, both traditional and non-traditional, but also strategic and economic benefits. India’s Act East Policy focuses on increasing its engagement in East and Southeast Asia. India’s service exports and the ASEAN manufacturing economy will support and complement each other. However, looking at cooperative data, especially in economic relations, it can be seen that cooperation between India and ASEAN is not as great as with other partners. There are still many areas in which the two sides can increase their collaboration efforts. 

In today’s global landscape, the linkage of the India – Pacific region plays a crucial role. The geo-political location of ASEAN – at the intersection of the two regions – makes ASEAN an important partner in India’s foreign policy and, vice versa, India is a key partner in ASEAN’s policy. 

In the future, which fields should the two sides focus on to promote cooperation?

There is much potential for further collaboration between ASEAN and India. I think the two sides must first strengthen economic ties. India, along with ASEAN, is a large market with 1.85 billion people and GDP of 4.3 trillion USD. However, cooperation between the two sides is still limited. Therefore, India and ASEAN should review and revise trade and investment agreements to efficiently promote economic cooperation and create the most favorable conditions for trade exchange. The two sides should also actively foster dialogue and organise activities to endorse trade, investment and tourism. 

In terms of connectivity, ASEAN and India need to realise that connection is a pressing need for both parties. There needs to be a synchronous and comprehensive implementation to expand connectivity in the areas of air, land, maritime and digital networks. Based on the urgent demands and cooperation potential between the two sides, ASEAN welcomed India's 1 billion USD credit package to boost connectivity and set up a fund of 76 million USD to support the project.

In the fields of politics, security and national defense, ASEAN and Vietnam should further promote cooperation, especially in maritime security and safety, as the two countries share a common sea. ASEAN welcomes India's Act East policy, which encourages India's engagement in Southeast Asia, and in its defense and security cooperation within the PMC, ARF, ADMM +. 

asean india and the active role of vietnam
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh shakes hands with Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.

Can you share with us the role of Vietnam in India‘s Act East policy and our contribution as the coordinator of relations between ASEAN and India from 2015-2018?

Vietnam and India have a long-standing traditional relationship. India supported Vietnam in its struggle for national liberation and in the national development process. The two countries have signed a comprehensive strategic partnership, which is Vietnam’s highest level of partnership. Both countries play an important role in each other's foreign policy and have developed high political trust. India sees Vietnam as one of the most important pillars of its Act East policy. 

As the coordinator in ASEAN-India relations, Vietnam has had the opportunity to promote its role in upholding India-Vietnam cooperation. Over the past three years, Vietnam has actively encouraged the implementation of the ASEAN–India Free Trade Agreement and contributed to the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-India Partnership. With Vietnam’s efforts, India has supported ASEAN's stance at meetings between the two sides, increased support for ASEAN at various levels and demonstrated its commitment to raising its voice and attitude. 

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc's visit to India took place at a special time, which marks the 46th anniversary of diplomatic ties and the signing of the Action Plan to implement the commitments of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This is an opportunity for the two nations to endorse cooperation and political trust; to deepen the relationship of defense and security; to intensify economic, investment and tourism cooperation; to rapidly increase connectivity to boost economic and cultural exchanges; to better exploit the potential of cooperation in the fields of education, science and technology.

Vietnam is one of the first ASEAN countries to accept the invitation to visit India on its Republic Day and attend the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, marking the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-India dialogue relations. This shows that Vietnam values the relationship with India and the active coordination from the Vietnamese side.

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