It was bound to happen eventually. With China’s rapidly increasing involvement in India’s backyard in places like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal (not to mention Pakistan and Afghanistan), Indian policymakers were bound to want to try and up the ante in China’s neighbourhood too. And now they’re doing just that.
India has already been stepping up bilateral strategic cooperation with countries around China. But later this month, it’s set to engage in China’s neighbourhood at the highest level when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh embarks on his three-nation Asian tour on October 24. The trip will see him take in Japan and Malaysia (for bilateral visits) and Vietnam for the India-ASEAN summit. India-Japan ties are already on a high, and will likely be bolstered further during Singh’s visit to Tokyo when the number two and number three economies in Asia are expected to sign a civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement.
India’s engagement with the Association of South East Asian Nations, meanwhile, has further deepened following the successful conclusion of the first ASEAN Plus Eight Defence Ministers’ meeting in Hanoi that India also attended.
Shortly after this meeting, Indian Defense Minister AK Antony announced that India and Vietnam had decided to intensify defence cooperation covering all three services.
They intend to do this is in a number of ways, with measures having been discussed and approved when Antony met the Vietnamese leadership, including Defence Minister Gen Phung Quang Thanh, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President Nguyen Minh Triet.
Antony went on record as saying that India will beef up Vietnam’s defence forces’ capabilities and that it will be focusing on cooperation with the Vietnamese Navy. For example, as well as increasing port calls to Vietnam, the Indian Navy will also offer to help develop maintenance and repair platforms in Vietnamese ports.
The Indian Army will also be training its Vietnamese counterpart in developing its IT infrastructure and will be taking on the role of English teacher for Vietnamese Army personnel. In addition, India, which is famous for its mountain and jungle warfare training, will be sharing its expertise with the Vietnamese from next year.