Thayer and Indian academic Ramesh Thakur wrote a treatise in 1991, just before the fall of the Soviet Union, about Vietnamese-Soviet, Soviet-Indo and Indo-Vietnamese relations. Even then it was noted that not only did India regard Vietnam as a partner and balance against China, but that both also had strong alliances with Moscow. Indeed, both India and Vietnam are among Russia’s five largest arms customers, with India buying and producing Russian arms and helping upgrade Vietnam’s MiG aircraft and navy patrol boats.
And, although India’s Naxalites—the Maoist rebels who killed hundreds in India last year alone—once took Vietcong guerrillas as a role model, Vietnam and the Indian army have agreed to joint military exercises. During October’s ASEAN meet in Hanoi, for example, Indian Defence Minister A. K. Anthony and Gen. Phung Quang Thanh signed a deal extending defence ties, and there are also plans for India to help Vietnam in IT and in the English language sector.
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Japan’s relations with Vietnam have been a little more complicated. It occupied French Indochina in the 1940s, a period during which as many as 2 million Vietnamese starved to death, according to some estimates. But as with many of Vietnam’s former enemies, time and victory have healed old wounds.
Japan is Vietnam’s biggest aid donor, giving more in ODA than any other nation, most of which is used for infrastructure projects such as underpasses, bridges, roads, sewers canals and a planned subway. Indeed, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan reiterated at the ASEAN summit his country’s 79 billion yen commitment to 5 large-scale projects.
Meanwhile, Japan was also set to supply the technology for the country’s first bullet train, a multi-billion dollar folly pushed for by Prime Minister Nguyen TanDung that was roundly rebuked by National Assembly members, who noted the country’s poor infrastructure and the huge cost of the project.
More recently, Japan has announced it’s set to build two more of Vietnam’s nuclear power stations, and has signed a contract to mine rare earth metals in the country’s north, which Japan hopes will lessen the Chinese stranglehold on a commodity vital to its high-tech industry.
The size of South Korea’s business interests are most evident in the new, glitzy Korean districts in both Vietnam’s major cities, which are full of Korean restaurants, bars, supermarkets and upscale gaming cafes that lack their Vietnamese counterparts’ ashtray ambience. (The areas also usually lack the traffic chaos so common in the rest of the country).