India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam on Monday for a two day visit to the Southeast Asian country. The visit came at the invitation of her Vietnamese counterpart Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. In addition to meeting Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, Swaraj also met Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, both on Monday.
Swaraj’s visit is widely seen as part of the Indian government’s implementation of its long standing “Look East Policy.” The policy seeks to deepen Indian ties with its eastern neighbors in Southeast and East Asia. Minister Swaraj has already visited Singapore and Myanmar this month. During Swaraj’s visit to Hanoi, Vietnam and India agreed to deepen cooperation in the defense and oil sectors, among others. Vietnam has expressed a strong desire for greater Indian involvement and investment in Southeast Asia, to balance China.
Foreign Minister Minh said that “the future development and integration” of India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) lay “in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.” He added that, as a result of this fact, India, Vietnam, and other ASEAN nations should focus “more on maintaining maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and settling territorial disputes through peaceful means on the basis of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982.” Minister Swaraj affirmed during her visit that India supported the resolution of maritime disputes through international tribunals and hoped that Vietnam and China resolved their maritime dispute in this manner. India itself recently set an example for the resolution of maritime disputes through international arbitration by accepting the decision of an international tribunal in a maritime dispute between it and Bangladesh. A United Nations tribunal ruled in favor of Bangladesh at that time.
Swaraj’s trip also included Vietnam’s reaffirmation of its offer for India to explore five oil and gas blocks in the South China Sea, despite Chinese protests. This offer had previously been extended to India by the Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party Nguyen Phu Throng last November during a visit to India. During her visit to Hanoi, Swaraj stated that the Indian side was studying the feasibility of the offer.
Indo-Vietnamese ties seem set to improve as both countries have a strong interest in cooperating on defense and trade issues due to a mutual distrust of China. India had previously offered Vietnam a $100 million line of credit for the purchase of four offshore patrol vessels. India’s President, Pranab Mukherjee is expected to visit Vietnam in September, days before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits India. President Mukherjee’s visit is expected to lead to some agreements between Vietnam and India in the field of defense.