Vietnam’s diplomatic drive pays dividends

Mr Modi's visit to Vietnam cemented cooperation at a time of growing concern about Chinese aggression. Photo courtesy Reuters

Mr Modi’s visit to Vietnam cemented cooperation at a time of growing concern about Chinese aggression. Photo courtesy Reuters

Vietnam’s energetic pursuit of diverse foreign relationships to offset the threat from China has received a further boost with the visit of the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi.

India’s offer of a $500 million loan for defence purchases consolidates Delhi’s role as an important player in the rapid modernisation of the Vietnamese military.

They also upgraded their relationship to the status of a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Neither side gave details, but deals are expected for the sale of BrahMos cruise missiles to Vietnam and the possible stationing of Indian technicians in Vietnam.

The deployment of the Indian-made missile system would be an important step in Vietnam’s drive to deter aggression from China over disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Experts say the BrahMos missiles could pose a significant threat to Chinese ships.

Some reports suggest that the Indian navy is also involved in training Vietnamese sailors for submarine operations.

Vietnam has already taken delivery of five, from an order of six, Kilo class submarines from Russia.

Vietnam has emerged as one of the world’s ten largest buyers of military equipment in recent years.

Many of its weapons systems still come from Russia, but Vietnam is trying to diversify supply, given its concern about Moscow’s growing courtship of Beijing and its ambivalence about the dispute in the South China sea.

Japan has supplied coastguard vessels, and Vietnam is reported to be negotiating for second hand P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft – capable of monitoring the growing presence of the Chinese navy in disputed waters.

Vietnam secured its greatest diplomatic success with the lifting of the US arms embargo during President Obama’s visit in May.

That has yet to bear fruit, with questions remaining about Vietnam’s ability to afford modern US aircraft and ships.

However, Vietnam has shown the ability to strengthen its diplomatic and military position, with a show of considerable energy and resourcefulness.

The blossoming ties with India are just one of a number of signs that Vietnam intends to stand firm against Chinese aggression and is unlikely to give any ground without a fight.