India and Vietnam must have stronger economic and people-to-people ties, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he left for Hanoi, part of his East Asian outreach, which will take him to Vietnam, China and Laos over the next week.
“India-Vietnam partnership will benefit Asia and the rest of the world. We wish to forge a strong economic relationship with Vietnam that can mutually benefit our citizens. Strengthening the people-to-people ties will also be my endeavour during the Vietnam visit,” Mr. Modi said in a social media post on Friday, released before he landed in Hanoi.
During the one-day visit to Vietnam, the PM is expected to meet with his counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc and President of Vietnam Tran Dai Quang. Officials said their agreements would include a cultural pact on archaeological support, as well as to boost bilateral trade to double its current levels.
“The bilateral trade between our two countries is around $ 8 billion; it has grown 400 per cent in the last six to seven years. The two leaderships have set a target of $ 15 billion by the year 2020,” Indian Ambassador to Vietnam P. Harish told ANI news agency on Friday.
But the PM’s visit will be watched most closely for any statements on defence cooperation as well as how their joint statement tackles tensions with China in the wake of the South China Sea tribunal award in favour of the Philippines on July 12.
India has issued several statements since then, calling on “all states” notably China to accept the tribunal award. In addition, India’s plans to provide the BrahMos Missile as well as boost Vietnam’s maritime capabilities in the South China Sea would be of most interest.
Analysts say that during his visit Mr. Modi might have to take a less strident tone given that he will be travelling to China straight after Vietnam for the G-20 summit on Saturday where he will meet President Xi Jinping. “It will be a balancing act for India, and I am sure the PM won’t allow it to appear as if his visit is directed at any other country,” explained Alka Acharya, Associate Professor of Chinese Studies in the Centre for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Among the important issues to be taken up in the meeting with President Xi are India’s hopes for a membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India is also keen on gaining support on terrorism issues ahead of the upcoming U.N. General Assembly session where a battle is brewing with Pakistan over the violence in Kashmir, and India wants China to lift the technical hold China has placed on banning JeM chief Masood Azhar. Mr. Modi’s recent statements on Balochistan have been viewed with concern by analysts in Beijing for their possible impact on the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which China is building via Balochistan.
On its part, China will seek reassurance from India on its growing military ties with the United States, which saw the logistics LEMOA agreement being signed this week in Washington, even as Secretary of State John Kerry spent the week in New Delhi.