Both India and China are comprehensive strategic partners of Vietnam and “we do not take sides”, said outgoing Vietnamese envoy in India Pham Sanh Chau. He said that India and Vietnam supported each other at the United Nations Security Council as non-permanent members and also share the same position, the “middle path or Buddha path” on the ongoing situation in Europe.
In a conversation with The Hindu before his departure after a four-year stint, the envoy listed handling the COVID pandemic without any casualty, construction of the new Embassy building, launch of direct flights between the two countries, and issuing a record number of 6,000 visas per day to Indians as some of the major achievements.
On defence cooperation, Mr. Pham said visit of Vietnamese ships to India and participation in multilateral exercise ‘Milan’ happened for the first time. “Just last week, for the first time ever in Vietnam history, we sent 45 officers to India for training in UN peacekeeping operations. It reflects the very deep convergence of strategic interest between the two countries and the mutual trust. After the training they will be deployed in South Sudan,” he stated.
Talking of regional developments including the South China Sea, the envoy said Vietnam follows a foreign policy of being friendly with all countries and follows the principle of ‘four no’s’ – not to join any military alliance, not to go with one country to fight another country, not to allow land to be used by another country and not to use force. Stating that China is a comprehensive strategic partner of Vietnam, an immediate neighbour and a major power, Mr. Pham said they give importance to that relationship and nurture it.
India is also a key partner like others which is very natural and it is important for other countries to understand that principle, the envoy stressed. “We don’t tend to go with India in order to fight against China. We don’t take a side, no zero sum game. We take the side of peace, the side of international law. India and China are all our good friends. They are both our strategic, comprehensive partners.”
Following the implementation of the $100 mn defence Line of Credit (LoC) extended by India for procurement of 12 high speed boats by Vietnam, Mr. Pham said discussions are underway on operationalising the $500 mn LoC with major focus on manufacturing in Vietnam. “But most precious for us is the training extended by the three [Indian] forces to our three forces,” he observed.
Speaking at the new Embassy premises, Mr. Pham said it took 21 years in all, to complete the construction from getting the land, completing agreements of reciprocity on the land and housing to the construction permit, which spanned the tenures of five Vietnamese envoys.
In the end, Mr. Pham said when he arrived he did not expect that he would love this country, but while leaving he said he was “deeply in love with India and its people.”
On the changing geopolitical situation, Mr. Pham said at the moment, we are witnessing the world “full of turbulence” which is getting worse. Therefore, Vietnam and India join other countries to call for respect of fundamental principles in international law and that is non-use of violence, peaceful settlement of disputes, and respect of territorial integrity, he added.
Text of the interview
Before he departed India over the weekend after a four year stint, the Vietnamese Ambassador in India Pham Sanh Chau spoke to The Hindu on his tenure here:
What are the highlights of your tenure here and the biggest challenges you faced?
Past four years, we have been able to do several important things. First, together with my colleagues we got over COVID, 48 of us were hit in the first wave. A similar number were hit in the second wave, but no casualty. That makes it very gratifying. It is very emotional because it was very difficult for us at that time.
Number two, I think that I’m very, very happy because I completed construction of the new Embassy building. We took 21 years from the very beginning when we tried to get the land, and five Ambassador’s tenure to exchange the land, to complete the agreements of reciprocity on the land and housing and the construction permit. I am the person to make the dream come true. My previous colleagues are very happy to see the building coming up. It is so beautiful and I have a nice collection of paintings. And it was completed on time with a lot of difficulties and challenges.
Third moment I am very happy is I have been able to open a series of direct flights starting with Indigo in October 2019 and Vietjet in December 2019. Then pandemic came in, everything stopped and we resume again. We are now issuing 6000 visas per day which is a 2,400% increase as compared earlier. Normally we were issuing 250 visas per day. It’s an explosion. If we have 6000 visas, we need 30 flights to take these people to Vietnam. We are now opening 17 direct flights ranging from Delhi, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, to Hanoi, Da Nag, Ho Chi Minh city and Fukuoka. So, it’s amazing, it’s unthinkable. Another emotional moment is we have been able to install statue of Ho Chi Minh in response to the installation of statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Ho Chi Minh city. Both leaders are replicas of the two countries and we are very happy that their image are present here in this country. I can share many things but those are the four major points.
On the strategic side of the relationship, there has been a quantitative change. What have been your major achievements?
During my tenure, we have also successfully concluded the $100 mn Line of Credit (LoC) with 12 high speed boats, five built in Chennai and seven in Vietnam.
When we talk about quantitative difference, we should talk of geopolitical scenario and in that the pillar of defence and security cooperation is becoming very strong. Before I came here, we didn’t have any ship visits. First thing I did was bring our Coast Guard ship to Chennai and then recently brought another navy ship participated for the first time in navy exercise Milan in Visakhapatnam. That tells a lot about that relationship. Secondly, we have the defence policy dialogue initiated during my tenure. Recently, we had the visit of the Defence Minister to Vietnam where he was received by most of the top leaders of Vietnam, the President, Prime Minister and Defence Minister.
Just last week, for the first time ever in Vietnam history we send 45 officers to India for the training in peacekeeping operations. It reflects the very deep convergence of strategic interest between the two countries and the mutual trust. After the training they will be deployed in South Sudan. In addition, we have the successful completion, during my tenure, of the $100 mn Line of Credit (LoC) with the building of the 12 high speed boats, five delivered from Chennai and other seven delivered in Hai Phong. And we are trying to finalize the $500 mn LoC. It is important that we are moving to cooperation in defence manufacturing and production. We participate in DefExpo and we continue to do so.
But most precious for us is the training extended by the three (Indian) forces to our three forces. And during the pandemic, it’s the (Indian) Navy which who sent a ship with the oxygen for Vietnamese Saigon people. They moved very aggressively, very fast and very concrete. We are very grateful for that.
Overall, in addition to the fact that we supported each other very much at the U.N. Security Council when we both were non-permanent members, and now with what is happening in Europe, the two countries share the same position, what we call the middle path.. or as we call the Buddha path.
Can you elaborate on the defence industrial cooperation and the status of the $500 mn LoC?
Under the $100 million LoC, India help us manufacture high speed boats in Vietnam and it’s very useful. First five were made in Chennai, and the other seven were made with Indian technology in Hai Phong. So with the same thing, we are exploring possibility of production which is very important nowadays. And since we have strategic trust, so that area is full of potential. At the moment, they are still in the process of negotiation. That’s why we participate actively in the DefExpo and we are going to attend again soon. So those people will identify the areas of cooperation, they need to see whether it matches Vietnam’s demand, if it’s suitable for Vietnam’s climate conditions, a lot of factors need to be looked into.
You spoke of the middle path that India and Vietnam are talking and cooperating on. Can you please elaborate?
At the moment, we are witnessing the world full of turbulence and it’s getting worse. We hope that peace continue to be the major trend, but in this turbulent world we need to prepared for different scenarios. Therefore, Vietnam and India join other countries to call for respect of fundamental principles in international law. And that is non-use of violence, peaceful settlement of disputes, respect of territorial integrity. Those are the fundamental principles and articles of international law and India also calls for the same thing.
You talked of the rules based international order. Coming to the South China Sea how do you see the current situation?
Vietnam follows a foreign policy of being friendly with all countries. We follow the principle of ‘four nos’, we don’t join any military alliance, we don’t go with one country to fight another country, we don’t allow our land to be used by another country and we don’t use force. With respect to China, China is also a comprehensive strategic partner of Vietnam, its an immediate neighbour, and is a major power. We give importance to that relationship, we nurture that relationship and try to keep that relationship in orbit.
On what is happening in the region, we call all parties to respect international law, and we also ask everybody who can contribute, to make a contribution to the upholding of international law in the region. And of course, India is a key partner here as other countries do. This is very natural. It is important for other countries to understand that principle. We don’t tend to go with India in order to fight against China. We don’t take a side, no zero sum game. We take the side of peace, the side of international law. India and China are all our good friends. They are both our strategic, comprehensive partners.
What are your memories of India as you leave?
What I want to in the end is when I came here, I did not expect that I will love this country. But at the moment as I am leaving I am deeply in love with India and its people. I think my destiny has attached me to this land. As a poet in Vietnam said, when you come the land is the land, but when you leave the land has become your soul. So the land of India has become my soul. Certainly, will come back very soon.