New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government acting decisively on India’s ‘Act East’ police is trying to forge a ring around China by bolstering ties with the Southeast Asian nations like Vietnam and Japan.
India-Vietnam are pushing to broadbase their relations to encompass all possible areas of cooperation and deepen their strategic partnership building on exceptionally close ties since their foundations were laid more than 50 years ago.
Special gesture was shown by India when MoS External Affairs V K Singh, NSA Ajit Doval and senior MEA Secretaries attended the 70th National Day function of Vietnam in Delhi. Presence of top echelons of government are not usual for any National Day function and signals India’s growing interest in Southeast Asia amid China’s “expansionist” policy in that region.
Last year India and Vietnam vowed to strengthen their defence cooperation. At an address during the Third Roundtable on ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks, the Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh stated, “…future development and integration of ASEAN and India largely lies in East Sea (the South China Sea) and the Indian Ocean.”
India additionally stated that while it is not a direct claimant in the South China Sea dispute, it has an interest in ensuring free right of navigation in the region.
This statement came much to the discomfort of China which apprehends that on the pretext of freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, India might get drawn to the brigade against China led by the US and its allies — Japan and Australia.
Affirming this fear is the enthusiasm of the US in “welcoming” India to the Asia-Pacific region.
The US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who will be visiting India in June, has also been emphasising the need for re-posturing of US rebalancing to Asia from “existing partnerships in Northeast Asia” to “new bilateral and multilateral collaboration in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”
That India could be a potential element in this collaboration is hinted at a recent statement of the defence official. He said there is a greater “convergence” in US-India interests particularly in rebalance to Asia and India’s Act East policy. He further added India and the US now have a “very robust architecture” for East Asia.
China is obviously suspicious of this. An apprehension further corroborated by the number of joint statements India has been releasing on Asia-Pacific with the US.