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Where would Vietnam stand on the South China Sea conflict: India or China?

Posted Dec 27 2011 9:10pm
ONGC Videsh limited (OVL) India in October this year This area falls within the Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea (SCS). However, China has raised objections to this deal (between OVL and PetroVietnam) on the grounds that India has violated China’s sovereignty. What is likely to be Vietnam’s response if there is provocation by China?

Against a background of growing tension and the possibility of conflict in the SCS, the scenario of war will be imagined. In such an event, will Vietnam defend OVL and stand by India?

The reasons for this could be Regional factors

. The SCS dispute has several stakeholders, both regional and international. These claimants unanimously stand against China on the issue. This regional stand provides support to Vietnam to assert itself against China. That apart, The US has declared to uphold its right to navigate in the SCS. US’s ‘Return to Asia’ is the most crucial factor as it provides an effective balance to China. Thus

Bilateral factors
India and Vietnam have infused new life into their relationship through the Strategic Partnership Agreement in 2007. Vietnam and India share long historical ties, both have border disputes with China, and have suffered from Chinese aggression. The bilateral relationship is seeking reinvigoration on the above commonalities. Notably,

As per the 2006 agreement, the OVL-PetroVietnam deal (in which PetroVietnam holds 20 per cent stake) also allows joint exploration and export and production-sharing in blocks 127 and 128 in Phu Kahn basin, and blocks 06.1 in Lan Tay and Lan Do gas projects. Seeking increased foreign direct investment, Vietnam particularly considers the deal with OVL an important step in overcoming the country’s energy shortage. Significantly, many Indian companies are keen on investing in Vietnam, some are already in operation. . Vietnam wants to benefit from Indian education and developments in IT. Keeping in mind the holistic benefits of increasing Indian engagement, and showcasing its image to the world as a market conducive to growth capable of ensuring secure operations,

The reasons for this could be Relationship with China
Vietnam and China share a common history that goes back over thousand years. Vietnam has always balanced its relationship with India and China. During the recent visit of the Vietnamese President to India in October 2011, a section of the communist party of Vietnam paid a visit to China and agreed to strengthen military cooperation. If Vietnam wishes to be practical and thinks in terms of long-term interests,

It is less likely that Vietnam’s relations with India will affect its ties with China. If assessed in terms of bilateral economic engagements, Amongst 73 foreign investors in Vietnam, India ranks only 35; bilateral trade in 2011 is expected to exceed USD3 billion. The goal is to reach US$25 billion, while India-Vietnam trade aspires to reach USD7 billion by 2015. If the Chinese withdraw their trade and engagement from Vietnam (as a punitive measure/an aftermath of the conflict), can India provide an equal alternative?

If a country has to defend assets of another country within its territory, the cost and benefit has to be significant in size and vital in character. Although Vietnam has recently begun expanding its armed forces, it would not seek an armed confrontation with China. In case of war, it will, like any other country, defend its territory and everything that falls within, first. Specifically, protecting assets of a foreign company would not be a priority. Rather, it may seek military support from stakeholder countries. As important as the strategic partnership with India may be, maintaining cordial relations with China would also be seriously considered.

Vietnam’s behaviour may be understood from the case of Tata Steel and Formosa Plastics of Taiwan. If one was to judge Vietnam from this episode, it is evident that Chinese interests would be prioritized. However, Vietnam will play the India card when it wants to counter China, as seems the case at present.

To conclude, . The onus to defend its own interest would be on India. For the sake of its relations with India, Vietnam may however also support India if Indian forces get involved. Vietnam would therefore be pragmatic and opportunist.

Amruta Karambelkar
Research Intern, IPCS

Via Eurasia Review: Vietnam And The South China Sea: Hypothetical Scenarios – Analysis

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