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The two Cold War allies, India and Vietnam, shared a common anti-colonial outlook, with India advocating an end to the American military intervention in Vietnam, and Hanoi later supporting India’s bid for membership of the United Nations Security Council, and desiring India to play a larger role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This article examines the impact the bilateral relationship has produced on Southeast Asia. A continued partnership will help India emerge as a dominant power in the Asia-Pacific and together with Vietnam bring peace and security to the region. India-Vietnam relations date back to 1927 when Jawaharlal Nehru met Ho Chi Minh, setting the foundation for a partnership. Relations were cordial until the Indo-China border war in 1962, when North Vietnam supported China, which led India to oppose Hanoi in the International Control Commission. The relationship was further tested in 1964 when China became a nuclear state and Vietnam recognised Beijing as a power that would bring peace and stability to Southeast Asia. India-Vietnam relations have strengthened over the past six decades through partnerships in the economy and defence, and through ASEAN.


INDIA AND VIETNAM CELEBRATED THE FORTY-EIGHTH ANNIVERSARY OF the establishment of their diplomatic relations in 2018, as much culture and trade flowed between them. Their relationship stems from a common struggle for independence against Western colonialism, and is built upon historical and cultural links dating back to the second century CE. Their bilateral ties have seen vigorous growth in areas of entrepreneurship, education, culture, defence, geopolitical-strategy, and the economy. In September 2016, the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi declared: “Vietnam is a very important pillar in India’s Act East Policy.”[1]

This paper examines the history of their relationship from the era of the prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the president of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh and the commencement of diplomatic relations. It analyses the development of bilateral economic relations and their relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and finally it looks ahead at the strategic relationship between India and Vietnam, and their implications for the South China Sea region.

India-Vietnam relations were built on Nehru’s belief that India’s national interest lay outside of aligning with the two power blocs of the United States and the Soviet Union.[2] Non-alignment would enable India to preserve its independence and well-being.[3] Nehru developed relations between Vietnam and India on the basis of Panchsheel: (1) mutual respect for each nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; (2) mutual non-aggression; (3) mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; (4) equality and mutual benefit; and (5) peaceful coexistence. Successive Indian governments would direct their foreign policy along these lines.

India developed its Southeast Asian policy on the principle of opposing any external forces trying to fill the vacuum left in Southeast Asia after the retreat of the colonial powers and, based on this principle, India opposed the U.S. involvement in Indochina after the French colonists had withdrawn from the region.[4] Before examining Indo-Vietnam bilateral relations, it is imperative to understand the foundations of their cultural exchanges that began two thousand years ago.[5] Indian merchants and priests travelled to the Indochina region for commerce and trade and spread Indian literature, philosophy, and both Hinduism and Buddhism,[6] and, as a result, Indian culture still has a deep impact in Vietnam.[7]

The first Indianised state in Southeast Asia were Funan in the first century CE, now in present-day Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia; these states adopted the concepts of astronomy, literature, and jurisprudence.[8] The Indianised state of Champa then emerged from Funan, and India influenced the philosophy of life and socio-political systems of these states and thus emerged as the dominant influence on their economy.[9] The spread of Indian culture throughout Southeast Asia, specifically in Vietnam, was made possible through peaceful means, entirely devoid of imperialism or colonialism as factors of motivation.

The Era of Jawaharlal Nehru and Ho Chi Minh

In the interwar years, an informal relationship developed during an anti-imperialism conference in Brussels in 1927 where Nehru met Ho Chi Minh. They struck up a cordial relationship, paving the way for Nehru to visit North Vietnam after its victory over French colonial military forces in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

After the Second World War, India focused on political developments in Indochina. In 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared North Vietnam independent and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV),[10] and during this period India played a vocal role in the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from Vietnam when the French and British attempted to reoccupy the south of Vietnam using Indian colonial troops. Nehru remarked on the reoccupation as a violation of the Panchsheel, stating: “Indian troops should not be used for doing British dirty work against friends who are fighting the same fight as we are.”[11] The support India gave for Vietnam’s national revolutionary movements led to the emergence of a strong neighbourhood policy. 

Geneva Conference

The Geneva conference was an event of great importance to the India-Vietnam relationship. It was the first international platform for resolving the Indochina conflict through diplomacy rather than war. The conference would bring about a shift in the political situation in Southeast Asia. India wanted a resolution of the conflict in Southeast Asia in 1954, when Nehru appealed for a ceasefire in Indochina. The key areas of India’s foreign policy focus included anti-colonialism, which had three objectives for Vietnam: (1) national self-determination, (2) a negotiated settlement of conflict, and (3) non-intervention by other nations in Vietnamese affairs.[12] Nehru presented six points at the Geneva conference to bring peace: (1) ensuring a climate of peace and conciliation, (2) ceasefire in the Indochina region, (3) independence for the Indochina States, (4) direct negotiation between the parties concerned, (5) non-intervention by the Soviet Union, the United States, and China, and (6) the United Nations shall be informed of the progress of the conference.[13] The Geneva conference led to the division of Vietnam into North and South Vietnam along the 17th parallel.[14] The Geneva conference was hailed as an outstanding achievement of diplomatic resolution to any conflict in the post-Cold War era, and was seen as a success of India’s foreign policy as it reflected Nehru’s principle of Panchsheel.[15]

However positive the relations between India and Vietnam were, during the Sino-India war in 1962, North Vietnam supported China because of their shared communist ideology and China’s unstinting aid to the DRV during the war against France. DRV’s support of China affected the Indo-Vietnam relationship in the International Control Commission (ICC). India was instrumental in having the ICC vote against North Vietnam on three critical issues in 1962. One, North Vietnam was accused of aggression against South Vietnam. Second, South Vietnam’s 10/59 law that was implemented by the U.S.-installed leader of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, established military tribunals to apprehend communists in South Vietnam, which was judged not to contravene the Geneva Agreements. And finally, a benign view was taken on the presence of American missions in South Vietnam. An Indian official stated that the decisions taken during the ICC meeting were affected by the India-China dispute, and the DRV’s support of China.[16] 

Despite their damaged relationship, India still supported the DRV. However, South Vietnam opposed the implementation of the Geneva Accords and created a barrier for the future of a peaceful Indochina. For its part, North Vietnam gave full support to India and its desire to implement the Geneva accords.[17] The bilateral India-DRV relationship became stronger from this point forward, as they gradually built a diplomatic partnership.

The Era of Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi became prime minister in 1966, and during her visit to the Soviet Union in 1971, the leaders of both countries issued a joint statement for an “immediate cessation of bombings and the resolution of the conflict within the framework of Geneva accord.”[18]  There was a transformation in the Indian position on Vietnam and the intervention of the United States in Indochina with Indira Gandhi approving the involvement of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF-SVN) in the peace talks, acknowledging it as a main constituent fighting the pro-U.S. government of South Vietnam.[19] India effectively extended its support to the NLF.

When Indira Gandhi visited the Soviet Union in September 1971, she declared: “I will support the inalienable rights of all people especially those of the Vietnamese people to national independence and freedom.”[20] In August, India had signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union and increased its support to North Vietnam.

The global geopolitical scenario changed completely when the United States and China normalised their troubled relationship during the visit of the U.S. president, Richard Nixon, to China in 1972,[21] which resulted in pushing the Soviet Union, Vietnam and India to work even more closely. In 1972, India established full diplomatic relations with North Vietnam by upgrading its mission in Hanoi to an embassy and recognising North Vietnam on the international stage.[22] The recognition of North Vietnam was a retaliatory action by India to the United States for extending the latter’s support to Pakistan during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War; however, India’s relationship with South Vietnam was not severed at the consular level. The pro-U.S. regime in Saigon protested India’s growing closeness with the DRV.[23]

When peace talks progressed between North Vietnam and the United States, India desired a genuine peace. The government of South Vietnam, however, opposed India’s presence in the ICC. Subsequently, the ICC decided to shift the Indian delegation out. India’s open support to North Vietnam resulted in the expulsion of the former from membership of a new ICC body in 1973.[24]

A delegation of the NLF visited India on June 1974 and made a powerful appeal to the government to recognise the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRG).[25] India acknowledged the PRG as the lawful authority of South Vietnam during the visit of the NLF delegation, one year before the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese military forces on April 30, 1975.[26] Due to India’s continuous support of North Vietnam and PRG, the United States in retaliation cancelled the official visit of the president, Gerald Ford, to India and approved the sale of advanced weapons to Pakistan, which had been prohibited since previous ten years.[27]

After 1975, Vietnam was determined to reconstruct the country because its economy had been destroyed after wars with France and America, which had resulted in a shortage of basic necessities, and with the support of India, economic relations boomed between the two nations. On July 2, 1976, North and South Vietnam reunified under the name of Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In March 1977, the Janata Party government came to power in India and continued the old Vietnamese policy and welcomed Vietnam’s entry into the United Nations on September, 20, 1977. In 1978, the prime minister of Vietnam, Pham Van Dong, visited India and expanded cooperation to the economy, agriculture, and technology research. India helped in the reconstruction of Vietnam and the prime minister, Morarji Desai, declared: “We on our part are ready to share with your people our experience and our skills and make howsoever modest a contribution to the new building of a happy life in Vietnam.”[28] Furthermore, India granted Most Favored Nation status (MFN) to Hanoi.[29] India’s relations with Vietnam in the economic sphere tightened during this period as well due to China’s refusal to complete the seventy projects it had promised Vietnam; India would complete these projects and invest in Vietnam. China’s relations with Vietnam had been worsening especially after Vietnam helped Cambodian rebels to topple the China-backed Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1979, leading Beijing to launch a border war against Vietnam.

Once Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, a new sphere of economic collaboration emerged with Vietnam. India sent 50,000 tonnes of rice to Vietnam in order to help it overcome a food shortage. India also provided Rupees 10 crore loan to Vietnam for importing textiles, and a trade protocol was signed in 1981 for the export of goods to Vietnam from India worth US$ 6 million.[30] India also agreed to supply fifteen diesel locomotives and new machinery for the reestablishment of Vietnam’s largest textile factory.[31] In December 1982, India and Vietnam established the Joint Commission for Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, creating a landmark in their economic relations.

When Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984, a three-day state mourning was declared throughout Vietnam as a mark of respect, and Vietnamese leaders Le Duan, Truong Chinh and Pham Van Dong declared that they were “deeply shocked and anguished at the news of the assassination of Madam Indira Gandhi.”[32] During the tenure of the government of Indira Gandhi, India and Vietnam established cordial economic relations. India was a crutch in the reconstruction of Vietnam’s economy and the only nation in the region to provide support consistently. Today India is one of Vietnam’s top ten trading partners and continues to increase investments in the country, but at a pace and scale much below its potential and size.

The Era of Rajiv Gandhi and Vietnam’s Postwar Leaders (1984-1989)

Rajiv Gandhi became the first Indian prime minister in thirty years to visit Hanoi in November 1985, just a year after taking oath as prime minister in November 1984. There, he accepted the highest award, the Golden Star Order, posthumously bestowed on Indira Gandhi for her unshakeable support to the Vietnamese struggle for independence. While receiving the honour, he described it as “an expression of close friendship which exists between Vietnam and India.”[33]

Rajiv Gandhi formulated his Vietnam policy around economic progress. In the meeting with the secretary general of the Vietnam Communist Party, Nguyen Van Linh, Rajiv stated: “The war of independence is over. The war on poverty is on. The highest priority for both India and Vietnam is the struggle to achieve economic progress and banish poverty. In keeping our fierce commitment to independence, a tenet of our economic philosophy is self-resilience.”[34] During his tenure, India increased the supply of wheat to Vietnam by 100,000 tonnes to combat food shortage,[35] while wheat trade now stood at 500,000 tones. India’s economic trade with Vietnam was at the top of non-communist bloc, totalling at US$ 70 million, and India was the second most influential country in Vietnam’s economy, after the Soviet Union.[36]

Vietnam aimed to reorient the focus of its foreign policy around economic development and growth, and in order to achieve this goal, the new leadership in Hanoi, during the Sixth National Congress of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) initiated the policy of “Doi Moi, meaning “renewal” or “renovation,” in 1986.

Further, during the third meeting of the Indo-Vietnam Joint Commission an agreement was signed under which India extended the loan repayment period to June 1991, which also allowed Vietnam to acquire Indian equipment worth US$ 100 million.[37] Aiming to boost trade with Vietnam, Indian exports rose to US$ 25 million in 1989, and the country became one of Vietnam’s largest trading partners. Indian investments ranked 18th in Vietnam in the 1990s behind Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan and ASEAN.[38]

These three eras of bilateral relations witnessed the development of cordial economic relations. The formation of the Joint Commission for Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, Joint Working Groups, and Joint Business Council built platforms for India and Vietnam to collaborate for future endeavours. Their bilateral relations were one of the strongest in Southeast Asia from the 1950s to the 1990s, and the present is built on the bedrock of the past.

India and ASEAN

The disintegration of the Soviet Union marked the end of the Cold War and ushered in a major change in geopolitics; the United States was now the sole superpower. Before the Soviet Union fell, New Delhi and Moscow had similar interests in Vietnam to balance Chinese expansion. After 1991, the Russian narrative changed as it became a friend of China in order to check the growing influence of the United States in the Asia-Pacific. Meanwhile, the prime minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao, initiated the “Look East Policy” to pursue friendship and better cooperation with Southeast Asia.[39] The president of India, R. Venkataraman, visited Vietnam in April 1991 to boost bilateral relations. His Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang expressed appreciation for India’s efforts in enhancing relations with its neighbours and in providing a zone of peace, stability and friendship between South and Southeast Asia. The Indian minister of petroleum and natural gas, B. Shankranand visited Vietnam in October 1991 to discuss cooperation in the area of oil exploration, and the deputy minister of commerce, Salman Khurshid, visited Ho Chi Minh City in November to launch the Indian Pavilion at the Quang Trung international Trade Fair in which fifty seven Indian companies participated.

Vietnam not only supported India’s economic requests but also supported India’s position on the Kashmir conflict. The Vietnamese foreign minister, Nguyen Manh Cam, conveyed Vietnam’s persistent support for India’s stand. Relations between the two countries reached new heights when Do Muoi, the new secretary-general of the VCP, visited India from September 8 to 13, 1992. The two sides acknowledged the urgency of seeking more areas of mutual cooperation. Prime minister Narasimha Rao, while welcoming him, stated: “In the present regional situation the Vietnamese Communist Party, government and people, as before, always attach great importance to the people and we will do our utmost to make our relations move towards fruitfulness in the interest of our two people.”[40] General Secretary Do Muoi asserted Vietnam’s support to India for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, and affirmed Vietnam’s stand on Kashmir.[41] To enhance bilateral relations, prime minister Rao visited Vietnam for three days in 1994, and during his visit to India, the premier of Vietnam, Vo Van Kiet, extended full support to India in the UN to play an important role for world peace, friendship and cooperation. In a statement he said, “Vietnam welcomes and highly appreciates India’s role of participating in the activities of the community of the nations in the Asia-Pacific region in particular and world as a whole.”[42] Rao’s visit was crucial for Vietnam’s effort to expand its international political as well as economic contacts with India.

Although during Rao’s visit India had promised to construct a 210 MW power plant and fertiliser factory, this did not materialise because India could not arrange the US$ 200 million needed to finance the venture. The inability of India to follow through on its promise negatively affected economic relations between the two countries. Vietnam, however, still appreciated India’s efforts in the reconstruction of their nation and continued to look forward to more economic joint ventures.[43]

When Vietnam joined ASEAN in July 1995 and India became a full dialogue partner of ASEAN in July 1996, Vo Van Kiet visited India and held delegation level talks with the prime minister of India, Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, and reiterated the need for stronger ties. Vietnam expressed its full support to India’s nuclear test when the minister of state for external affairs, Vasundhara Raje, gave firsthand information on India’s decision to carry out nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998. Foreign minister Nguyen Manh Cam, along with a high level delegation, visited India to chair the Ninth Session of the Indo-Vietnamese Joint Commission meeting held in January-February 1998 in New Delhi. Cam declared: “Vietnam and India aren’t just having friendly relations and mutual cooperation, but are also loyal friends and brothers sharing a common goal of National Liberation.”[44] Vietnam had a major stake in important regional institutions such as ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Having exceptional ties with Vietnam helped India to promote its own national interest in the region. Furthermore, Vietnam reaffirmed its position on India’s bid in an expanded UN Security Council meeting during external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha’s visit to Vietnam to enhance Indo-Vietnam political relations.

After Narasimha Rao who had visited Vietnam in 1994, Atal Behari Vajpayee was the next Indian prime minister to visit Vietnam in 2001. The prime minister of Vietnam, Pham Van Khai repeatedly advocated that India deserved a seat in the UN Security Council and a voice in all economic and political forums. In a reply to his counterpart and expressing his gratitude, Vajpayee said, “Besides the tremendous promise of favorable bilateral cooperation, our two countries have common regional interests both in ASEAN and in the recently announced Mekong-Ganga cooperation programme.” Vajpayee recognised the challenges of security in the region stemming from terrorism, religious extremism and subversive activities. Vietnam was seen as India’s voice within ASEAN, and India appreciated the consistent support that Vietnam had extended on issues of mutual concern at international fora. They shared a common determination to strengthen the non-alignment movement and had similar views for the United Nations’ reforms.[45] In an interview to the Vietnamese News Agency in January 2001, Vajpayee said: “A pressing imperative for Asian states, therefore, is to work in concert against international terrorism, towards elimination of nuclear weapons and striving for strong security architecture. We feel that India and Vietnam are strong allies in this direction.”[46] Standing with New Delhi’s position, the foreign minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Dy Nien, reaffirmed Hanoi’s position on India’s anti-terrorist approach[47] and condemned the terrorist attacks on Indian Parliament on December 12, 2001 and the killings of innocents in Kashmir in July 2002.

In May 2003, the secretary general of the VCP, Nong Duc Manh, visited India and issued a joint statement to develop their bilateral trade with a targeted turnover of US$ 1 billion by 2015.[48] India and Vietnam exceeded this target by US$ 3.28 billion; the two-way trade volume in 2015 was US$ 4.28 billion.[49]

A Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

The year 2007 marked the beginning of a modern-day strategic partnership between India and Vietnam.[50] In the same vein as the Joint Commission formed in 1982 under Indira Gandhi, another Joint Declaration was inked by the prime ministers, Manmohan Singh and Nguyen Tan Dung that aimed at improving bilateral relations in the spheres of politics, economy, security, defence, culture, and science and technology.[51] Economic integration with Hanoi is a key goal in India’s Act East policy, however it should not be forgotten that a strategic integration with Hanoi is more crucial with China increasing its reach in the South China Sea. In 2003, Manmohan Singh stated Vietnam and India faced similar security challenges, and it was vital that they should develop a maritime relationship to ensure the safety and security of important sea lanes.[52]

To strengthen the strategic partnership between the two nations, Vietnam has allowed India access to its southern port Nha Trang and allowed ONGC Videsh to explore for oil and hydrocarbons in the South China Sea in block 128 and block 6.1. India has invested US$ 49 million in block 128 and US$ 342 million in block 6.1. Block 6.1 has produced two million cubic meters of gas, and 0.036 million metric tonnes of condensate gas. Vietnam extended the lease for oil and hydrocarbon exploration until 2018. The significance of the block is that it lies in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic zone, which China claims as its own.

In 2016, the strategic partnership became a comprehensive one after prime minister Modi’s visit to Hanoi. The bedrock of relations between India and Vietnam in the twenty-first century has been built on security cooperation and economic trade. Both nations face a security dilemma originating from China, and as a measure of bilateral trade, India in 2016 extended US$ 500 million to Vietnam as defence cooperation.[53]

Alongside the strategic partnership, and through the ASEAN free trade agreement, India and Vietnam increased their economic trade to US$ 5 billion between 2010 and 2016. Bilateral trade in 2017 increased by 43 percent compared to 2016, with an increased investment in industries such as textiles, petroleum and gas exploration, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, plastics, leather, and garments. The two nations have set a trade target of US$ 15 billion by 2020.[54] Moreover, in the CLMV (Cambodia-Laos-Myanmar-Vietnam) trading area, Vietnam is India’s closest trading partner as Indian companies have a large opportunity in the Vietnamese market.[55]

India has maintained a trade surplus with Vietnam, which increased from US$ 506.1 million to US$ 2.7 billion in ten years. India is one of the leading countries in terms of exports to Vietnam, currently ranked at number ten. India exports machinery, steel and iron, meat and poultry, fabrics and defence equipment.[56] Total trade has seen a continuous rise during a ten-year-long period, a partnership that allows India to increase its trade in Southeast Asia.

As Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies in the world at around 6.7 percent annual GDP growth, it is an attractive investment destination for the ASEAN countries. Vietnam’s geographical location and its growing consumer market had created expectations for improvements in the business climate upon completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).[57] But with U.S. president Donald Trump withdrawing from the TPP, the region’s countries have lost an opportunity for open trade, and India has taken advantage of it by investing in manufacturing and infrastructure. Within manufacturing sector, India focuses on investments on the rubber industry as India is the fourth largest producer and the second largest consumer of the product globally. With Vietnam’s rubber industry growing at a rate of 30 percent annually, investments in the industry may prove to be beneficial.

India should continue investing in infrastructure projects. Vietnam plans to modernise its infrastructure by building 2,000 kilometers of expressways and energy power plants. Vietnam would require around US$ 5 billion to US$ 8 billion annually to complete these projects. India has a thriving energy sector, and companies such as Tata Power and Reliance Energy are investing in it. In 2017, Tata invested in a solar power project that would produce 49 MW in Binh Phuoc province, and Tata had earlier invested in solar power projects across Vietnam with a total power capacity estimated to be around 250 MW.[58] Indian investment in the energy sector of Vietnam would be seen as an act of goodwill as the power is to be distributed among the low-income strata in rural Vietnam.[59]

Vietnam is at the centre of India’s Act East Policy as it has consistently supported India’s bid to become a member of the UN Security Council. Furthermore, India should see Vietnam the way China views Pakistan in South Asia. India should use the conflicts between Vietnam and China to its advantage and create its footprint in the South China Sea to counter the growing Chinese influence in the region. However, this cannot occur without continuous improvements in bilateral relations with Vietnam.[60]

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Vietnam has had a 700 percent surge in defence procurement in order to secure its presence in the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the wake of China’s assertive claims in the South China Sea. This creates a platform for India to begin its entry into the defence market as it wishes to become a weapon-exporting country from a weapon-importing one. India-Vietnam defence cooperation needs to be seen from this perspective because during Modi’s last visit, agreements were signed for cyber security, weapons development, shipbuilding, and UN Peacekeeping missions.[61]

Why should India focus on the South China Sea dispute? The strategic significance of the South China Sea for India is the trade route. Fifty percent of India’s trade flows through this route, and given the thrust of the Act East Policy, India cannot ignore the importance of the South China Sea and the Chinese expansion. In view of the potential for conflict between China and the ASEAN nations, India’s economic interests are exposed and vulnerable to China, and therefore it is crucial for India to protect its national interest by building a stronger relationship with Vietnam.

To conclude, the bilateral relationship between India and Vietnam is deeply rooted in history, beginning 2,000 years ago. The bedrock of the relationship was constructed by Nehru and his principles of Panchseel. Nehru and Ho Chi Minh were nationalist allies who stood against colonialism, and dreamed of an independent Indochina. Prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi paved the road to an economic relationship between India and Vietnam by establishing the Joint Commission for Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, which created a landmark in economic relations. It was with Vietnam that India had its strongest relationship in Southeast Asia during the period stretching from the 1950s to the 1990s. Relations from the 1990s to the present are built on the bedrock of those historical precedents. 

The two countries are brought closer by the dual compulsions of their economies and their strategic interests. India’s partnership with Vietnam will help it to become a dominant force in the Asia-Pacific, and will enable it to create new security architecture in Southeast Asia. For its part, Vietnam views India as a longtime ally and friend, one who has consistently provided aid and moral support. If India continues to develop its relations with Vietnam, it can fulfill its national interests and articulate a strong strategic policy for the Indo-Pacific region. Vietnam and India can jointly bring stability and peace to Southeast Asia by increasing trade and enhancing their strategic partnership.

Abhinav Jha and Maherbaanali Sheliya wrote this article as part of their research internship programme with the Research Centre for Eastern and Northeastern Regional Studies in Calcutta in the summer of 2018.  

Abhinav Jha is a fourth-year B.A. (Honours) student of International Relations at Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University. He aims to join the Indian Air Force and has appeared for the UPSC exam. Abhinav’s area of research interest is energy politics, and he also plans to pursue N M.A. in International Relations with a focus in the same area.

Maherbaanali Sheliya is a third-year B.A. (Honours) student of International Relations and Economics at Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University. After completing his undergraduate degree, he aims to pursue an M.A. in international relations and diplomacy and aspires to work in policy research and state affairs. His fields of interest are Indian foreign policy, maritime studies, and Asian geopolitics. In pursuit of his interest, he has written a research paper about India’s Maritime Wall in the Indo-Pacific Region, which is currently under review for publication.


[1]“Vietnam Visit Aimed at Boosting Strategic Ties: PM Narendra Modi,” The Economic Times, September 2, 2016.

[2] Ravindranatha Reddy, “India-Indochina States: Relations Viewed from the Perspective of India’s Foreign Policy, 1980-1991” (PhD diss, Sri Venkateswara Univeristy, 2000), 1. http://hdl.handle.net/10603/102847.

[3] A.K. Majumdar, Southeast Asia in India's Foreign Policy: A Study of Indian Relations with Southeast Asian Countries, 1947-1982 (Calcutta: Naya Prakash, 1982), 3-4.

[4] Reddy, “India-Indochina States.”

[5] “India and Southeast Asia,” Government of India, Ministry of Information, (New Delhi, 1953), 3. Also see, Reddy, “India-Indochina States,” 5.

[6] Rajaram Panda,“India-Vietnam Relations: Prospects and Challenges,” Bi-annual Journal of School of Liberal Studies, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University 2, no. 1: 58-59.

[7] George Coedes, The Indianised States and their Problems (Kuala Lumpur: East-West Center Press,

1968), 36.

[8] “Funan,” Encyclopedia Britannica.

[9] Ashok K. Dutt, ed., Southeast Asia: Realm of Contrasts (Boulder, CO: Westview Press 1985), 183.

[10] Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh Selected Writings (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1973), 110. 

[11] Indian interference in Vietnam’s struggle for independence was against the first tenet of Panchsheel: mutual respect for each nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and the fifth tenet: peaceful coexistence. Birendra Prasad, Indian Nationalism and Asia (Delhi: B.R Publishing, 1981), 198.

[12] Baljit Singh, “India’s Policy and the Vietnam Conflict,” World Affairs 129, no. 4 (1967): 251.

[13] The Ambassador in Ceylon (Crowe) to the Department of State, Nehru, April 29, 1954, document 383, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1952-1954, Geneva Conference, Vol. xvi.

[14] For details on the provisions of the Geneva Agreements of 1954 on Indochina, see

Robert F. Randle, Geneva 1954: The Settlement of Indochina War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 205

[15] D.R. SarDesai, Indian Foreign Policy in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1968), 47.

[16] Ramesh Thakur, India’s Vietnam Policy, 1946-1979 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1979), 963.

[17] D.R. SarDesai, Indian Foreign Policy in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, 396.

[18] Tribid Chakraborti, India-Vietnam Relations: A Time Tested Look East Friendship,” Jadavpur Journal of International Relations VI (June 1, 2002). https://doi.org/10.1177/0973598402110016.

[19] Baladas Ghoshal, “India and Southeast Asia,” in Indian Foreign Policies: Indira Gandhi Years, ed. A.K. Damodaran et al. (New Delhi, 1990), 193. 

[20] Foreign Affairs Record, Vol. XVII, September 1971, MEA Library, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Accessed June 22, 2018. https://mealib.nic.in/?pdf2559?000.

[21] The Sino-Soviet differences over Ussuri Clashes brought China and the United States together.

[22] Carlyle A. Thayer and Ramesh Thakur, Soviet Relations with India and Vietnam (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1991), 237 .

[23] ”The United States reacted strongly regarding the Indian stand on Vietnam and this attitude hampered seriously the dialogue on future India-U.S. relations.” Times of India, January 14, 1972.

[24] The Times, London, January 26, 1973.

[25] Quoted in Indira Gandhi, Aspects of our foreign policy: from Speeches and writings of Indira Gandhi (AICC: New Delhi, 1973), 89-90.

[26] Vishnu Datt Chopra, India and the Socialist World (New Delhi: South Asia Books, 1984), 221.

[27] Baladas Ghoshal, “India and Southeast Asia,” 193.

[28] Foreign Affairs Record, Vol XXIV, February 1978, PG. 110/, MEA Library, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Accessed June/July, 2018. https://mealib.nic.in/?pdf2566?000.

[29] Hadham, “When old friends meet,” Far Eastern and Economic Review 1, no. 10 (March 1978): 24.

[30] Annual Report 1980-1981 (New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, 1980), 12-13.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Annual Report 1984-1985 (New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, 1984), 9-10.

[33] “Rajiv Gandhi, the First Indian Prime Minister to Visit,” UPI, November 27, 1985. Accessed June 23, 2018. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1985/11/27/Rajiv-Gandhi-the-first-Indian-prime-minister-to-visit/3898501915600/.

[34] Rajiv Gandhi, India and Vietnam: Committed to Peace and Development (New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1989).

[35] Foreign Affairs Record, Vol. XXX1, no.12, December 1985, MEA Library, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 402-03. Accessed June 23, 2018. https://mealib.nic.in/?pdf2573?000.

[36] Reddy, “India-Indochina States Policy,” 55.

[37] Foreign Affairs Record, Vol. XXXV, no.1, January 1989, MEA Library Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 24. Accessed June 23, 2018. https://mealib.nic.in/?pdf2577?000.

[38] Trade and Investment between Vietnam and India: Past, Present and Prospects (Institute of World Economics and Politics, 2004), 28. http://www.cuts-citee.org/pdf/backgdr-vietnam.pdf.

[39] Sudhir Davare, India and Southeast Asia: Towards security convergence (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006), 130.

[40] “Vietnam and India decide to strengthen ties,” Vietnam Courier, no. 36, October 1992, 2.

[41] V. D. Chopra, Vietnam Today and Indo-Vietnam Relations, (New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House on behalf of International Institute for Asia-Pacific Studies, 2001), 19.

[42] Sridhar Krishnaswamy, “Scope for More trade ties with Vietnam,” The Hindu, September 6, 1994.

[43] Harish Mehta, “Bad Business,” Outlook, February 27, 1996.

[44] Annual Report 1998-1999 (New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, 2001), 23.

[45] “Speech by Indian Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee,” Ibid, 9.

[46] www.mofa.gov.in /8080/web.1020server/foreignpolicy/opendocuments.

[47] http://www.mofa.gov.in/foreign policy. html.

[48] Annual Report 2003-04 (New Delhi: MEA, 2004), 45.

[49] “India-Vietnam Relations,” Ministry of External Affairs. www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Vietnam_13_01_2016.pdf.

[50] Carl Thayer, “How India-Vietnam Strategic Ties Are Mutually Beneficial,” The Diplomat, December 3, 2013. https://thediplomat.com/2013/12/how-india-vietnam-strategic-ties-are-mutually-beneficial/.

[51] Pankaj Jha, “India-Vietnam and Economic Complementarities,” AFG Venture Group. http://www.afgventuregroup.com/dispatches/afg-venture-group-newsletter/india-vietnam-strategic-and-economic-complementarities-dr-pankaj-jha-associate-fellow-institute-for-defence-studies-and-analyses/.

[52] Monika Chansoria, “Positioning Vietnam in India’s “Look East” Policy,” CLAWS, December, 2011.

[53] “India extends $ 500 million to Vietnam to bolster defense ties,” PTI, The Indian Express, September 3, 2016.

[54] Kim Chi, “Vietnam-India ties: An Economic Success Story,” Vietnam Economic News, November 20, 2017.

[55] “CLMV region provides huge opportunity for India: Sitharaman,” The Hindu Business Line, January 12, 2016.

[56] Export-Import Bank of India, “India’s Engagements with the CLMV: Gateway to ASEAN Markets,” Export-Import Bank of India, February 2017, 66.

[57] Ibid, 94.

[58] Bich Thuy, “Indian Investors Keen on Energy Projects in Vietnam,” Vietnam Investment Review, April 17, 2018.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Harsh V. Pant, “India and Vietnam: A “Strategic Partnership” in the Making,” S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, April 2018.

[61] Ritu Sharma, “Jet set no go: Plan to train Vietnam Sukhoi pilots grounded,” New Indian Express, November 19, 2016.