India and Vietnam have for long been the victims of Chinese aggression in Asia but if the two countries continue to assert themselves in the South China Sea then it is likely that China will have to mend its ways and come to the dialogue table.
Vietnam despite being smaller in size has shown such spirit to fight for its interest that it may become a symbol of hope in the Southeast Asian Sea and in the South China Sea diplomacy very soon.
India and Japan along with Australia have already started to challenge the acrimonious approach of China towards its neighbors, and it is important to note that the South China Sea has become an increasingly conflict-prone zone due to Chinese aggression that has also drawn the concerned glances from an increasingly weak Washington. With the US President set to visit Vietnam in May this year and an increasing India-Vietnam cooperation, some fireworks in the region can be expected from the Chinese side.
Many political pundits have expressed fear over the escalated tensions in the region with many saying that a war may erupt soon if bigger powers continue to look away while the aggressive Chinese approach puts the sovereignty of the smaller nations at stake. This probably is the reason why an increased Indian and USA presence is being welcomed in the region by countries like Vietnam.
Vietnam, so far, has successfully defended its interests and its aggressive lobbying with powers like India and USA against a heavyweight like China has earned for it respect and admiration in the political circles of India.
Vietnam again showed that it has the nerves to hit back with force when in the repudiation of China’s claims (made by the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi) the Vietnam Pro-temp Leadership Committee went ahead and released a position paper entitled “Chinese Fallacies Regarding the Southeast Asian Sea.”
This paper in detail describes how until the early twentieth century Chinese maps themselves define Hainan Island as the southernmost territory of China, how Guangdong authorities used to refer shipwrecks to Vietnamese authorities, how false claims were made by China in the last century, how even the Chinese names for many islands and features in the Paracels and the Spratly Islands were recent transcriptions or translations from Western names and how the Chinese occupation of the Paracels, for instance, was fought off by the Vietnamese navy even in the waning days of the Vietnam War.
The paper also delves into the Western misconceptions and concessions made to China’s claims that it believes are ‘unwarranted.’
In conclusion, the paper calls for the renaming of the South (China) Sea as the “Southeast Asian Sea,” for increased cooperation among ASEAN countries in the face of the Chinese threat and an increased militarization of that international body of water, for challenging the Chinese nine-dash line, for strengthening alliance with major powers other than China, and for seeking peaceful ways to stop Chinese aggression in the area based on the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
But what perhaps should worry China is the growing Indian interest in the region.
It also goes in India’s favor that it shares cordial relations with almost all members of the regional grouping ASEAN and its presence is important to thwart Chinese aggression against smaller neighbors.
It is important to note here that Philippines, Japan, Australia, USA, and Vietnam have regularly appreciated India’s approach towards this region and have welcomed its presence, much to the discomfort of the Dragon.
At the meeting of ASEAN Ministers on the 8th Delhi Dialogue, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met with the Deputy Foreign Minister Le Hoai Trung while earlier Vietnam had called upon Indian companies to invest in the nation.
India’s approach to the South China Sea was praised by the Vietnamese Ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh when he attended a workshop on the topic “The South China Sea: Security and economic implications.”
Ton had underscored India’s interest when he called the security of the sea routes in the Asia-Pacific ‘essential’ for the Indian economy. He had explained that the majority of the Indian global trade flows across the straits of Malacca and beyond.
He also praised the settlement of the maritime dispute between India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal in which the two sides amicably settled their differences by using the UN’s Arbitration Tribunal. This he felt should be done in the South China Sea as well, unfortunately, China to follow this approach so Vietnam’s hopes won’t bear fruits.
But what is for sure is that the Vietnam-India relations are bound to improve in the days to come and so are the marks that India leaves in this region. Let us hope that both the countries remain committed to it in the face of Dragon’s antics.