New Delhi: Vietnam believes India and China should exercise restraint and not complicate matters further at a time when the world is reeling under the coronavirus pandemic compounded with economic challenges.
In an interview to ThePrint, Pham Sanh Chau, ambassador of Vietnam to India, said ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the region beyond are all facing grave difficulties thrown up by the Covid-19 pandemic and, hence, both countries should focus on creating a “conducive and enabling environment”.
“At a challenging time like this caused by the Covid-19, we need to unite and focus on the fight against the pandemic. We have to also make sure our economies recover soon. So with these two tasks, we believe that all the countries need to strengthen mutual trust and confidence and especially exercise restraint and not complicate the situation. Everybody needs to create an environment, which is conducive and enabling for mutual talks in case any dispute arises. This is our position,” Pham said.
He said the pandemic has not only created economic challenges for ASEAN and the world, but it has also impacted peace and stability.
While China has been engaged in a bitter dispute with India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), with both having a violent face-off in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, Vietnam is also facing the brunt of Beijing’s rising military adventurism in the South China Sea.
Both India and China have announced that they will resolve the stand-off through diplomatic dialogue.
After being strategic partners for over a decade, India and Vietnam upgraded their relationship to ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ strengthening defence and security ties.
Vietnam to ‘facilitate’ India’s entry to RCEP
Vietnam, which has assumed chairmanship of ASEAN this year, plans to facilitate the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between ASEAN and partner countries, with China being a dominant player.
“RCEP is now ASEAN’s top priority and Vietnam has decided to conclude and sign it under its chairmanship. The view of all ASEAN countries and partners is that we want India in RCEP and we believe that will create a very good trading bloc in the region. Vietnam has already facilitated favourable conditions between India and other RCEP members, and it will continue to do so at the comfort and convenience of India,” Pham added.
He stressed the “way to RCEP for India is always open”, adding that New Delhi can always join the pact at a “later stage when it feels comfortable enough” even as the remaining member countries will sign it soon.
“We think it (RCEP) is necessary under the current situation. We believe that if India does not feel comfortable in joining RCEP at the moment then Vietnam, as the chair of ASEAN, will facilitate the conclusion of the agreement in Vietnam territory under our chairmanship. And after that we will facilitate the entry of India into this agreement at a later stage, which is at the most comfortable time for India,” he added.
India had stated last year in November it would not join the ASEAN-led pact due to differences with China on tariffs and market-access issues. However, talks have been going on informally to bring New Delhi on board.
RCEP is a mega trade pact being negotiated between 16 countries, which include the 10 ASEAN members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — and their six trade partners — Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and India, which has now opted out.
RCEP members account for a total gross domestic product (GDP) of about $50 trillion with a share of 28 per cent of global trade. Together, these countries boast of 50 per cent of the world’s population. Thus, once implemented, it will be bigger than the European Union (EU) as a trading bloc.
Talks on reviewing FTA to happen after RCEP
India and ASEAN signed a free trade agreement (FTA) on goods in 2009 and operationalised it in 2010, while it was decided that the pact on services in trade and investment will be signed at a later stage. However, talks have remained stalled ever since.
Vietnam has now decided that work on India-ASEAN FTA will only resume after RCEP is signed even as both sides have set up a review committee to discuss the pact.
“Both sides have set up a review committee to discuss FTA on services and investment. But, we have agreed to review the FTA after we conclude the RCEP agreement,” the ambassador said.
Meanwhile, Vietnam has signed an FTA with the European Union (EU) that seeks to eliminate almost 99 per cent of customs duties between the EU and Vietnam.
“Vietnam has come to full normalcy. We just ratified the Vietnam-EU FTA that will not only create opportunities for Vietnam, but will also help India in creating supply chains. India can export its products to Vietnam and invest there and take advantage of the FTA,” he added.
Meanwhile, talks between India and the EU for an FTA continues to remain stuck, the negotiations for which began in 2007.