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Asia's Game of Thrones
India and Vietnam Flirt with Security Cooperation

India’s Air Force Chief visited Vietnam last week, as New Delhi made yet another move to strengthen military ties with a regional power. The Diplomat picked up the story over the weekend:

The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) chief marshall, Arup Raha, arrived in Vietnam on Thursday, where he was received by Vietnam’s minister of defense, General Phùng Quang Thanh. Raha is in Vietnam for a three-day visit where he will meet with a range of senior Vietnamese defense officials and discuss military cooperation between the two countries. Raha’s visit emphasizes the ongoing strategic convergence between Hanoi and New Delhi. Both India and Vietnam have expanded their defense cooperation in recent months, with high-level discussions about security cooperation becoming relatively routine.

Thanh, according to a report in Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre, “hailed Raha’s visit, considering it a boost to the traditional friendship, mutual understanding and trust between the two countries and peoples, particularly in defense ties.” To date, India and Vietnam haven’t focused specifically on air force cooperation, preferring instead to build their security ties around maritime security. The specifics of Raha’s agenda in Hanoi remain obscure for the moment. In broad terms, Vietnamese reports notes that the Indian air chief’s agenda will be broad enough to address strategic security cooperation between the two countries.

India has asserted itself more aggressively abroad since Prime Minister Modi’s election. Last year, Modi reached out to Taiwan. In March, his government announced a big increase in military spending. And over the weekend, the Indian navy was busy conducting exercises with its Australian counterpart. That effort was organized after the Aussies expressed interest in joining the upcoming MALABAR naval exercise, a landmark trilateral event between Japan, India, and the United States.

India is also enjoying its newfound economic status as what the Wall Street Journal called “the strongest of the weak” among emerging markets. India’s GDP is still a fraction of China’s, but it is increasingly viewed as a relatively stable investment. If India does prosper at the expense of other emerging powers (and that is far from a sure bet), look for New Delhi to take more confident steps to confront Chinese power.

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