Strategic gains for India!

Jordan & Vietnam Visitors

Dr. D.K. Giri
Prof. International Politics, JMI

Two Heads of State from the Middle East and South Asia came calling last week, providing India a strategic edge in both regions. Specially against the backdrop of Jordan, a moderate Islamic country, having diplomatic ties with Israel hence a formidable ally for India in the latter’s attempt at de-radicalisation. Interestingly, this was King Abdullah II bin Hussein’s second visit after weeks of Prime Minister Modi’s touchdown in Amman on his way to Palestine.
India and Jordan have had close and friendly relations which are growing in strength and intensity. Endorsed by Queen Rania who said in an interview, “India is a ‘rising star’ of Asia and the natural partner of Jordan”. Pertinently, Modi once again ignored protocol and personally received the King at the airport. Both had extensive talks on bilateralism and the emerging issues in the Middle East. Jordan urged New Delhi to play a greater role in the resolution of Palestine conflict. To recall, when NaMo visited Palestine last month he was hosted and escorted en route by Jordan.
In all 12 agreements were signed by the two countries on defence, tourism, health and IT. The focus was on defence sector that included training, defence industry, counter-terrorism, military studies, cyber security, military medical services and peace keeping.
India is the 4th largest trading partner for Jordan, after Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China. Trade has touched $1.4 billion and is growing. Notably, the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd. (IFFCO) has entered into a joint venture with Jordan’s Phosphate Mines Company (JPMC) with an input of $860 million. Twenty textile industries have invested $300 million in Jordan. The main bases of the bilateral trade are Jordanian supply of fertiliser and phosphates and Indian export of textiles.
Notably, India-Jordan ties date back to 1947 when New Delhi first signed a cooperation and friendly agreement which became operational in 1950 when we gained full freedom. Trade is governed by the 1976 bilateral agreement and a Trade and Economic Joint Committee monitors its progress. King Hussein’s objective is to enhance trade relations as was evident from the large business delegation accompanying him. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Jordan’s Chamber of Commerce and Jordan’s Investment Commission jointly organised the business delegations meetings.
On political and social front, the King and Modi jointly addressed an Indian Islamic Cultural Centre event on “Promoting understanding and Moderation”. Both stressed on rich Islamic heritage and condemned terrorism that uses religion as a route; “no religion teaches hatred and enmity”. India is investing diplomatic capital on Jordan to gain access to the Red Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. Besides, Jordan has the most efficient intelligence agencies in the Gulf and India could tap into its widespread network.
Further, New Delhi and Amman are on the same page on United Nations and WTO etc. India had supported Jordan’s membership of the UN Security Council, in the non-Government category and Jordan had done the same for India. Amman supports New Delhi’s membership into an expanded UN Security Council.
On international issues both countries exchanged opinions and shared perspectives. Jordan has a neutral position, unlike other Gulf countries, on Kashmir since 1970 and during former President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit, named Saddzagloul Street in Amman as Mahatma Gandhi Street.
Importantly, India expressed deep satisfaction over the King’s visit. According to the Foriegn Ministry it was reinvigorating traditionally close and cordial ties, trade and investment, defence and security, tourism and people-to-people exchanges. NaMo in his tweets added, “It was great to discuss issues of mutual concern with the King of Jordan”.
Adding to this, King Hussein said, “Our visit heralded a new start to a historic chapter of relationship between the two countries”. Clearly, the visits seemed to have gone off well. But it remains to be seen if the diplomatic niceties translate into concrete action on the ground. Both countries are friendly with Israel, but whether they could exert pressure on Tel Aviv to agree to a durable solution of the Palestine problem is a big question. This is the call of history, will both countries together take that call?
Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang’s visit from 2-4 March coming after its Prime Minister’s trip in January when he was a guest of honour with other ASEAN Leaders, is significant. Both New Delhi and Hanoi are concerned about China’s belligerent moves in the region, especially in South China Sea.
Significantly, the Vietnamese President is also a step ahead for India in its ‘Look East Policy’. The main purpose achieved by this visit was to ‘deepen the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries’. Like Jordan, Vietnam has appreciated India’s greater activism in South East Asia. That is in view of China’s aggressive posturing.
New Delhi on her part has emphasised on the institutional route to counter Chinese position, like adherence to the UN convention on the Law of the Sea. India maintains that, “it will strive to evolve a regional architecture based on twin principles of shared security shared prosperity.”
Appreciably both New Delhi and Hanoi have unresolved conflicts with China. Vietnam is a gutsy country which is famous for defeating USA in a full-scale war whereby Vietnamese fought with bare bamboo sticks in the battle to ward-off the aggressor. Yet, given the wide symmetry between China and Vietnam in military and economic terms, it is matter of time Hanoi might not hold on long. Vietnam is obviously seeking support from the ‘Quad’, at least US, Japan and India.
In the present geo-political and security scenario between India and China, India will look for partners like Vietnam. New Delhi and Hanoi have the institutional mechanisms in place to maintain and enhance the defence and security relationship with each other. The Joint Commission meetings at the Foreign Ministers level, strategic dialogue at the Foreign Secretary level and security dialogues at the Defence Secretary level are some of the structures operating between New Delhi and Hanoi.
Under such an institutional umbrella, defence cooperation between the two countries is rapidly growing. India is providing military training, supplying military spares, maintaining hardware, coast-guard-to coast guard collaboration.
Obviously, the China factor has brought India and Vietnam closer. The relationship is likely to grow as Beijing is unlikely to downplay its posturing or aggressive moves. In most of the bilateral relations in Asia, Middle East, or Africa India comes up against China. So the diplomatic challenge for India boils down to countering China which has super-power aspirations.
Consequently, India will have to build itself internally to stand up to China or normalise relations. In either case, New Delhi has to enhance its strategic skills, backed by domestic might in economic and political terms. The relation with two friendly countries, Jordan and Vietnam is a case in point. —— INFA