At an event this week, the Vietnamese airline VietJet announced the launch of new direct air routes between India and Vietnam. Starting May 14, the New Delhi-Da Nang route will commence operations with a frequency of five flights per week. Meanwhile, new routes connecting Mumbai with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City will operate with three weekly flights and four weekly flights from May 15 and May 16 respectively. This is in addition to direct routes launched by VietJet in December between New Delhi and Hanoi and New Delhi and Ho Chi Minh City. The new routes launching ceremony was graced by Vietnam’s Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh and India’s civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri.
There’s no denying that the direct flights are really important in boosting ties between the two countries. It will facilitate both tourism and business, and in turn give a huge fillip to two-way trade. The latter has been growing and today Vietnam is India’s fourth largest trading partner within the Asean bloc while India is among Vietnam’s top ten trading partners. In fact, data shows that trade between India and Vietnam has grown to around $13 billion. Direct connectivity should aid this further.
More importantly, direct connectivity is likely to help Indians and Vietnamese increase their understanding of each other. It’s a fact that the people of the two countries know very little about each other. India and Vietnam are not part of each other’s popular mindscape as much as they should be. True, some sections of the Indian population, particularly the Indian intelligentsia, may know about Vietnam through Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnam War in the previous century. But this is a miniscule percentage. Similarly, Vietnamese people may be aware of Bollywood and certain Indian TV dramas. But again these entertainment products only represent a small slice of India.
Therefore, there is a need to broadbase cultural understanding between the two peoples where both sides get acquainted with each other’s language, cuisine, customs, traditions and worldview. Indians and Vietnamese need to know what is happening in each other’s countries and societies today. For only then can a solid foundation be laid in India-Vietnam relations. The latter are extremely important in the context of India’s Act East policy. As the global axis of power shifts from the West to the East, and East Asia slowly emerges as the epicentre of a new Asian order, the South China Sea region congruent with the geographic sphere of Asean nations is transforming into an important geopolitical hub. In fact, Asean is forecast to overtake the EU and Japan to become the 4th largest economy in the world by 2050, behind China, India, and the US. Asean has over 380 million people under 35 years of age and the third largest labour force. Asean’s middle class is slated to double to 334 million by 2030 and 70% of Asean’s population will be urban by 2050.
And it is within the Asean grouping that Vietnam deserves special attention. After all, Vietnam is the country that grew rich the fastest in the decade between 2007 and 2017. In fact, it grew at a robust 7.02% last year, making it one of the fastest growing economies in Asean. Additionally, Vietnam welcomes all positive interventions in its region aimed at fostering peace and development for all. Thus, Vietnam is certainly an important partner if India is to actualise its Act East policy and increase its presence in and connections with East Asia. As I have said before, understanding Vietnam is key to understanding the dynamics underway in East Asia. Let India-Vietnam ties prosper.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.