Opinion

Why Vietnam is at the centre of India’s policy to counter China

The Doklam border deadlock should not dissuade New Delhi from selling the Brahmos missile to Hanoi – if it hasn’t done so already, that is.

Last week, Vietnam indicated it has bought Brahmos anti-ship cruise missiles, a weapon the country has long cherished, from India. Without going into the specifics, the Vietnamese foreign ministry said “the procurement of defence equipment by Vietnam is consistent with the policy of peace and self-defence and is the normal practice in national defence”. India, however, claimed that the reports about the deal were “incorrect”. It may be so, but there is no doubt that Hanoi is increasingly coming to be at the centre of India’s “Act East” policy.

Narendra Modi visited Vietnam last year, rather pointedly on his way to China for the G-20 summit. The visit, the first by an Indian prime minister in 15 years, made it clear that New Delhi was no longer hesitant to expand its presence in China’s periphery. The Modi government has made no secret of its desire to play a more assertive role in the Indo-Pacific region. Modi himself has argued that India can be an anchor for peace, prosperity and stability in Asia and Africa. A more ambitious outreach to Vietnam, therefore, should not be surprising.

Although India’s ties with Vietnam have grown considerably in the past few years, it had dilly-dallied on Hanoi’s request to buy Brahmos since 2011, believing the sale would antagonise China.

Last year, however, the Modi government asked BrahMos Aerospace, the Indo-Russian joint venture that develops the supersonic missile, to expedite the weapon’s sale to Vietnam, as also to Indonesia, South Africa, Chile and Brazil. India already provides Vietnam a $100 million concessional line of credit for the procurement of defence equipment. And in a first of its kind sale, it sold four offshore patrol vessels to Vietnam that are likely to be used to strengthen the country’s defences in the energy rich South China Sea.

India’s outreach to Hanoi comes at a time when the United States has lifted its long-standing ban on the sale of lethal military equipment to Vietnam. New Delhi’s abiding interest in Vietnam too is in the defence sector. It wants to build relations with countries such as Vietnam, so they can act as pressure points against China. With this in mind, it has been helping Hanoi beef up its naval and air capabilities.

The two nations have a stake in ensuring the security of sea lanes and share concerns about China’s access to the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Hence, India is helping Vietnam build capacity for repair and maintenance of its defence platforms. At the same time, their armed forces have started cooperating in areas such as Information Technology and English-language training of Vietnamese army personnel. The two countries potentially share a common friend – the US. New Delhi has a burgeoning relationship with Washington, with the two sides signing a logistical support agreement this week, while Vietnam has been courting America as the South China Sea becomes a flashpoint. As the three countries ponder how to manage China’s rise, they have been drawn closer together.

Sphere of influence

It is instructive that India entered the contested region of the South China Sea via Vietnam. India signed an agreement with Vietnam in October 2011 to expand and promote oil exploration in South China Sea and stood by its decision despite China’s challenge to the legality of Indian presence. New Delhi was told it required Beijing’s permission for the Oil and Natural Gas Videsh Limited to explore the Vietnamese blocks 127 and 128 in those waters. But Vietnam cited the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to claim its sovereign right over the two blocks in question. Hanoi has been publicly sparring with Beijing over claims to the South China Sea for some years now, so such a response was expected.

What was new, however, was New Delhi’s aggression in taking on China. It immediately supported Hanoi’s claims. By accepting the Vietnamese invitation to explore the two blocks, the Oil and Natural Gas Videsh Limited not only expressed India’s desire to deepen its friendship with Vietnam, but also ignored China’s warning to stay away. This display of strength stood India in good stead with Vietnam.

Now, Hanoi is gradually becoming the linchpin of India’s eastward move. Hanoi fought a brief war with Beijing in 1979 and has grown wary of Beijing’s increasing economic and military might. That’s why in some quarters in New Delhi, Vietnam is already seen as a counterweight in much the same way Pakistan has been for China. If China wants to expand its presence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, the thinking in New Delhi goes, India can do the same thing in East Asia. If China can have a strategic partnership with Pakistan ignoring Indian concerns, India can develop robust ties with states on China’s periphery such as Vietnam without giving China a veto on such relationships.

This means that New Delhi is ready to challenge Beijing in its backyard. For now at least, this stance is being welcomed by countries that fear the growing aggression of China. The more engaged India is in the region, the more stable will be the balance of power. While India may want to downplay the Brahmos sale at this point in its engagement with Vietnam, a final decision will have to be made soon. The Doklam border stand-off with China cannot be the determining variable. India’s decision will have to be based on its long-term foreign and security priorities.

Harsh V Pant is professor of International Relations at King’s College, London, and distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Making two-wheelers less polluting to combat air pollution in India

Innovations focusing on two-wheelers can make a difference in facing the challenges brought about by climate change.

Two-wheelers are the lifeline of urban Asia, where they account for more than half of the vehicles owned in some countries. This trend is amply evident in India, where sales in the sub-category of mopeds alone rose 23% in 2016-17. In fact, one survey estimates that today one in every three Indian households owns a two-wheeler.

What explains the enduring popularity of two-wheelers? In one of the fastest growing economies in the world, two-wheeler ownership is a practical aspiration in small towns and rural areas, and a tactic to deal with choked roads in the bigger cities. Two-wheelers have also allowed more women to commute independently with the advent of gearless scooters and mopeds. Together, these factors have led to phenomenal growth in overall two-wheeler sales, which rose by 27.5% in the past five years, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Indeed, the ICE 2016 360 survey says that two-wheelers are used by 37% of metropolitan commuters to reach work, and are owned by half the households in India’s bigger cities and developed rural areas.

Amid this exponential growth, experts have cautioned about two-wheelers’ role in compounding the impact of pollution. Largely ignored in measures to control vehicular pollution, experts say two-wheelers too need to be brought in the ambit of pollution control as they contribute across most factors determining vehicular pollution - engine technology, total number of vehicles, structure and age of vehicles and fuel quality. In fact, in major Indian cities, two-thirds of pollution load is due to two-wheelers. They give out 30% of the particulate matter load, 10 percentage points more than the contribution from cars. Additionally, 75% - 80% of the two-wheelers on the roads in some of the Asian cities have two-stroke engines which are more polluting.

The Bharat Stage (BS) emissions standards are set by the Indian government to regulate pollutants emitted by vehicles fitted with combustion engines. In April 2017, India’s ban of BS III certified vehicles in favour of the higher BS IV emission standards came into effect. By April 2020, India aims to leapfrog to the BS VI standards, being a signatory to Conference of Parties protocol on combating climate change. Over and above the BS VI norms target, the energy department has shown a clear commitment to move to an electric-only future for automobiles by 2030 with the announcement of the FAME scheme (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India).

The struggles of on-ground execution, though, remain herculean for automakers who are scrambling to upgrade engine technology in time to meet the deadlines for the next BS norms update. As compliance with BS VI would require changes in the engine system itself, it is being seen as one of the most mammoth R&D projects undertaken by the Indian automotive industry in recent times. Relative to BS IV, BS VI norms mandate a reduction of particulate matter by 82% and of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 68%.

Emission control in fuel based two-wheelers can be tackled on several fronts. Amongst post-emission solutions, catalytic converters are highly effective. Catalytic converters transform exhaust emissions into less harmful compounds. They can be especially effective in removing hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide from the exhaust.

At the engine level itself, engine oil additives are helpful in reducing emissions. Anti-wear additives, friction modifiers, high performance fuel additives and more lead to better performance, improved combustion and a longer engine life. The improvement in the engine’s efficiency as a result directly correlates to lesser emissions over time. Fuel economy of a vehicle is yet another factor that helps determine emissions. It can be optimised by light weighting, which lessens fuel consumption itself. Light weighting a vehicle by 10 pounds can result in a 10-15-pound reduction of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Polymer systems that can bear a lot of stress have emerged as reliable replacements for metals in automotive construction.

BASF, the pioneer of the first catalytic converter for automobiles, has been at the forefront of developing technology to help automakers comply with advancing emission norms while retaining vehicle performance and cost-efficiency. Its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Mahindra World City near Chennai is equipped to develop a range of catalysts for diverse requirements, from high performance and recreational bikes to economy-oriented basic transportation. BASF also leverages its additives expertise to provide compounded lubricant solutions, such as antioxidants, anti-wear additives and corrosion inhibitors and more. At the manufacturing level, BASF’s R&D in engineered material systems has led to the development of innovative materials that are much lighter than metals, yet just as durable and strong. These can be used to manufacture mirror brackets, intake pipes, step holders, clutch covers, etc.

With innovative solutions on all fronts of automobile production, BASF has been successfully collaborating with various companies in making their vehicles emission compliant in the most cost-effective way. You can read more about BASF’s innovations in two-wheeler emission control here, lubricant solutions here and light weighting solutions here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.