India is training a batch of Vietnamese army officers in the bush of Mizoram, in the latest sign of growing defence ties between the two Asian nations. Both Vietnam and India share a border with China, which has grown increasingly assertive of late due to its growing military and economic heft. There are three Vietnamese officers who are currently upgrading their counter-insurgency fighting skills at the Indian Army’s Counter Insurgence and Jungle Warfare School, according to a report by English news channel NDTV.

The English news channel reported that the skills picked up by Vietnamese military officers in Mizoram would be passed on to regular soldiers of the Vietnamese army later, which would help them combat insurgents operating in jungles of the south-east Asian nation.

NDTV notes the larger picture in which the current round of defence cooperation is taking place, which is coming at a time when China is stepping up its defence ties with India’s arch-rival Pakistan.

Vietnam and China are embroiled in an island dispute in the South China Sea, where both countries have conflicting claims on a chain of islands. Western powers including the US have been searingly critical of China’s growing assertiveness in the resource-rich South China Sea, and have accused it of bullying its smaller neighbours including Vietnam.

In India’s security establishment, there has been an argument that New Delhi should increase cooperation with countries in the region, more so with Vietnam and Japan which are viewed as Beijing’s rivals.

Vietnam- An enemy of India’s enemy

Vietnam and China have a history of hostilities that have complicated bilateral relations. The two nations fought a brief war in 1979 after Vietnam invaded neighbouring Cambodia, which had a China-backed regime in the infamous Khmer Rouge until 1978. Though the fighting was brief with both sides agreeing to cease hostilities after a round of offensive, military sparring continued on and off until 1990.

On the other hand, India has been a friend to Vietnam and has been one of its major defence equipment suppliers in recent years. New Delhi’s offer of supplying Vietnam with Akash missiles and its indigenous-developed Brahmos missile system have raised hackles in Beijing.

India even extended a $500 million line of credit to Vietnam last year as part of its ‘Act East’ policy, an initiative seeking to increase India’s engagement with East Asian countries in a bid to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

As noted in China’s influential newspaper South China Morning Post in January, the Joint Vision statement of India and Vietnam covers not only cooperation in civil sectors such as education, but also in high-tech space exploration including positioning satellites over the South China Sea.

Beijing has expressed anxiety over India’s growing proximity to Vietnam.

An editorial in Beijing-backed Global Times in January commented: “If the Indian government genuinely treats its enhancement of military relations with Vietnam as a strategic arrangement or even revenge against Beijing, it will only create disturbances in the region and China will hardly sit with its arms crossed.”