Vietnamese PM Nguyen Tan Dung meeting Narendra Modi in Delhi (photo: Zee News)
India and Vietnam have decided to ramp up their defence ties and raise Indian involvement in Vietnam's energy sector. Delhi will supply four naval patrol vessels to Hanoi and to increase training of its military personnel, one month after India extended a $100 million Line of Credit (LoC) for defence procurement. The decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his visiting Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung to boost defence and energy ties is likely to irk China.
"Our defence cooperation with Vietnam is among our most important ones. India remains committed to the modernisation of Vietnam's defence and security forces," Modi said following the talks.
This cooperation will include the expansion of training – which is already very substantial – joint exercises and cooperation in defence equipment.
"We will quickly operationalise the 100 million dollars LoC that will enable Vietnam acquire new naval vessels from India. We have also agreed to enhance our security cooperation, including in counter-terrorism," Modi said.
According to official sources, Vietnam has agreed to buy four patrol vessels for its navy, but is yet to formally identify the shipyard it wants them from.
Vietnam wants the vessels for surveillance off its coast and around its military bases in the disputed Spratly island chain in the South China Sea, where it is building a naval deterrent to China with Kilo-class submarines from Russia.
Sources also said that talks are on to train Vietnam Air Force pilots in flying Sukhoi fighters as well. India is already training Vietnam Navy personnel in operating the Kilo-class submarine.
India and Vietnam have a long-standing defence relationship, but it has so far been restricted to military exchanges, training, spares and maintenance of military hardware.
A joint statement released after the meeting on Tuesday said both leaders called for "restraint" and "freedom of navigation" in the South China Sea, where China is embroiled in a bitter dispute with Vietnam and other nations.
Beijing's placement of an oil rig in disputed waters earlier this year infuriated Vietnam, but the coastguard vessels it dispatched to the platform were each time chased off by larger Chinese boats.
"The (Prime Ministers called on the) parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid threat or use of force and resolve disputes through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law," the Indo-Vietnamese statement added.
Both India and Vietnam have territorial disputes with China – India in the Himalayas and Vietnam in the South China Sea. According to Reuters, Delhi and Hanoi are beefing up defences even as they strengthen commercial ties with China, the world's second-largest economy.
The two countries also signed an agreement under which India's state-run oil exploration arm, ONGC Videsh, will enhance cooperation with PetroVietnam. ONGC Videsh will now explore three oil blocks, two of which lie outside the sea territory claimed by China.
"The agreement underlines Vietnamese invitation to OVL to expand its presence in Vietnam and further consolidate cooperation in exploration and other areas between the two countries in energy sector," the joint statement said.
China has previously criticised India's cooperation with Vietnam in the oil and gas sector, claiming it would not “support any agreement” that dealt with any “waters administered by China, or is not approved by China”.