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India, Vietnam to boost defence, security ties in ‘uncertain’ world, envoy says before PMs’ meet

PM Modi and Vietnam PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc will hold a virtual summit Monday; Ambassador Pham says countries’ Comprehensive Strategic Partnership needs deepening.

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New Delhi: India and Vietnam are working towards taking their ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ to the next level by “building on it in order to prepare for an uncertain world”, according to the country’s ambassador to New Delhi, Pham Sanh Chau.

Ambassador Pham spoke to ThePrint just ahead of the annual summit between prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nguyen Xuan Phuc scheduled for Monday, and put the emphasis on deepening defence and energy cooperation.

“We need to deepen our bilateral relationship which was upgraded four years ago to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This is needed as we look to a world full of uncertainties,” the ambassador said.

The summit, which was scheduled to take place earlier this year, got delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, high-level visits between India and Vietnam have taken place throughout the year. The prime ministers also spoke over the phone on 13 April, followed by a joint address at the India-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit last month.

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Eye on China

The summit is taking place at a time when both India and Vietnam are having a difficult time with their biggest neighbour — China.

While Vietnam is at loggerheads with China over Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, India is engaged in a prolonged border standoff with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.

According to Ambassador Pham, during this year’s summit, the countries are looking at boosting their defence ties. Defence cooperation is one of the main facets of the ‘five pillars’ of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Last month, in a virtual dialogue between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Vietnamese counterpart General Ngo Xuan Lich, both sides agreed to enhance the annual defence cooperation mechanisms. India has also offered Vietnam a line of credit worth $500 million to develop its defence industry.

The envoy also said at the upcoming summit, prime ministers Modi and Phuc are also expected to discuss at length the evolving Indo-Pacific framework between India and the 10-member ASEAN, which is being chaired by Vietnam till 31 December.

“The summit will enhance all aspects of the relationship and strengthen the five pillars on which this relationship firmly stands,” Pham said.

This was also echoed by a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs Friday: “During the summit, the two leaders will exchange views on wide-ranging bilateral, regional and global issues and provide guidance for the future development of India-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.”

According to diplomatic sources, India is one of the very few countries with whom Vietnam shares such a strategic partnership.

The sources noted that a number of agreements and announcements — covering areas such as defence, energy, development partnership and healthcare — are likely during the summit.

Both countries have also made it clear that they will adhere to a rules-based order under the Indo-Pacific initiative. As a result, both leaders will also seek to strengthen their maritime cooperation.

“Both India and Vietnam are important countries in the Indo-Pacific region with significant maritime interests. This will enable the two sides to explore potential cooperation based on India’s Indo-Pacific initiative and ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific strategy that Vietnam subscribes to,” an Indian official told ThePrint.

“The two countries have shared interest in a free, open, peaceful, prosperous and a rules-based regional order,” the official added.

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‘Energy ties to be enhanced’

According to the ambassador, India and Vietnam will also look to enhance their energy cooperation by increasing collaboration in oil and gas exploration projects in third world countries.

Indian energy giants like Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Videsh and Essar, which are already present in Vietnam, have expressed their intentions to expand.

While ONGC Videsh, the public sector firm’s overseas arm, has sought a two-year extension for exploring the Vietnamese oil block in the contentious South China Sea, Essar is also expected to ramp up its investment.

Energy cooperation between India and Vietnam is another area where China has expressed objections, since it claims sovereignty over the South China Sea, which has a huge deposit of hydrocarbons.

China has also threatened ONGC’s operation in the area by positioning its seismic ship, coast guard vessels, fishing ships and service ships inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, where the blocks are located. Last year, Vietnam had even contemplated raising the matter with the UN Security Council.

The matter was discussed at length between both sides in a meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh in August this year.

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