India has said it will give a naval warship to Vietnam in the latest signal of tightening defense ties between the two countries, which share concerns about China's assertiveness.
The announcement that New Delhi will deliver the Indian Missile Corvette INS Kirpan to the Vietnamese navy was made following a meeting between Indian Defense minister Rajnath Singh and his Vietnamese counterpart, General Phan Van Gang, in New Delhi on Monday.
"A missile corvette is a small warship used mainly for the purpose of coastal defense," according to Rahul Bedi, an independent defense analyst.
In a statement, the Indian government said that giving the warship to Hanoi would be "a milestone in enhancing the capabilities of Vietnam People's Navy."
The focus of the Vietnamese defense minister's visit was on building military ties with New Delhi. He also discussed ways to enhance defense industrial capabilities by cooperation in defense research and joint production, according to the statement.
Although the two countries have had a strategic partnership since 2016, it has gained momentum since last year when they signed a landmark military logistics pact that would enable their militaries to use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies and make it easier to arrange visits of warships, military aircraft and personnel to each other's shores. India also gave 12 high-speed guard boats to Vietnam last June under a $100 million line of credit extended by India.
Building defense cooperation with Vietnam is part of New Delhi's efforts to maintain stability in the Indo-Pacific region, according to analysts. India has been engaged in a military standoff with China along the disputed Himalayan borders for the last three years and is also concerned about Beijing's expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean where China has built infrastructure projects in countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan.
In Hanoi, there are worries about Chinese warships and survey vessels entering Vietnam's exclusive economic zone. Based on what Beijing says are old maps, China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory including waters that are claimed by Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.
Last month, Vietnam urged China to withdraw a survey ship and escorting coast guard vessels that entered its waters. They left after operating for almost a month.
"China's aggressive behavior in South China Sea and even along India's border, has alerted every country in the Indo-Pacific on how best to add to their capabilities to handle China," according to Chintamani Mahapatra, founder of the Kalinga Institute of Indo Pacific Studies in New Delhi. "The underlining factor is that China has sent alarm bells to all countries. And since no country can defend itself alone against Beijing, it is natural that middle powers like India, Vietnam and Australia, would forge security ties between themselves and with a bigger power like the United States so that they are not bulldozed by China."
India had also proposed selling its indigenously developed supersonic missile systems to Vietnam several years ago, but progress on that deal has been slow, according to defense analyst Bedi.