India and Vietnam have shored up ties in the defense and energy sectors during a two-day visit by the Vietnamese Prime Minister to India. The deepening friendship between the two countries is being closely watched by China.
After holding talks with his Vietnamese counterpart in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his government would quickly operationalize a $100 million line of credit to enable Vietnam to acquire naval patrol vessels from India.
This will mark the first significant supply of military equipment by India to the East Asian country. Vietnam is involved in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, and wants to strengthen its coastal defenses.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, called defense cooperation “an important pillar of the Vietnam-India strategic partnership.”
Both countries called for peaceful resolution of disputes in the region and stressed the importance of maritime security.
The Vietnamese Prime Minister said “as a major power in the region” India should actively support parties involved in the South China Sea disputes.
“Both sides agreed on the importance of maintaining peace, stability, maritime security, resolving disputes by peaceful means, on the basis of international law,” he said.
India’s growing ties with Vietnam will likely be closely monitored by China, which has which has been irked by India’s exploration for gas off Vietnam in the South China Sea. It has even called Indian activities in the area “illegal,” but New Delhi appears unfazed.
On Tuesday, the two countries signed an agreement giving India access to additional oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the two countries would continue to deepen cooperation in this sector and associated industries.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Hong Lei, reiterated a warning.
Hong said Beijing did not oppose reasonable and justifiable exploration in the South China Sea, but if those activities harmed China’s sovereignty and national interest, it would firmly oppose. He also urged India not to get involved in the South China Sea dispute.
India’s effort to deepen ties with countries like Vietnam in the Asia Pacific region is seen as an effort by New Delhi to counter China, which has been steadily expanding its influence in countries in India’s neighborhood. Prime Minister Modi said Tuesday that India is deepening its engagement in East Asia, as it considers this region crucial for its future.