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August 26, 2014

With President's visit, big defence deal with Vietnam likely

Three consecutive weeks and three different destinations. India's Look East Policy is gaining fast momentum under the BJP-led NDA government. After her visits to Myanmar, followed by Singapore and current to Vietnam Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is opening new vistas of cooperation with the ASEAN countries both in strategic as well as in economic spheres.

Vietnam has been Delhi's key defence and strategic partner in the region with whom relations have grown away from the public glare. Swaraj's visit would not only prepare for President Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Vietnam from September 14-17 followed by their PM Nguyen Tan Dung's visit to India in October, official sources told ET. It is not often that Indian President visits one country and its PM comes calling to India in back to back months and this shows significance of growing strategic partnership amid regional tensions following China's claim in the South China Sea region, experts indicated.

A major defence deal is in offing when Mukherjee visits Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, sources said, adding, India has been a key defence hardware partner for Vietnam in naval equipment.

As both countries have been using Russian military platform for decades India and Vietnam complement each other on matters of training and spare parts. Vietnam is also seeking to import Brahmos missiles jointly manufactured by India and Russia. Sources told ET from Hanoi that Sushma told PM Dung during her meeting today that India appreciated Vietnam's security and national defence capabilities and expects to become its partner in this regard. It may be recalled that Indian Navy ships recently made a port call on Vietnam's port on their way back from India-US-Japan trilateral exercise off the coast of Japan.

The meeting also focused on doubling or tripling trade between the two countries, conclude the negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement, and launch a direct air route in the near future. Indian firms also have an interest in investing in infrastructure and signing deals with Vietnamese producers of corn and rice, as well as pangasius farming enterprises.

On South China Sea dispute, Swaraj quoted from at the recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Myanmar where India opposed the use and threat to use force in international disputes while supporting the peaceful settlement of disputes in line with international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Vietnam is also emerging as a supplier of hydrocarbon for India. Ahead of Swaraj's visit, Hanoi renewed India's lease of two oil blocks in the South China Sea for another year. India had decided to continue in off-shore oil blocks offered by Vietnam in the South China Sea region notwithstanding pressure from China. The oil blocks are located in Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone in the region that is disputed by China. There was flare up between Beijing and Hanoi when China put a mobile oil-rig in the area this May. It was however, later withdrawn following protests and anti-China riots in Vietnam.

Meanwhile addressing a the 3rd Roundtable of the ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks also in Hanoi, Swaraj today emphasized the importance of the 'C' of connectivity to the five Ts that the Government of India is pursuing - Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology to cement ties with the region.
- Economictimes

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