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New Delhi: India on Monday assured Vietnam of its full commitment to the strategic partnership between the two countries during a meeting in New Delhi between Vietnamese defence minister Phùng Quang Thanh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Thanh, who arrived in New Delhi on Sunday, is on a three-day visit to India that comes amid growing concerns over China’s land reclamation project in the South China Sea, aimed at bolstering its territorial claims in the disputed area. The Chinese were looking at turning reefs into islands that can host airstrips and other military facilities, according to a Reuters news report.

The visit of the Vietnamese defence minister, considered one of the top leaders in Vietnam’s Communist Party, follows Modi’s recent visit to China.

“Gen. Thanh briefed Prime Minister Modi about defence and security related developments in the India-Vietnam bilateral relationship. Prime Minister Modi expressed satisfaction at the progress made in bilateral defence and security cooperation since the visit of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung," in October 2014, a government statement said.

“Prime Minister Modi assured Gen. Thanh of India’s full commitment to the strategic partnership between the two countries," the statement added.

India and Vietnam, traditionally friendly countries, have forged an ever closer economic strategic relationship in the last decade amid increasing Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea as well as India’s own ‘Act East’ policy.

Last year, there were at least three high-level interactions between India and Vietnam in three months—foreign minister Sushma Swaraj visited Hanoi in August ahead of a visit by President Pranab Mukherjee in September. During Mukherjee’s visit, India extended a $100 million Line of Credit (LoC) for defence procurement. In October, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung came to India.

During Dung’s visit, India agreed to supply four naval patrol vessels to Vietnam, increase the level of training of its military personnel and raise its involvement in Vietnam’s energy sector. The sale of India-Russia co-developed cruise missiles Brahmos to Vietnam was also under consideration though there is no firm proposal as yet.

China disputes Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Spratly island chain in the oil and mineral rich South China Sea, which it claims as part of its territorial waters, and has in the past objected to India’s presence there.

According to a Reuters news report, the Chinese military last week ordered a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane away from the air space above the Spratly islands. The Chinese foreign ministry later said it had sovereign rights to those waters, maritime features and the airspace above.

The Spratlys, about a thousand kilometres from the nearest major Chinese landmass, are one of the biggest and most strategically important archipelagos in the sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have competing claims to parts of the South China Sea.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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