Home / Politics / Policy /  India, Vietnam set to ink nuclear energy pact, boost defence ties

New Delhi: In a move that could put China on the back foot, strategic partners India and Vietnam are to boost defence ties and sign pacts on civil nuclear cooperation and port development during a visit by Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang later this week.

The two countries will also exchange views on developments in the South China Sea where Vietnam and some other South-East Asian nations are locked in a maritime dispute with China, Vietnam’s ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The three-day visit starting on Friday comes at a time when India is warily watching China make inroads into its neighbourhood with an increased naval presence as well as a stepped up infrastructure profile in countries like the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka as part of its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative. India views South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region as its traditional sphere of influence while China sees the South China Sea as its backyard. In the past, China has objected to India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd exploring for oil in blocks off the Vietnamese coast in the South China Sea—claiming it to be in its territorial waters.

President Tran Dai Quang’s first visit to India will start from Bodh Gaya, a noted Buddhist site that is frequented by pilgrims from Japan and South-East Asia. On the second day of his visit on Saturday, he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind.

Of the 26 countries that Vietnam has a strategic partnership with, “the level of the strategic partnership with India is the highest," Ton Sinh Thanh said, adding that there was “strong political trust" between the two countries as there was a “strong convergence of strategic interests."

The Vietnamese president’s visit would aim to make the partnership more comprehensive with the addition of economic, scientific and cultural elements, he said, adding that one of the agreements expected to be signed was in the area of peaceful uses of civil nuclear energy.

Apart from the civil nuclear pact, which will be signed between the two governments, three other pacts—including one on the development of a port in the Nghe An province in north-central Vietnam —will be signed with Indian companies, Tran Le Tien, economic counsellor in the Vietnamese embassy in New Delhi, said.

Indian companies will be looking at “developing the port for operations, to raise its capacity to 5 million tonnes (cargo handling) capacity," he said. Another pact envisages the setting up a $50 million coal terminal in Vietnam, Tran Le Tien said.

According to the ambassador, the two countries will aim to deepen trade and defence ties during the president’s trip. India had extended a $500 million line of credit to purchase military equipment during a visit by Modi to Vietnam in 2016. This was in addition to another $100 million extended in 2014. “We are buying some equipment from India for the (Vietnamese) army and navy," Ton Sinh Thanh said, but did not confirm media reports that the Vietnamese government had purchased the India-Russia co-developed BrahMos cruise missile.

The situation in the “South China Sea will be discussed" with Indian leaders, the ambassador said, describing the current state of the dispute as “complicated." China and other countries that are party to the dispute had agreed to a code of conduct in the South China Sea aimed at minimizing friction, he said.

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