Looking East

The visit of Vietnam’s top most leader Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party, to India cannot be merely termed as yet another trip by a senior foreign leader in the calendar year. Beginning with the Vietnamese leader, Delhi will host Japanese Emperor Akihito and two more important leaders from the region — South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (who will also be Republic Day Chief Guest) — over the next two-and-a-half months with an eye to counterbalance China’s growing clout and aggressive postures in Southeast and East Asia. This is third visit to the country by senior leaders of Vietnam since 2011, signaling the growing strategic and defence partnership. This speaks of growing links between the two countries both of whom have territorial disputes with China. While the Vietnamese President made a state visit in 2011, the Southeast Asian country’s Prime Minister was in Delhi last year to attend the ASEAN Commemorative Summit. Trong’s four-day visit beginning Tuesday would largely focus on expanding this burgeoning strategic partnership. As many as 13 agreements in the fields of hydrocarbon, trade, education, direct air-links, finance and customs are expected to be signed during this trip.
An area where in-depth consultations will be held away from the public glare is defence. The two sides are expected to firm up a Line of Credit (LoC) of $100 million that India would extend to Hanoi in future to purchase four maritime patrol boats, official sources indicated. India has extended such LoC to Mauritius and Seychelles too. The LoC was agreed upon around the time India reiterated its resolve to remain involved in oil exploration in the Phu Kanh basin of the South China Sea. Vietnam says it is within its rights to invite India to explore for oil in this area. But China claims that this basin is within the “nine dotted line” or its zone of influence. Last week Defence Secretary R K Mathur, on a quiet visit to Ho Chi Minh city, is understood to have firmed up major agreements to boost defence ties. Militaries of India and Vietnam remain in regular touch.
Vietnam’s wish list from India also includes Brahmos missile, jointly produced with Russia. Moscow has given green signal but Delhi is yet to take a political call on the supply of Brahmos. The visits of Emperor Akihito followed by Prime Minister Abe in succeeding months speak of the journey that India and Japan has traveled since 1998 nuclear tests. Trade and investments apart, defence partnership and proposed nuclear deal have been key elements in the relationship, South Block officials explain. “India-Japan ties have been consistent over the past decade and it has only seen an upward trajectory. That Japan is emerging is defence hardware supplier is noteworthy. Abe is determined not to allow Chinese hegemony,” Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary and currently chairman of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) said.

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