India playing for high stakes through East Asia ties

India playing for high stakes through East Asia ties

After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing, New Delhi is now set to deepen its engagements with the rest of East Asia and host top leaders of three other countries, which all – like India – have territorial disputes with China.

Vietnam’s top leader and General Secretary of the country’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, is likely to visit India in the third week of November. Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are set to visit India from November
30 to December 6 next.

New Delhi has also invited Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to be the chief guest at the Republic Day ceremony on January 26 next year. South Korean President Park Geun-hye, too, is likely to visit India in January.

The back-to-back visits of the top leaders of Vietnam, Japan and South Korea are expected to help New Delhi strike a balance in its engagements in East Asia. Like India, all the three countries have territorial disputes with China and are seen as key players for maintaining the balance of power in Asia.

The visit of the all-powerful General Secretary of the Vietnam Communist Party comes at a time when New Delhi is stepping up its engagements with Hanoi.

New Delhi got entangled in Hanoi’s long-pending territorial dispute with Beijing over South China Sea in 2011. India’s ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL), in collaboration with PetroVietnam, has been engaged in hydrocarbon exploration off the coast of Vietnam in South China Sea since 1988. But China in 2011 objected to India’s projects in the disputed region.

China National Offshore Oil Corporation in June this year also issued a notification offering nine blocks in the South China Sea for foreign collaboration, including part of a block which Vietnam had already awarded to the OVL. The OVL is also planning to invest $ 145.94 million more to raise its stake in a gas field off the south coast of Vietnam.

India has over the past two years stepped up defence ties with Vietnam. During the visit of the Vietnam Communist Party’s top leader, New Delhi is likely to offer Hanoi a credit line worth about  $ 100 million to procure military ware from India.

New Delhi’s move to invite Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to be the Chief Guest in the Republic Day ceremony is also apparently intended to send out a signal to China. Abe’s Government in Tokyo has taken a hard-line approach on Japan’s territorial disputes with China over the Diaoyu or Senkaku islets in the East China Sea.

While on a visit to New Delhi during his earlier tenure as the Prime Minister in August 2007, Abe had called upon India to join Japan to create a new “arc of freedom and prosperity” roping in other democracies in the region, as well as Australia and US - a vision that Beijing has interpreted as a move to contain China.

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