India to help strengthen Vietnam defence forces

India to help strengthen Vietnam defence forces

India to help strengthen Vietnam defence forces

Brushing aside China’s objections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced the decision to strengthen Vietnam’s defence forces while increasing cooperation in exploring for oil and gas in the disputed South China Sea.

As seven agreements were signed between the two sides after talks with visiting his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung here, Modi said India will sell four naval patrol boats to Vietnam under a $100 million line of credit.

This is seen as the first significant military transfer to Hanoi when it faces a territorial dispute with China. Modi and Dung called for “restraint” and “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea, which Vietnam always refers to as the East Sea.

Modi said: “Since entering office, my government has promptly and purposefully intensified our engagement in the Asia Pacific region, which is critical to India’s future. It is no surprise that Vietnam has been at the forefront of our efforts.”

Modi said India “remains committed to the modernisation of Vietnam’s defence and security forces,” which would include expanding the training programme, joint-exercises and cooperation in defence equipment.

On his part, Dung said “Vietnam highly appreciates India’s position regarding the East Sea issue and India’s continued cooperation with Vietnam in oil and gas exploration and extraction in the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam in the East Sea.”

ONGC Videsh Ltd, the overseas arm of state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp, signed an agreement to pick up to 50 per cent stake in PetroVietnam’s two exploration blocks in the South China Sea.

OVL will take 40 per cent stake in Block 102/10 and 50 per cent in 106/10 that lie outside the sea territory claimed by China. PetroVietnam, the national oil company of Vietnam, will take half of OVL’s 100 per cent stake in Block 128 in South China Sea which the Indian firm had earlier planned to exit.

Responding to India and Vietnam exploring oil together in the South China Sea, Beijing said it would have no problem so long as it was carried out in waters that were not disputed. Earlier, China had criticised India’s cooperation with Vietnam in the oil and gas sector, saying its exploration activities off the Vietnam coast are illegal.