India is all set to activate its satellite tracking station in Vietnam a project, which already raised hackles in China.
A meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc in New Delhi was followed by exchange of two pacts, including one on Indian Space Research Organization's Data Reception and Tracking and Telemetry Station at Ho Chi Minh City.
The implementation arrangement inked by the Indian Space Research Organization and the National Remote Sensing Department of Vietnam would "define the framework and conditions of cooperation" for establishment of the tracking and data reception station as well as the data processing facility in Ho Chi Minh City, sources told the DH.
The ISRO has set up the state-of-the-art satellite tracking station in Vietnam in 2015 as a part of the programme for space cooperation between India and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Once activated and linked up with another existing station of the ISRO at Biak in Indonesia, the new facility in Ho Chi Minh City will help New Delhi track satellites launched from India and receive data from them. It will also help the ISRO share with the remote sensing agencies of Vietnam and other ASEAN nations the satellite data for management of natural resources, study of ocean and response to disaster in South-East Asia.
Besides, according to the sources in New Delhi, it will also be an important strategic asset for India to keep watch on South China Sea, which has been at the centre of China's territorial dispute with Vietnam as well as its other maritime neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Taiwan.
Beijing already cried foul over the new facility as it would give India a strategic edge in a region often perceived to be a backyard of China.
China's state-run newspaper, Global Times, in January 2016 had published a report quoting a researcher in a social science institution of the communist country stating that New Delhi's move to set up the satellite tracking station at Ho Chi Minh City "clearly" indicated its "attempt to complicate the regional dispute" over South China Sea.
Beijing's objection had made Hanoi a bit hesitant and it had been dilly-dallying on completing the necessary procedural formalities with New Delhi to pave the way for the ISRO to activate the tracking station.
India, however, continued discussion with Vietnam over the past two years and finally the latter agreed to ink the implementation arrangement clearing the hurdles for its activation.
Beijing has also been opposing continued oil exploration by the ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) of India in the blocks awarded by Vietnam in the South China Sea. A call by Ton Sinh Thanh, Hanoi's envoy to New Delhi, for more investment from India to Vietnam prompted a strong protest by the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chinese Government earlier this month.
Phuc arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday to attend the ASEAN-India commemorative summit, which would be held on Thursday. He would also join other ASEAN leaders to attend the Republic Day ceremony of India on Friday.
He met Modi late on Wednesday. The two Prime Ministers also witnessed exchange of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for cooperation between the two nations in the field of information and broadcasting, the Ministry of External Affairs said.
They reviewed implementation of India's credit lines to Vietnam for defence sector. Hanoi already moved ahead for implementing the $ 100 million Line of Credit India offered to Vietnam and awarded the contract to L&T for manufacturing offshore patrol vessels, which would be used by Vietnam Coast Guard and Vietnam People's Navy. The two Prime Minister also agreed that the other $ 500 million Line of Credit for defence procurement would also be implemented expeditiously.
New Delhi and Hanoi have also been discussing a deal for India to supply BrahMos missiles to Vietnam, which has emerged as one of the most vocal opponents to China's expansionist aspiration in Indo-Pacific.
The BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles are produced by a joint venture of Defence Research and Development Organization and Russia's NPO Mashinostroeyenia. Moscow has already given its nod to New Delhi to proceed with talks with Hanoi on the proposed deal.
"The two leaders expressed satisfaction at the growth of bilateral relations between the two countries within the framework of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, including in the fields of maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, defence, oil and gas, trade and investment," the Ministry of External Affairs said in a press-release issued on Thursday.