Wednesday, Nov 21, 2018 | Last Update : 12:41 AM IST
In an extremely significant development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will vi-sit India’s strategic southeast Asian partner Vietnam next month on an official visit likely to take place in the first we
In an extremely significant development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will vi-sit India’s strategic southeast Asian partner Vietnam next month on an official visit likely to take place in the first week of September, sources said. On Wednesday, Vietnam said Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Hanoi will open a “new page” in bilateral relations even as it welcomed India’s stand on the ruling of an international tribunal on the South China Sea (SCS) dispute. Vietnamese ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh said on Wednesday that the situation in the South China Sea region was “getting worse” with militarisation.
According to reports, Mr Modi’s visit to Vietnam is expected to be within days of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, and the Asean summit in Laos early next month which he may also attend.
In the wake of India’s uneasy ties with China following Beijing blocking New Delhi’s NSG membership bid, the visit of Mr Modi to is bound to be keenly watched by China. Both India and Vietnam have fought border wars with China previously. India also has oil exploration interests in Vietnamese waters in the SCS. Vietnam is among the southeast Asian countries that have a maritime dispute with China in the SCS. Recently, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) dismissed China’s claims on the SCS saying there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources.
According reports, Vietnam has discreetly fortified several islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations across the vital trade route. Diplomats and military officers reportedly told Reuters that intelligence shows Hanoi has shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into position on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months, a move likely to raise tensions with Beijing. But Vietnam has apparently termed it as “inaccurate”.
“We expect that Prime Minister Modi’s visit will be soon. It will open a new page in the bilateral relationship. We hope the visit will upgrade ties to a more comprehensive level. Preparation for the visit is going on,” the Vietnamese ambassador was quoted as by news agencies, as saying.
However, did not announce any date when asked whether the trip would be around Modi’s likely visit to China to attend the G-20 meeting or Asean summit in Laos in the first week of September. The visit will reportedly be the first by an Indian PM in the last 15 years.
The Vietnamese envoy said the two countries were gearing up to celebrate milestones in the form of 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations and 10 years of the establishment of strategic partnership. Thanh said Vietnam “appreciates” India’s position on the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling whereby it “recognises” the international court as well as the UN Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS).
“The most important part is that India respects international law and especially freedom of aviation and navigation. Other countries should not use force or threat of force in South China Sea,” Thanh was quoted as saying, in a veiled reference to China without naming it.
Stressing that Vietnam deplores “militarisation”, the envoy said the court ruling, which holds the potential to reduce the area of dispute, needs to be complied with.
“The situation in South China Sea is getting worse with militarisation and so the ruling is welcome. The situation is not stable and territorial issues have not been settled yet,” Thanh, the country’s ambassador to India since 2014, said.
Asked whether a possible sale of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile would be on the table during Modi’s visit, Thanh said while Vietnam appreciates India’s “achievements” in the defence sector, “whatever we buy is for self-defence”. Thanh however added that Vietnam was trying to manage good relations with both India and China and that mutual ties between any two countries should not be seen as “against” a third country. “On bilateral disputes we are ready to talk bilaterally while on multilateral disputes we are ready for negotiations involving two more parties. But if needed we may explore other legal options,” he said.
Mr. Modi’s visit to Vietnam will take place just weeks after the two countries discussed key issues including security cooperation during their fifth Strategic Dialogue held in New Delhi.