Sang's India visit means stronger defense ties: analysts

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Vietnam welcomes Indian oil exploration in East Sea; expert says weapons exchange could be in the future

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang (L) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmmohan Singh after they gave joint press statements in New Delhi on October 12. Sang is in India for a three-day state visit.

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang's first visit to India has analysts talking about the nature of military cooperation between the two nations, which many observers see as an attempt to counter China's aggressive regional policies.

The official purpose of Sang's October 11-13 visit to India is to "strengthen friendship between the two peoples, reinforce, deepen and add greater substance to bilateral strategic partnership," the Vietnamese foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

 In an interview with the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency, President Sang said the strategic partnership between Vietnam and India two "time honored" and "traditional friends" -  was growing for the sake of peace, stability, cooperation and development. He said the "global scenario" called for the Vietnam-India relationship to be enhanced.

Asked about an agreement with Vietnam that allows India to explore oil reserves in the East Sea off the coast of Vietnam, the President told PTI that the project in question was located entirely and exclusively within Vietnam's sovereign jurisdiction and was being carried out in full conformity with international law as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"Vietnam welcomes foreign companies to work with Vietnamese partners in oil and gas projects on the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone of Vietnam and in conformity with Vietnamese laws," the Indian news agency quoted Sang as saying.

"Vietnam is also committed to protecting the legitimate interests of foreign companies that have invested in the country."

Vinod Saighal, former general director of the Indian army's military training unit, said Vietnam is not only a major beneficiary of India's "Look East" policy, but also one of India's "most trusted partners and allies covering the entire geostrategic spectrum in the region."

Iskander Rehman, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi, said he believed that defense cooperation between the two nations will be particularly strengthened following the visit.

"Indian Defense Minister A.K Antony clearly stated last year that naval cooperation in-between Hanoi and New Delhi will increasingly be at the heart of Indian-Vietnamese defense cooperation," he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

"For the time being naval cooperation in-between both nations has largely revolved around joint exercises, training and repair and maintenance. There is much potential yet to be tapped in order to give birth to a truly effective bilateral security arrangement in the western half of the South China Sea (East Sea)," he said.

Rehman said the Indian Navy remains a carrier-centric fleet which focuses largely on sea control rather than sea denial and that it would be in both India and Vietnam's interests if New Delhi worked toward assisting its longstanding Vietnamese partner in the enacting of an effective strategy of sea denial.

He said the two countries should better coordinate joint hydrographic research of the deep seabed of the southern reaches of the East Sea, and eventually co-deploy acoustic sensor arrays off the Vietnamese coastline.

"Vietnam has shown itself generous through its open port policy," he said. "India should replicate that gesture by deepening its defense ties with Hanoi and offering to transfer submarine and missile technology."

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