India, Vietnam for peaceful South China Sea, $15 bn trade

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Pranab-mukherjee-Truong-Tan-SangHanoi: Firming up their relationship at a higher level, India and Vietnam called for a peaceful, unfettered South China Sea, inked seven agreements including for direct Delhi-Hanoi flights and an extended line of credit for purchase of military equipment, as they set a target of $15 billion bilateral trade by 2020 with a focus on tourism, garments and textiles, pharmaceuticals and agriculture.
Capping a day of intense engagement, President Pranab Mukherjee told his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang at a banquet in his honour that India holds Vietnam in high esteem admires its determination to succeed and the tenacity against even the most powerful adversaries and will always remain its “reliable and all-weather friend”.

Earlier, inaugurating the India Study Centre at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy for Politics and Public Administration here, he said India and Vietnam have prioritised enhanced physical, institutional and people-to-people linkages, and both would now like to see intensified exchanges between their universities and institutions.

He said he was delighted that the academy has already evolved a cooperation framework with the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore and with the Indian Institute of Public Administration in Delhi.

The seven agreements were signed in the presence of Mukherjee and his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang.

Carrying on the momentum, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is set to visit India in October at the head of a large business delegation to explore further opportunities for economic cooperation.

“The value of the visit can be gauged by the fact that the (Indian) president met the entire gamut of Vietnamese leadership – the president, the prime minister, the chairman of the national assembly and the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party,” said Secretary (East) in the external affairs ministry Anil Wadhwa at a briefing here.

“In fact, the Vietnamese president gave quite some time. He was present for the one-on-one talks, the delegation-level talks, attended the inauguration of the India Study Centre at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy, and then the banquet,” he said.

On the ambitious trade target, Wadhwa said $7 million level was expected by 2015 but has already been achieved this year itself, and it was expected that the new figure would be surpassed too.

The joint communique following the talks said the two leaders agreed to strengthen and deepen bilateral cooperation on the basis of the strategic partnership.

The focus would be on political, defence and security cooperation, economic cooperation, science and technology, culture and people-to-people links, technical cooperation and multilateral and regional cooperation.

The leaders agreed that military and security cooperation was an important pillar of the strategic partnership between the two countries, and expressed satisfaction with the ongoing cooperation in this field.

They noted that the signing of the MoU for a Line of Credit of $100 million for defence procurement extended by India to Vietnam would open new avenues for cooperation.

Wadhwa said it would primarily be used by Hanoi for offshore patrol vessels while other equipment was yet to be identified and would be decided in talks.

India and Vietnam, in the communique, also reiterated their “desire and determination to work together to maintain peace, stability, growth and prosperity in Asia”.

They agreed that freedom of navigation in the East Sea/South China Sea should not be impeded, and called the parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid threat or use of force and resolve disputes through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law.

The seven agreements included an air services agreement between Jet Airways and Air Vietnam while OVL, the overseas arm of oil major ONGC, and Petro Vietnam inked an agreement on exploring two additional blocks off Vietnam.

Asked if these blocks were in the contested South China Sea, Wadhwa expressed ignorance.

“This was only a letter of intent. We will only come to know when they offer us the blocks… in a more concrete proposal,” he said.

The other agreements were on agriculture cooperation, animal health, customs cooperation, and on youth affairs and skill development.

After the inking of the agreement, Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal said the air services were going “to be very feasible, it is going to be very profitable”.

He said the direct flights would start Nov 5, and “booking has already started”.

Lauding Goyal’s venture, the Vietnamese president termed him a “giant bridge” between the two countries.

Mukherjee who began his four-day state visit to Vietnam Sunday will leave for Ho Chi Minh City Tuesday afternoon and return to India Wednesday.

By Vikas Datta IANS