Amid increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region, India and Vietnam have underlined the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, while calling for peaceful settlement of disputes without threat or use of force.
After delegation-level talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang yesterday, the two countries also resolved to deepen cooperation in the field of defence and security.
The Vietnamese side reiterated its consistent support for India’s permanent membership to United Nations Security Council (UNSC), a joint statement said.
The two sides had also inked pacts for cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, trade and investment, and agriculture following Modi-Tran talks.
India and Vietnam also agreed to further cooperate in the maintaining peace, stability and development in the Indo-Pacific region as well as in the world at large.
“They also reiterated the importance of, and the need for complete compliance with international law, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS), including the implementation of international legal obligations,” the statement said.
The two sides also underlined the importance of the “maintenance of freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea, full respect for diplomatic and legal processes, peaceful settlement of disputes without resorting to the threat or use of force, and in accordance with international law”, it said.
Both sides support the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and look forward to an early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
Prime Minister Modi and President Tran shared convergence of views on various bilateral and international issues, including the regional security situation in Asia, the statement said.
They reiterated the importance of achieving a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region where sovereignty and international law, freedom of navigation and overflight, sustainable development and a free, fair and open trade and investment system are respected, it said.
Vietnam is one of the claimants to the South China Sea, a disputed region that has been witnessing increased Chinese military presence.
In November last year, China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) formally endorsed the framework adopted by their foreign ministers in August for a code of conduct (COC) to handle overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Besides China and Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have over-lapping territorial claims in the sea, known to be rich in hydrocarbons.
The two sides emphasised that India and Vietnam play important roles in safeguarding and strengthening an open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture and in further strengthening of cooperation with ASEAN.
Oil and gas exploration has been one of the key areas of cooperation between the two countries with the Indian companies making significant investment in this sector in Vietnam.
President Tran welcomed Indian businesses to expand their oil and gas exploration and exploitation activities on land and in the continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Vietnam.
He also suggested that relevant Indian companies file concrete proposals for the blocks offered by the Vietnamese side.
Both sides agreed to actively pursue the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on collaboration in oil and gas exploration projects in third countries.
China has been opposing India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) exploring oil in areas claimed by Vietnam in the South China Sea (SCS). India has been asserting that the ONGC’s exploration is a commercial operation and not connected with the dispute. Oil exploration in the SCS is a sensitive issue in Vietnam-China relations.
Prime Minister Modi, in a joint press statement after the delegation talks with President Tran, had noted that cooperation in the field of defence and security is one of the “strong pillars” of the ties between the two countries.
The two sides also agreed to cooperate in defence production and explore opportunities in transfer of technology. Cyber security was one of the important elements discussed under this sector.
The two leaders also welcomed ongoing exchange of senior level delegations, meetings of consultation mechanisms, stronger cooperation between their armed forces and enhanced cooperation in areas of cyber security, combating terrorism and violent extremism in all their forms and manifestations, transnational crimes, human and drug trafficking, maritime security, climate change and food security, the statement said.
To review the implementation of the Action Plan of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for 2017-2020, the two sides also agreed to hold the next joint meeting later this year, led by the foreign ministers of India and Vietnam.
In the area of connectivity, the Indian side urged Vietnam to utilise various Indian initiatives for CLMV (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam) countries, including the credit line of USD 1 billion.