There is scope for India and Vietnam to deepen cooperation in the oil and gas sector despite “all the troubles” the Southeast Asian country faces, Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh said on Thursday, in an oblique reference to Vietnam’s disputes with China.
There was also great potential to enhance cooperation in the pharmaceutical and the healthcare sectors, especially in the wake of the government’s implementation of the Ayushman Bharat scheme, or the National Health Protection Mission, Singh said at a conference on strengthening India-Vietnam economic ties.
“There is a scope for (expanding cooperation in) oil and gas despite all the troubles that Vietnam faces in East Vietnam Sea if I can put it that way. There is scope out there for India…we are already there, there are certain problem areas.
“I am sure those problem areas will get sorted out and Vietnam can reap the benefits of the kind of deposits it has,” Singh said, in an oblique reference to Vietnam’s disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Vietnam is one of the claimants to the South China Sea, a disputed region that has been witnessing increased Chinese military presence.
Besides China and Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping territorial claims in the sea, known to be rich in hydrocarbons.
Oil and gas exploration has been a key area of cooperation between India and Vietnam with Indian companies making significant investment in this sector there.
China has been opposing India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) exploring oil in areas claimed by Vietnam in the South China Sea. India has asserted that ONGC’s exploration is a commercial operation and not connected with the dispute. Oil exploration in the South China Sea is a sensitive issue in Vietnam-China relations.
Singh also pitched for enhanced cooperation between the two countries in sectors such as renewable energy, agriculture, tourism, textiles, leather and minerals processing among others.
Addressing the gathering, Vietnam’s Ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh pitched for strengthening India-Vietnam economic ties and boosting cooperation in various sectors.
“Apparently, Vietnam needs to reduce its dependence on a few markets like China and the US. It is imperative for Vietnam to diversify its economic relations and India may be the last major market that Vietnam has not fully explored,” Ton said.
He recalled that during the visits by Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to India earlier this year, the leaders of the two countries had called for further expanding economic relations and emphasised the target of USD 15 billion of bilateral trade by 2020.
“I am quite optimistic that we can reach the above-said target in less than three years time for three reasons. First, we have very solid foundation of the political relationship that create favourable conditions for economic relations between the two countries.
“Second, the economies of both Vietnam and India are taking off at fast growth rate of around 7 per cent, that create a lot of demand for economic cooperation. Third, over the past few years, the economic cooperation between Vietnam and India has been rapidly expanding,” Ton said.