President Pranab Mukherjee embarked on a four-day state visit to strategically important Vietnam on Sunday during which he will hold talks with top leaders there as the two countries will ink pacts in key areas of oil exploration and air connectivity sectors.
During the trip, Mukherjee would be travelling to capital Hanoi and the historic city of Ho Chi Minh and hold discussions with President Truong Tan Sang and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on issues of international, regional and bilateral importance.
Ahead of his visit, Mukherjee termed security and defence as “major pillars” of cooperation between the two countries and said he was of the view that there was much more potential that can be realised in these areas and both sides are working towards it along with the regional partners.
An agreement between India’s ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) and Petro Vietnam for exploring oil in the South China Sea blocks are among the number of pacts to be inked during the visit.
The attempt to invite India for drilling operations in the disputed South China Sea is seen by experts as a move by Vietnam to counter China’s influence in the region.
China and Vietnam have an acrimonious relationship due to their standoff over the South China Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons.
China has been objecting any activity in South China Sea region including Indian oil exploration as it has territorial disputes with some ASEAN countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines.
The trade volume between India and Vietnam has been worth USD 8 billion during 2013-14 and plans are afoot to take it to 15 billion USD by 2020.
The visit will also mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the countries even as the foundation for strategic partnership was laid in 2007.
Mukherjee, during the visit, will also gift a sapling of the holy ‘bodhi tree’ to the country to symbolise the strong and growing partnership between India and Vietnam.