India and Vietnam on Monday inked seven pacts, including one to enhance cooperation in the strategic oil sector, as they called for “freedom” of navigation in the South China Sea, a remark which could irk China, which has been claiming territorial sovereignty over the high seas.
The agreements were signed during the second day of the four-day state visit of President Pranab Mukherjee who held talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang.
Both the countries decided to “strengthen and deepen bilateral cooperation on the basis of the strategic partnership with focus on political, defence and security cooperation, economic cooperation, science and technology, culture and people-to-people links, technical cooperation and multilateral and regional cooperation”.
In a subtle message to China, the two countries, who established strategic ties in 2007, asserted that the freedom of navigation in the disputed waters of the South China Sea should not be “impeded” and called all the parties “concerned” to exercise restraint in this context.
“The leaders 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, including the UNCLOS-1982,” said a joint communique issued after the meeting.
China has been exerting its influence in these waters which is not taken well by Vietnam and other bordering countries like the Philippines. The two sides urged for “collective commitment of the concerned parties to abide by and implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Seaand to work towards the adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea on the basis of consensus.
“They called for cooperation in ensuring security of sea-lanes, maritime security, combating piracy and conducting search and rescue operations,” it said. “Both the nations also agreed to continue closer interaction under the institutional architecture of the strategic partnership, particularly the joint commission meeting, the foreign office consultations and strategic dialogue, security dialogue and other dialogue mechanisms between the two countries,” the communique said.
After the delegation-level talks, both the leaders oversaw the signing of pacts on seven different subjects in the presence of dignitaries and senior government officials.
Apart from a Letter of Intent signed between the ONGC Videsh Limited and Vietnam Oil, the other pacts include extending a dollar credit line between Vietnam and EXIM Bank of India, agreement on co-operation and mutual assistance in customs matters, MoU on animal health, MoU on setting up of Pangasius breeding and farming in India, MoU on operating and jointly promoting direct air services between Vietnam Airlines and domestic Indian air carrier Jet Airways and MoU on cooperation in youth affairs and skill development. The two sides also agreed to undertake a focused cooperation in defence related procurement.
“The leaders agreed that defence and security cooperation was an important pillar of the strategic partnership between the two countries. They expressed satisfaction with the ongoing cooperation between the two sides in this field and noted that the signing of the MoU for the Line of Credit of $100 million for defence procurement extended by India to Vietnam would open new avenues for cooperation,” the joint statement said.
They also reiterated their desire and determination to work together to maintain peace, stability, growth and prosperity in Asia, it said. It said official talks between the leaders were held in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual trust.
“President Sang and President Mukherjee exchanged views on the socio-economic developments and foreign policy of their respective countries, bilateral relations and issues of mutual interest,” it said.
Mukherjee also congratulated the government and people of Vietnam on the remarkable achievements recorded in recent years while Sang saluted India on the successful completion of the recent Lok Sabha elections and expressed his belief that under the leadership of the new government in India, the people of India will attain greater achievements in national development.
The two leaders also agreed to enhance the economic partnership and strengthen the trade and investment linkages between the public and private sectors of both countries, including forging joint ventures.
“They welcomed the strong growth in bilateral trade in recent years and urged business to further expand and diversify trade to achieve the bilateral trade target of $15 billion by 2020. They identified tourism, garments and textiles, pharmaceuticals and agriculture as important areas of potential growth in bilateral trade,” the statement said.
The two leaders highlighted scope for expansion in ICT, science and technology, space and other areas. The MoU on line of credit of the Exim bank signed on Monday will explore opportunities for this cooperation in the future.
“Details of equipment to be purchased by Vietnam are under finalisation,” the joint statement said. Also, under the new air connectivity deal, both Jet Airways and Vietnam Airlines will fly a daily flight connecting Delhi, Mumbai and Ho Chi Minh city starting November 5.
Before meeting his Vietnamese counterpart, Mukherjee visited the Ho Chi Minh’s residential complex and laid wreath at the memorial of National Heroes and Martyrs.
Upon his arrival to the Presidential palace, Mukherjee was given a guard of honour. He and Sang jointly planted a sapling of the Holy ‘Bodhi Tree’ which was gifted to Vietnam as a mark of respect and recognition of India’s strong-rooted and growing ties with it.
The Indian delegation comprises Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and five other Parliamentarians.
Image: President Pranab Mukherjee being welcome by the President of Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Truong Tan Sang, at the Ceremonial Reception, at Presidential Palace, in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photograph: Press Information Bureau