India and Vietnam have decided to step up defence cooperation and oil exploration to boost their bilateral ties as they reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded economic activities in the South China Sea, amid China flexing its muscles in the Indo-Pacific region.

The two countries, during the state visit of President Ram Nath Kovind to Vietnam, shared the view that defence and security cooperation has become an important pillar of the comprehensive strategic partnership, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.

They welcomed the sustained mutual visits by each other’s naval/coast guard vessels, particularly in 2018 and in the years to come.

Kovind and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Phu Trong agreed to effectively implement the Joint Vision Statement on Vietnam—India Defence Cooperation for the period of 2015-2020.

They agreed to step up cooperation in human resources training, and promote collaboration between the Army, Air Force, Naval and Coast Guard of the two countries, as well as cooperation in cyber security and information sharing, the joint statement said.

Vietnam appreciated India’s offer of the USD 500 million line of credit to defence industry.

The two sides agreed to step up experience sharing in the training of personnel for participation in the UN peace-keeping operations and cooperation in addressing war legacies in Vietnam, and to strengthen criminal information exchange and law enforcement experience sharing.

They agreed to actively support each other and step up coordination at multilateral defence and security cooperation frameworks, the statement said.

In the spirit of the proposal for an ASEAN-India Strategic Dialogue on maritime cooperation made at the commemorative summit held in New Delhi in January, they agreed to hold the first Maritime Security Dialogue on issues related to maritime domain and further encouraged port calls of each other’s naval and coast guard ships, it said.

India and Vietnam also agreed to continue promoting bilateral investment, including cooperation projects between Vietnam Oil and Gas Group PVN and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in oil and gas exploration on land, continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Vietnam.

The two leaders encouraged the two sides to be more active in identifying models for cooperation, including those involving third country.

The Vietnamese side welcomed and agreed to create facilitating conditions for Indian companies to invest into new thermal energy and renewable energy projects in Vietnam, the statement said.

Developments in South China Sea

India and Vietnam exchanged views over the current developments in the South China Sea, and reiterated the importance of the maintenance of peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation and over-flight and unimpeded economic activities in the South China Sea, it said.

China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea and has also laid claims on the Senkaku islands under the control of Japan in the East China Sea.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the South China Sea.

The US is periodically deploying its naval ships and fighter planes to assert freedom of navigation.

India and Vietnam stressed the necessity of full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea as well as the early conclusion of a substantive, effective and binding Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, the statement said.

They emphasised the importance of peaceful settlement of disputes, including the full respect for diplomatic and legal processes, and complete compliance with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS), the statement said.

The two sides reiterated that the parties concerned should continue exercising self-restraint and refrain from the use of force or threat to use force, it said.