On the eve of its Prime Minister’s visit here, Vietnam today favoured greater participation by Indian companies in oil and gas exploration projects in South China Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons, and promised to extend full security to them.

Newly appointed Vietnamese Ambassador Ton Sinh Thanh rejected China’s objection to Indian oil exploration projects in South China Sea, asserting that that his country has the “right” to protect its interests.

“We hope that more oil and gas ventures of India can be done in Vietnam and we will create favourable condition for them,” Ton told PTI.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will arrive here tomorrow on a two-day visit during which he will hold talks with top Indian leadership on a range of issues, including ways to enhance cooperation in security, defence and energy sector.

The two countries had established strategic ties in 2007.

The Ambassador said all oil exploration projects by India in South China Sea have been within the territorial waters of Vietnam and it will provide “full security” to Indian companies involved in them.

Identifying oil and gas exploration as a key area of cooperation, he indicated signing of a pact between the two countries during the visit of Prime Minister Nguyen.

In November last year, Vietnam had offered India five oil blocks and ONGC Videsh Ltd was looking at them in terms of their feasibility.

Recently, Vietnam had renewed India’s lease of two oil blocks in South China Sea for another year.

China and Vietnam have an acrimonious relationship due to their standoff over South China Sea, a major source of hydrocarbons.

China has been objecting to India’s oil exploration projects in the disputed waters. Both India and Vietnam have been looking at enhancing cooperation in the energy sector.

A Letter of Intent was signed between ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) and Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) during President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to that country last month.

The LoI is aimed at further consolidating cooperation between India and Vietnam in the sector as well as to pave the way for future collaboration.

India has been supporting freedom of navigation and access to resources in South China Sea in accordance with the principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Ambassador said the strategic partnership between India and Vietnam was now “better then ever” but noted that there was scope to further enhance cooperation.

“In all areas, the relationship has been developed quite fast and we are happy now and we are ready to go further forward to bring this partnership to higher level,” he said.

Ton said the focus of the visit will be to improve economic engagement between the two countries.

He said Vietnam will ensure “favourable conditions” to Indian investors.

The trade volume between India and Vietnam was recorded at over $seven billion during 2013-14 and plans are afoot to take it to $15 billion by 2020.

Oil and gas cooperation and extension of a $100-million credit by India for defence purchases were among seven pacts inked between India and Vietnam during Mukherjee’s visit to the country last month.