India-Vietnam ink pact to expand oil exploration in South China Sea - The New Indian Express

India-Vietnam ink pact to expand oil exploration in South China Sea

Published: 21st November 2013 01:06 AM

Last Updated: 21st November 2013 01:32 AM

In a significant move, India and Vietnam today inked an agreement for developing and expanding oil exploration projects in disputed South China Sea including allocation of new oil blocks, a pact that may irk China further.

The agreement, along with seven more, were inked after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, held extensive talks on key bilateral and regional issues and ways to enhance bilateral strategic ties.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shakes hands with General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong during a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Wednesday. (PTI photo)
"Both India and Vietnam belong to a region that holds enormous potential but also many challenges. We have a strong convergence of interests in working together and with others in the region, for a stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia. We have, therefore, sought to build a comprehensive relationship with a broad-based agenda of bilateral and regional cooperation," Singh said at a joint media event with Nguyen.

The Prime Minister also appreciated the offer of another offshore block to ONGC Videsh Limited for continued oil and gas exploration in South China Sea which is witnessing territorial disputes involving both land (island) and maritime among seven sovereign states including China, Philippines and Vietnam within the region.

The MoU between Vietnam Oil and Gas group and ONGC Videsh Limited was inked for the association in the field of exploration, development and production of petroleum resources between the two countries for new investments by OVL in oil and Gas blocks in Vietnam.

Under the MoU, the PetroVietnam, Vietnam state company, was also invited to participate in open blocks in India and in third countries.

OVL is already in joint venture with PetroVietnam in three oil blocks close to the disputed Spratly Islands ?known as Nansha Islands in China.

Wednesday's pact may not go down well with China which has time and again objected to India's oil exploration projects in the region. China's Foreign Affairs Ministry has said India should respect its sovereignty and halt its oil and gas exploration.

"China opposes unilateral exploration and development of oil and gas in contested waters of the South China Sea. We hope relevant countries can respect China's claim, position and rights and interests, and respect and support efforts made by countries in the region to solve disputes through bilateral negotiations," it said.

Despite China's objections to Indian oil exploration in South China Sea, Vietnam has been asserting that India has the right to pursue oil exploration there as they were within Vietnamese "exclusive economic zone".

General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong during a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Wednesday. (PTI photo)
Nguyen also appreciated India's position for peaceful resolution of the issue in the East Sea of Vietnam as per the international law and freedom of navigation.

On the defence and security cooperation, Singh said the two countries have decided to strengthen it further. "India will continue to assist Vietnam in modernization and training of its defence and security forces, including through a USD 100 million line of credit for defence purchases," he said.

Reflecting its eagerness to hold on to Indian presence in South China Sea, Vietnam has extended an exploration contract in a crucial oil block 128 to ONGC Videsh Ltd despite the Indian oil major indicating that it wanted to terminate operations as it could not explore oil due to hard sea bed.

Other pacts included air services connectivity cooperation, production of classified documents and development of two 660 megawatts (MW) coal-fired thermal power plants in south Vietnam for an estimated USD 1.8 billion (around Rs 10,240 crore) by TATA Power Co.

Talking about bilateral trade, the Prime Minister said it has grown steadily and both the countries are on course to achieve the trade target of USD 7 billion by 2015.

He said the new Joint Sub-Commission on Trade has been tasked to work towards realising the enormous potential of the economic relations.

Noting that both India and Vietnam have a strong convergence of interests in working together, Singh said both he and Nguyen agreed on a number of initiatives that will "define the contours" of the strategic partnership.

"We have therefore sought to build a comprehensive relationship with a broad-based agenda of bilateral and regional cooperation. Vietnam's emergence as one of the most vibrant economies in the Asia Pacific region is greatly welcomed by India, especially because we regard Vietnam as a trusted and privileged strategic partner and an important pillar of our Look East Policy," Sing said.

On the air services agreement, he said it advances the goal of strengthening connectivity between the two countries.

The air services agreement seeks to promote international air services, including direct flights between the two countries.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Nguyen Phu Trong General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam look on as DK Saraf, Managing Director of OVL and Vietnamese vice president of Petro exchange files after signing an MoU at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Wednesday. (PTI photo)

"We exchanged views on regional and international issues of common interest. We appreciate Vietnam's steadfast support to India's integration and engagement with the ASEAN and our aspirations for permanent membership of a reformed UN Security Council," Singh said.

Nguyen said both he and Singh have decided to further strengthen the ties in diverse areas including trade and business. He said both sides also agreed to expand cooperation in multilateral forums including at the United Nations.

Defence Minister A K Antony, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh were present at the delegation-level talks Singh had with Nguyen.

Speaking at a banquet hosted today in honour of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed the growing relations between the two countries.

Noting that India and Vietnam had begun a strategic partnership six years ago, Singh said "it is a partnership of great character, diversity and depth. Our political engagement and our growing defence and security relationship are of immense value to our two countries."

He underlined that the two countries have convergent interests, including in maritime security, and this has led to productive partnerships in regional and multilateral fora.

Singh further said the two economies are working together on oil exploration and production in East Sea. "Your offer of new blocks for exploration and award of a $ 1.8 billion power project to Indian companies demonstrate the promise of our economic relations," he said.

The Prime Minister thanked Vietnam for its "special gesture" of establishing its first overseas catfish breeding farm in India and said such steps are very special symbols of friendship and mutual support in capacity building.

This now also covers areas such as information technology, education and science and technology.

Describing Vietnam as "an important pillar of our Look East Policy", Singh said the country is crucial for India's vision of integration with ASEAN.

"As India-Vietnam relations prosper, India-ASEAN relations will also deepen," he said, adding the two countries have enormous opportunities to promote peace, stability and prosperity in Asia Pacific.

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