Clear Message For China As India, Vietnam Set For Extensive Naval Drills In The South China Sea

India and Vietnam continue to enhance their maritime cooperation, as part of which the Indian Navy Ship ‘Kiltan’ will be undertaking a two-day ‘Passage Exercise’ with the Vietnam People’s Navy in the South China Sea starting from December 26. This comes days after China has lambasted the India-Vietnam PM-level summit. 

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Amid China’s assertive behavior in the South China Sea, India’s defense ministry has said that INS Kiltan’s visit will contribute to security and stability in the region. 

INS Kiltan, an indigenously-built, anti-submarine warfare stealth corvette, had arrived at NhaRong Port, Ho Chi Minh City, on December 24 to deliver 15 tons of relief material to the flood-affected people of Central Vietnam. 

The relief has been provided under India’s mission SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region), reiterating New Delhi’s position as a dependable partner, and the Indian Navy as the preferred security partner and first responder, the defense ministry said in a statement. 

The development comes a few days after the virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnam counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Both sides had called for enhanced security cooperation for stability in the Indo-Pacific region. 

From defense to petrochemicals, seven agreements were signed between the two countries. India handed over one of the 12 High-Speed Guard Boats (HSGB) that it was supposed to deliver under a $100-million Defense Line of Credit, to Vietnam. 

The boats are reportedly meant for the Vietnam Border Guard to enhance coastal security vis-à-vis China.

Vietnam has a 1,650-km coast facing the South China Sea and a 1,300-km land border with China. With China laying complete claim to the South China Sea, the two communist countries are locked in conflict for nearly 50 years. 

India, which is also locked in a border standoff with China in the Himalayas, has extended its support to Vietnam for a secure Indo-Pacific. Beijing sees this alignment as an offshoot of New Delhi’s cooperation with Washington on its offensive against China. 

Vietnam has a $500 million line of credit for defense purchases from India. New Delhi has for long been exploring options to sell its Indo-Russian missile, BrahMos to the ASEAN country. Even after agreements to boost defense cooperation and strategic partnership, nothing concrete has been achieved in terms of the supply of the BrahMos to Vietnam. 

ASEAN nations including Vietnam had approached New Delhi seeking the ramjet medium-range cruise missile that can be launched from submarines, ships, fighter planes, or land. Experts believe that the sale of the supersonic cruise missile, which can carry up to 300 kg of conventional and nuclear warheads, will act as a deterrent against China’s aggressive posture.  

A report in Asia Times suggests that India and Russia are working to extend BrahMos’ range from 650 km to “800 kilometers with a vision of an eventual range of 1,500 kilometers”. With this, China’s six cities Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dongguan, and Wuhan – would come within the 1,500-kilometer range of any land base in Vietnam, it says.

In 2018, Hanoi had granted exclusive access to Indian naval ships to use Nha Trang Port, which is a stone’s throw from the Cam Ranh Bay port. A deep-sea inlet shelter in southern Vietnam, Cam Ranh is one of the best deep-water ports in the entire Indo-Pacific region conducive for docking submarines as well as huge aircraft carriers and other naval vessels. 

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