New Delhi: India is set to give a major impetus to its Look East policy when it hosts the leaders of Vietnam and Myanmar this week, amid their straining ties with China.
Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang comes here on a three-day visit starting Tuesday, followed by Myanmar’s President U. Thein Sein the next day.
The two leaders come here ahead of the 18-nation East Asia Summit in Bali next month. India is becoming an increasingly important player in ongoing efforts to evolve an inclusive regional architecture in Asia.
Scaling up economic, energy and strategic ties with the these Southeast Asian countries is high on New Delhi’s agenda as more countries in the region look to it to balance what is widely seen as China’s increased assertiveness in the region.
Both countries are experiencing strains in their ties with China.
Myanmar has cancelled a Chinese dam project on environmental grounds, and Vietnam, Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economy, is engaged in shadow boxing over competing claims over South China Sea.
Significantly, the Vietnamese president comes here weeks after External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to Hanoi last month that saw India’s state-owned ONGC Videsh (OVL) sealing pacts for oil exploration in offshore blocks off the South China Sea.
Beijing, which claims full sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, has objected to the oil deals in the disputed territory. India has defended the move, saying its cooperation with Vietnam in accordance with international laws and underlined the need for freedom of navigation in South China Sea.
Ahead of his visit, President Truong defended Hanoi’s deal with New Delhi, saying foreign companies were welcome to work in oil and gas projects in the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone of Vietnam. Underlining the growing strategic partnership with India, he stressed that these investments were in conformity with Vietnamese laws.
The intensification of defense cooperation will also be be high on the agenda.
There is also speculation about Vietnam’s keenness to get small nuclear reactors from India.
India is interested in selling the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, an Indo-Russian joint venture, to Vietnam. New Delhi has already been assisting Hanoi in bolstering its naval and air capabilities. Vietnam has allowed India access to the Nha Trang port, which is situated close to the strategic Cam Ranh Bay.
Besides closer cooperation in areas like capacity building and training, the two countries are also expected to energise their economic ties.
Bilateral trade is estimated to be over $2 billion. India and Vietnam signed an agreement in 2003 that envisaged the creation of an “Arc of Advantage and Prosperity” in Southeast Asia. They will also explore expanding investment opportunities in areas like energy, steel, and pharmaceutical sectors.
China will also be a looming shadow when the energy-rich Myanmar’s president holds talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later this week. He would also be going to Gaya and Sarnath, important stops on the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit.
“India attaches great importance to its relations with neighboring Myanmar. The visit of the president, soon after his election earlier this year, would further consolidate the multi-faceted bilateral relations,” India said in a statement Monday.