India offers many roads, says President Kovind

India offers many roads, says President Kovind

Indian cooperation expands choices, President tells Vietnam. 

India and Vietnam “share a vision for the Indo-Pacific” and will launch their first “Bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue” in early January, announced President Ramnath Kovind during a visit to Hanoi, as he took a broad swipe at China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” in an address to the National Assembly on Wednesday.

“India offers a cooperation model that does not require its friends to make choices but rather expands choices and expands opportunities for all; that opens not one but many roads,” Mr. Kovind, who is the only foreign leader besides Chinese President Xi Jinping to address the Assembly.

Mr. Kovind also said Vietnam and India concurred on the “South China Sea” as a “critical component” of the Indo-Pacific, which is the area of another flashpoint with Beijing, that has a territorial dispute with Hanoi over the Spratly Islands in the SCS. “We share a vision of a rules-based order that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity, ensures freedom of navigation and over-flight, as well as un-impeded commerce.”

Mr. Kovind met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong on Tuesday, during the first leg of his two-nation tour to Vietnam and Australia, and the two sides signed four agreements in areas of communications, education, trade and investment. According to officials present at the meeting, the Vietnamese leader expressed thanks for 11 high-speed patrol vessels bought by Vietnam under a $100 million Line of Credit that was extended by India in 2014.

However, there was no announcement on the operationalisation of a $500 million Line of Credit extended by India to Vietnam in September 2016 that has been delayed, allegedly because of differences between the governments in India and Vietnam over the purpose of the LoC. While India wants the figure used for defence purposes, Vietnam has been keen to use it for infrastructure, informed sources said, with the added caution against allowing Vietnam’s foreign debt to exceed 50% of GDP.

The tussle is seen as the outcome of countries in the region “hedging” their positions so as not to be caught in the middle of recent US-China tensions as well.

Last week Vietnam’s Ambassador to India Pham Sanh Chau had said that Vietnam didn’t not want to become part of a “theatre” for power play between major powers, advised against “gang-ups” in the region and also distanced Vietnam’s position from the emerging Quadrilateral or Quad formation of India, US, Australia and Japan in the Indo-Pacific.

According to officials, there was no reference to the Quad during the meeting between President Kovind and his counterpart.

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