NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday took a decisive step towards countering China's assertive power, by committing to help Vietnam's defence modernization, a move that will resonate unpleasantly in Beijing.
After his meeting with visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Narendra Modi said, "Our defence cooperation with Vietnam is among our most important ones. India remains committed to the modernization of Vietnam's defence and security forces. This will include expansion of our training programme, which is already very substantial, joint-exercises and cooperation in defence equipment. We will quickly operationalise the $100 million line of credit that will enable Vietnam acquire new naval vessels from India."
For the first time, India sent clear signals that it may be willing to sell the Brahmos short range cruise missiles to Vietnam, a long-standing demand by Hanoi. The previous Indian government was a little hesitant, citing reservations by Russia (which is a co-developer). Russia has now indicated its willingness. India will wait to enter the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) before making a sale, but both countries have decisively crossed this hurdle.
Vietnam's importance to New Delhi was evident when President Pranab Mukherjee paid a state visit to that country, almost coinciding with Chinese President Xi Jinping's first visit to India.