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India Vietnam navies conclude two-day passage exercise in South China Sea

India Vietnam navies conclude two-day passage exercise in South China Sea

Indian Navy warship INS Kiltan undertook a "passage exercise" with the Vietnamese Navy in the disputed South China Sea (SCS) as part of efforts to boost maritime cooperation between the two countries. The exercise is significant as it takes place in a region which China touts as its backyard where it is sparring with a number of countries.

The Indian Navy tweeted: "Passage Exercise PASSEX between Indian Navy and Vietnam People's Navy on 26 Dec 20. Reinforcing Maritime Interoperability and jointness." The tweet also tagged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam.

<img class="wp-image-50397 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/IndianVietnamNavy.jpg" alt="IndianVietnamNavy" width="879" height="731" /> The tweet by the Indian Navy

The exercise assumes importance as the two countries are expanding defence cooperation substantially. Currently, both nations have been warding off aggressive Chinese manoeuvres on their land and maritime borders. Both have fought wars with an expansionist China. The communist country has been often found violating the Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by sending its research and military vessels. In April this year, it had sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat in the disputed SCS.

With India too, China had initiated the Galwan Valley confrontation in June in which both sides lost dozens of soldiers in a primitive style assault by the Chinese. Despite worldwide condemnation, Chinese soldiers once again tried to occupy Indian territory near the Pangong Tso lake in August, which was effectively thwarted by Indian soldiers.

With the Chinese claiming most of SCS from other ASEAN countries, the "passage exercise" by the Indian and Vietnam navies is a signal to China that the high seas have to remain free and open for navigation. This is also a region where at least two Indian exploration companies have been operating in collaboration with Vietnam, much against Chinese wishes.

Just last Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a virtual summit with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc during which both nations decided to boost defence and security cooperation. The two leaders also affirmed their commitment to ensure that the waters of the Indo-Pacific region remain open to freedom of navigation. The two nations had elevated their relationship to that of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2016 during Modi's visit to Vietnam.

Similarly, the defence ministers of both countries had an online meeting early in late November to sign a hydrography agreement to share maritime information for their navies.

A press release by the Indian Navy says that INS Kiltan had visited Ho Chi Minh City on 24 December 2020 as part of Mission Sagar-III. "This Mission is part of India’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) assistance to Friendly Foreign Countries during the ongoing pandemic. The ship will deliver 15 Tons of HADR Stores for the flood-affected people of Central Vietnam," said the Indian Navy statement.

INS Kiltan participated in the two-day exercise with the Vietnam navy after delivering relief supplies, cementing strategic ties further.