Prez to visit Vietnam from Sept 14, oil pact on table

President Pranab Mukherjee will visit Vietnam from September 14 during which a number of pacts are expected to be inked including cooperation in strategic oil sector that may not go down well with China which has been protesting Indian presence in oil blocks in South China Sea.

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee will visit Vietnam from September 14 during which a number of pacts are expected to be inked including cooperation in strategic oil sector that may not go down well with China which has been protesting Indian presence in oil blocks in South China Sea.

During the four-day visit, the President would hold talks with top Vietnamese leadership on international, regional and bilateral issues including cooperation in key areas of security and air connectivity.

"The President's visit will renew and deepen our strategic partnership and it will also involve a vision to add content to strengthen people-to-people contacts and also demonstrate a common desire to strengthen the partnership," Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs Anil Wadhwa told reporters here.

He said Vietnam is India's "key partner in the enhanced Look East policy", adding a "possible" deal between ONGC Videsh Limited and Petro Vietnam was also on the table.

"A Letter of Intent will be signed between OVL and Petro Vietnam during this visit and that's because OVL has been offered two additional blocks for participation. You may recall that Petro Vietnam has offered some blocks earlier in offshore areas of Vietnam. Subsequently, these two blocks have also been offered and currently a feasibility study is going on at this moment," Wadhwa said.

He added that OVL will later indicate whether these additional blocks can also be taken for exploration.

ONGC Videsh, the Secretary said, has actually also asked Petro Vietnam to pursue a similar exploration in India.

The importance of the strategic energy security deal can be gauged from the fact that Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan is accompanying the President alongwith some others Members of Parliament.

The Secretary also said there was "no particular reason" with regard to the timing of this trip vis-a-vis the arrival of Chinese President to India next week.

He was asked about the timing of Mukherjee's visit which was coinciding with Chinese President Xi Jinping's India trip from September 17.

The relations of India with both the countries "stand on its own", Wadhwa said adding while the President's itinerary was fixed much in advance the Chinese leader's trip was fixed recently.

China and Vietnam have an acrimonious relationship due to their standoff over the South China Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons.

China has been objecting any activity in South China Sea region including Indian oil exploration as it has territorial disputes with some ASEAN countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines.

Terming the South China Sea as a disputed region, China had warned India to refrain from undertaking oil exploration in the resource-rich Vietnamese blocks in order to ensure "peace and stability" in the area.

During the visit, apart from capital Hanoi, President

will also travel to Ho Chi Minh City.

Wadhwa said a "whole range of MoUs are on the anvil" during the trip which include in the sectors of health, customs cooperation, fish farming, Nalanda University, on subjects of youth exchanges and one on the maiden direct air connectivity between the two countries.

India-Vietnam trade was worth USD 8 billion during 2013-14 and India exported 5.4 billion USD worth goods and imported 2.6 millions USD.

"This is a growth of over 30 per cent over the previous year," Wadhwa said.

The Secretary said there was a great scope in expansion and diversification of trade and in areas like machinery, pharmaceuticals and other areas between the two countries.

"We expect trade (between India and Vietnam) should cross 15 billion USD by 2020," Wadhwa said.

The visit, the Secretary said, will also mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between India and Vietnam

The President last travelled to Vietnam in 2011 as the Finance Minister to attend the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

Press Secretary to the President Venu Rajamony said the President was keenly looking forward to the visit as he believes that there are "strong emotional ties" between India and Vietnam and there is a need to enhance people-to-people ties.

He said Mukherjee will gift a sapling of the holy 'bodhi tree' to the country symbolising the strong partnership between India and Vietnam.

"The President feels that both the countries share a strong emotional bond. We have always sympathised for their struggle for liberation," he said.  

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