Hanoi: Praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for reaffirming India`s Look East Policy and cooperation with ASEAN, Vietnam on Monday called for a deeper role for India in maintaining freedom of navigation, maritime safety and security in the resource-rich South China Sea.
Recalling External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj`s statement in Myanmar earlier this month, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said, "India`s strategic partnership owes its strength to the fact that your Look East policy meets our ASEAN`s outward looking policy."
He said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) welcomes Modi`s reaffirmation of India`s Look East Policy and cooperation with the 10-member grouping.
Vietnam, which has an acrimonious relationship with China due to their standoff over the South China Sea, said it is time to build a "stronger" ASEAN-India strategic partnership in the 21st century.
Delivering the keynote address at the 3rd Roundtable on ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks here, which he jointly inaugurated with Swaraj, Minh said the next 5-10 year period is crucial to the relations between India and the grouping "and even more with ASEAN becoming a full-fledged community and India a well-established power in the world."
He said that future development and integration of ASEAN and India "largely lie in East Sea (the South China Sea) and the Indian Ocean. So, our cooperation should focus more on maintaining maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and settling territorial disputes through peaceful means on the basis of international law, including UNCLOS."
China has been objecting any activity in South China Sea region, a huge source of hydrocarbons, including Indian oil exploration as it has territorial disputes with some ASEAN countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines.
The Vietnamese leader said ASEAN always views India as a key element in the evolving regional architecture.
"Today, the Asia-Pacific has become a centre of global political economic gravity and a key theatre for the intense interplay among major powers. We recognise that ASEAN and India stand at an important turning point," Minh said.
"We both aspire for a peaceful, stable region where sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully respected, where the rule of law, especially the fundamental principles of international law such as UN Charter, the UNCLOS continue to govern inter-state relations and how inter-state conflicts are resolved, without the threat or use of force," Minh said without mentioning its dispute with China.
Minh said traditional and non-traditional security issues have become more acute and complicated than ever.
He said ethnic and religious tensions are territorial disputes "especially the East Sea (South China Sea) and the East China Sea have become more complicated with far-reaching implications."