Ansari heads for Vietnam, strategic tie-up on table

Vice-President Hamid Ansari will head for Vietnam on a four-day visit from Monday for a meeting with the country's leadership. His trip comes at a time when tension between Vietnam and China over the contested South China Sea islands has escalated.

Much to the chagrin of China, Vietnam had on January 1 enacted a new maritime law, Vietnamese Ocean Law, affirming its sovereignty over Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands on South China Sea. The move has riled China, which deployed its maritime vessels for patrolling in the Sea.

This is Ansari's maiden visit to Hanoi in his second term as Vice-President.

During his visit, he will also meet the Indian community in Ho Chin Minh City and attend the closing ceremony of the 40th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations. Ansari's visit has been termed by the MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin as an "important landmark in strategic partnership".

During a visit to India last week, Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister Vu Van Ninh had said that Hanoi was committed to "avoiding violence or threatening to use violence" to resolve disputes in the Sea. But on Saturday, for the first time China published maps of over 130 islands in the South China Sea.

Publication of maps with Chinese claims in e-passports have already drawn strong reactions from Vietnam and Philippines. Vietnam's former Deputy Foreign Minster Le Luong after taking over as Secretary General of ASEAN had said on Wednesday that one of top tasks will be to finalise the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

During Ansari's visit, New Delhi will look forward to strengthen its bilateral relations. "Our position on the South China Sea is clear. We believe that we should have freedom of the right of navigation in these areas. And we believe that disputes should be resolved between the concerned parties. We do have economic interest in that area. We have oil explorations. ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) has been engaged in that since the 1980s and these are continuing," Sanjay Bhattacharya, Joint Secretary (South) of MEA had said on Friday.

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