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Vietnam to gain satellite views of South China Sea thanks to Indian agreement

Bonds between India and Vietnam are strengthening as territorial disputes with China ratchet up.

India and Vietnam are enhancing security ties in a move likely to heighten tensions with China over territorial disputes in the flashpoint South China Sea.

Vietnam has approved India setting up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in southern Vietnam that will that will give Hanoi access to pictures from Indian earth observation satellites that cover Asia, including China and the South China Sea.

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India has 11 earth observation satellites in orbit that can provide military intelligence, with existing ground stations in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Brunei, Biak in eastern Indonesia and Mauritius.

Carlyle Thayer, an expert on Vietnam from Australia's Defence Force Academy, said the new tracking facility shows that India's and Vietnam's interests are "converging over China and the South China Sea."

India's Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft ready for launch. The country's space program has been accelerating in recent years.
India's Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft ready for launch. The country's space program has been accelerating in recent years.  Photo: Supplied

Both countries are modernising their militaries as China has aggressively staked its claim for almost all of the South China Sea, a region believed to be rich in oil and gas and through which goods worth more than US$5 trillion ($7.19 trillion) transit each year.

Tensions between communist Vietnam and its giant communist neighbour China over the disputed waters have also accelerated Hanoi's efforts to improve relations with its former enemy the United States and other global powers over the past several years.

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The tracking station will be the first such facility in Vietnam and follows other agreements between Vietnam and India, which both have long-running disputes with China.

Indian experts have been training Vietnamese sailors to man Vietnam's new advanced Kilo-class Russian-built submarines that have begun patrols in the South China Sea.

A Chinese oil rig that has recently been dragged into waters that Vietnam claims in the South China Sea.
A Chinese oil rig that has recently been dragged into waters that Vietnam claims in the South China Sea. Photo: AP

Vietnam has granted oil exploration blocks to India in waters that are disputed with China, while India has extended a US$100 million credit line for Hanoi to buy patrol boats.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry has confirmed the tracking station, which analysts said would give Vietnam real-time access to images from Indian satellites, as well as training in imagery analysis.

The facility, which cost US$24 million, will be run by India's Space Research Organisation.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Beijing hoped the facility "will be able to make a positive contribution to pushing forward relevant co-operation in the region", while China's Defence Ministry said it wasn't a military issue.

Tensions have escalated in recent weeks over the South China Sea where China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping territorial claims.

China provoked condemnation when it landed civilian planes on an artificial island where it has built infrastructure that can accommodate military aircraft.  

Vietnam has accused China of towing a $1 billion oil rig into disputed waters in a potential re-run of a stand-off that sparked violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam in 2014.

The United States has obtained final approval to expand its military presence in the Philippines and has begun making spy flights over the region in Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft based in Singapore.

-with Reuters

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