According to a Reuters report, India is about to set up a satellite tracking and data reception centre in south Vietnam. That will give Hanoi access to pictures from Indian earth observation satellites that cover the region, including areas of concern to Vietnam such as China’s naval base along the coast of China naval movements on Nansha Islands. Hong Kong Commercial Broadcasting Station reported on the 25th that, in response to this development, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying expressed the hope that the concerned facilities would contribute positively in promoting regional cooperation and safeguarding peace and stability in their respective regions.
Earlier this month the Economic Times reported that the satellite tracking station in Ho Chi Minh City is about to be put into operation and is constructed at an estimated cost of $ 23 million. This monitoring station will become an “important strategic asset” for India in South China sea According to a Reuters report of January 25, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the existence of this project but did not provide any other details. India officials stated that the Indian Space Research Organization(ISRO) will fund and set up the satellite tracking and data reception centre. An ISRO spokesman stated that the project is still in the initial stage and that it is (still) in communication with the Vietnamese authorities.
The Hindustan Times reported that the facility will be a satellite tracking and imaging center that can monitor Indian satellite launches. It would also (be equipped to) deploy India’s earth observation satellites for the region, such as shooting images of China and the South (China) Sea. The Report quoted an official from ISRO to say that, in return, Vietnam would be able to receive remote sensing pictures directly, i.e without need for seeking India’s permission, “including perhaps satellite tracking data involving China of interest to Vietnam as well”.
Reuters reported that with rising tensions in the relationship between Vietnam and China due to the South (China) Sea issue, Hanoi has been looking for advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology. In 2013, Vietnam launched its first earth observation satellite. However, it was not thought to produce particularly high resolution images. The Hindustan Times reported that India, whose 54-year-old space programme is accelerating with one satellite launch scheduled every month, has ground stations in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Brunei, Biak in eastern Indonesia and Mauritius that track its satellites in the initial stages of flight. India has 11 earth observation satellites in orbit, offering pictures of various regions in a variety of resolution capacities.
Reuters reported that China’s Defence Ministry said the proposed tracking station was really not a military facility. But Singapore’s United Morning (Lian hebao) cited a security expert stating that although this facility is classified as civilian, improved imaging technology means the pictures could also be used for military purposes. Nanyang Technology University’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies maritime security expert, Xu Ruilin, says, high precision military reconnaissance satellites can be used to aquire military information and correspondence and can take high quality images of land with a resolution of upto a metre. “In military terms, these are quite significant. Vietnam can fill in gaps and deficiencies and India can expand its scope and broaden the range of its observation and monitoring.”
A Reuters editorial said that cooperation between India and Vietnam will deepen the relationship, but may upset China. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has shown a strong willingness to step up security ties with countries such as Vietnam, without taking China’s concerns into account. According to an Economic Times report, this project was first announced in a joint statement following the 2014 visit of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, and is the “strategic pivot” of India’s strategy in the South (China) Sea.
“India and Vietnam cooperating in almost every sphere, the reason is obvious”, said retired Indian Air Force group captain Ajay Lele in an interview to the media. Australian-based scholar Carl Thayer believes their interests are converging over China and the South (China) Sea,”. A Russia Today commentator said that India has been looking for opportunities to flex its military muscle in the region. Last year in December, New Delhi procured Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft defence missiles system go ahead, and become the first country after China to buy this type of weapons system. Meanwhile, Modi provided a loan of US $100 million to Vietnam for upgradation of its military. In response, Vietnam allowed India to extract mineral resources in disputed territory in the South (China) Sea.
However, there have been positive voices from Vietnam regarding the South (China) Sea issue. According to a Vietnam News Agency report on Vietnam’s Central government Foreign Mminister, Huang Pingjun, statement at the Twelfth Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party on differences between Vietnam and China, including on the East Sea (ie South China Sea), it was precisely because of these differences that Vietnam had decided to resolutely persist with peaceful measures to resolve the South (China) Sea issue.