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India, Vietnam gear up for first naval drill in China backyard

In what will be a significant step towards India’s ‘Act East policy’, India and Vietnam will conduct their first bilateral naval exercise later this month, marking the continued upswing in relations.

The exercise will be conducted in Vietnamese waters in May-end. The exercise will be conducted in what China’s considers its backyard. To put it in perspective, it’s like the navies of China and Bangladesh practising in Bay of Bengal.

A flotilla of three Indian warships — INS Shayadri, INS Kamorta and INS Shakti — is on its way to Vietnam, sources said while confirming the first-ever bilateral exercise at sea. Two of these ships on Sunday reached Thailand on a separate visit and one reached Malaysia. The warships will go to Vietnam before heading to the Pacific Ocean for a joint exercise called ‘Malabar’ with the US and Japanese navies.

The naval exercise comes just four months after the armies of the two countries conducted their first-ever land–based exercise in January-end this year at Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh.

India-Vietnam relations have gained momentum in the past decade. In November 2009, the two countries had signed a memorandum of understanding on defence cooperation. This was preceded by strategic partnership agreement in 2007.

During PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Vietnam in 2016, the bilateral relationship was elevated from a ‘strategic partnership’ to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’. Modi had, in his first year in office in 2014, said: “Our defence cooperation with Vietnam is among our most important ones.”

India is already training the Vietnamese navy in operating its small fleet of Russian-origin Kilo-class subs and has announced an increase in its efforts to train more personnel. India and Vietnam have set a target of $15 billion in bilateral trade by 2020, from $7 billion at present.

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