Government sources here said Vietnam defence minister Phung Quang Thanh will pay a rare visit to India later this week to chair defence dialogue along with his counterpart Manohar Parrikar.

The Vietnamese defence minister is also one of the senior most leaders of the Communist Party of Vietnam. This will be Vietnam's first strategic defence dialogue with the PM Narendra Modi government which is overtly seeking to expand military cooperation with the country locked in a territorial dispute with China in South China Sea. Modi had himself declared earlier that India is committed to the modernisation of Vietnam's military and security forces.

The visit is significant because the strategic defence talks until now have been chaired by defence secretaries from the Indian side and deputy defence ministers from Vietnam.

India had last year announced a $ 100 million concessional line of credit (LoC) for defence procurement. During the visit of Vietnam PM Nguyen Tan Dung in October last year, Modi said that the 2 countries would move quickly to operationalise the LoC so as to enable Vietnam to acquire new naval vessels from India. Vietnam is looking to use these vessels as a deterrent against China in the Spratly islands region in South. China Sea.

Despite warnings from China, ONGC Videsh and PetroVietnam signed an agreement last year for exploration of new oil and gas projects in Vietnam. The Vietnam PM welcomed participation of indian companies in exploring new opportunities in midstream and downstream activities in the country's oil and gas sector.

Modi and Vietnam PM said after their meeting last year in a joint statement that "freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea/South China Sea should not be impeded and called the parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid threats or use of force". In fact, for the first time, an India-US joint statement last year - issued on the occasion of Modi's summit with President Obama - mentioned the situation in South China Sea expresseing concern about "rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes" in that region.

By Sachin Parashar - The Times of India - January 14, 2015,