India has accepted Vietnam’s proposal to set up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in the southern part of the South-East Asian country for civilian purposes.
Although Vietnam urged India to set up the centre long time back, New Delhi struck a deal with Hanoi in this regard a couple of days ago. After their meeting in the Indian capital earlier this week, senior officials of the two countries issued a press release, stating that the centre would help Hanoi access data from Indian satellites in the region, which also cover China and the South China Sea.
Although India has claimed that data will be required only for environmental and scientific purposes, China has expressed serious concern over India’s plan, saying that New Delhi and Hanoi should refrain from triggering fresh tension in the region by implementing such sensitive project. Even retired naval intelligence analyst of the British Defence Ministry Trevor Hollingsbee believes that India and Vietnam could use the technology for other purposes. “The advance of technology means the lines are blurring between civilian and military satellites. In some cases, the imagery from a modern civilian satellite is good enough for military use,” said Hollingsbee.
According to sources close to the Indian External Affairs Ministry, the Indian Space Research Organisation (IRSO) will fund the project. The installation of the satellite tracking system and setting up of the data reception centre in Ho Chi Minh City could cost USD 23 million, said a ministry official. However, India has set no timeframe concerning when the centre will become operational. ISRO spokesperson Deviprasad Karnik insisted that they would meet the concerned Vietnamese authorities again to discuss all the aspects of the mega project.
Meanwhile, marine security expert at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies Collin Koh has welcomed the deal, saying: “It looks like a win-win for both sides, filling significant holes for the Vietnamese and expanding the range for the Indians.” Koh believes that India plans to strategically engage with Vietnam to counter China’s increasing influence in the region. He further said that the proposed move is quite significant in military terms, keeping in mind the history of hostility between India and China.
Currently, India and China – the two fastest growing Asian economies – consider each other as an emerging power. They aggressively pursue cold war strategies in an attempt to expand their influence in the continent. With India planning to set up the satellite tracking centre in Vietnam, it becomes really difficult for China to counter the threat posed to it by three regional powers – India, Japan and Vietnam.