In a move that could upset China, India will set up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in southern Vietnam that will give Hanoi access to pictures from India earth observation satellites that cover the region which will include China and South China Sea, said a report by Reuters.
The move will deepen ties between India and Vietnam, who both have long-running boundary disputes with China.
Officials said this is a civilian facility, as earth observation satellites are meant for use in agricultural, scientific and environmental purposes.
However, security experts say, improved imaging technology can also be used for the military purposes.
Hanoi and China have serious issues on different matters including territorial dispute. The officials said Hanoi has been looking for advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies.
Collin Koh, a marine security expert at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said that in military terms, this move could be quite significant.
He said that it looks like a win-win situation for both the sides, filing significant holes for the Vietnamese and expanding the range for India.
The Indian officials said that The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will fund and set up the satellite tracking and data reception centre in Ho Chi Minh City to monitor Indian satellite launches.
The cost is estimated at around $23 million.
With one satellite being launched every month, the 54-old space programme of India is achieving new heights. The country 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. According to ISRO, India has 11 earth observation satellites in orbit, offering pictures with differing resolutions and areas.
Deviprasad Karnik, an ISRO spokesman, said that Vietnam facility will strengthen the satellite capabilities of India.
An official on the basis of anonymity told media that this is a sort of quid pro quo which will enable Vietnam to receive IRS (Indian remote sensing) pictures directly, that is, without asking India. “Obviously it will include parts of China of interest to Vietnam,” the official said.
Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung shakes hands with his counterpart Narendra Modi during his visit to India. tuoitrenews
Security experts are of this opinion that Chinese coastal naval bases, the operations of its coastguard and navy and its new man-made islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea would be targets of Vietnamese interest.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry has confirmed the project, but there are very little details about when the centre would be operational.
Though there were no comments from the Chinese foreign ministry, the country’s defence ministry said the proposed tracking station wasn’t a military issue.
Vietnam launched its first earth observation satellite in 2013, but it lacked producing high resolution images. Experts say Vietnam would likely seek real-time access to images from the Indian satellites as well as training in imagery analysis. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has shown a greater willingness to step up security ties with countries such as Vietnam, overriding concerns that this would upset China, military officials said. Carl Thayer, Australian-based scholar who has studied Vietnam’s military since the late 1960s, said the satellite tracking facility showed both nations wanted to enhance security ties.