Delhi-Hanoi satellite tie-up offers closer look at China

NEW DELHI/HONG KONG • India will set up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in southern Vietnam that will give Hanoi access to pictures from Indian earth observation satellites covering the region, including China and the South China Sea.

The move, which could irritate Beijing, deepens ties between India and Vietnam, which both have long-running territorial disputes with China.

While billed as a civilian facility - earth observation satellites have agricultural, scientific and environmental applications - security experts said improved imaging technology meant the pictures could also be used for military purposes.

The state-run Indian Space Research Organisation will fund and set up the satellite tracking and data reception centre in Ho Chi Minh City to monitor Indian satellite launches, Indian officials said. Indian media put the cost at about US$23 million (S$33 million).

Unlike India's other overseas stations, the facility will also be equipped to receive images from India's earth observation satellites that Vietnam can use, in return for granting India the tracking site, said an Delhi government official linked with the space programme.

"This is a sort of quid pro quo, which will enable Vietnam to receive Indian remote sensing pictures directly, that is, without asking India," said the official, who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media. "Obviously, it will include parts of China that are of interest to Vietnam," he added.

Meanwhile, Taiwan's coast guard said yesterday that one of its vessels used a water cannon earlier this month to drive off a Vietnamese fishing boat near disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Two Vietnamese fishing boats were sighted on Jan 6 about 2.5 nautical miles off Taiping Island, a Taiwan-administered islet in the Spratlys, the coast guard said in a statement.

The two Taiwanese coast guard boats, which have been deployed there since December to replace smaller vessels, scrambled to drive off the Vietnamese boats.

One left, while the second refused and instead attempted to zigzag. One coast guard vessel opened fire with a water cannon because of fears it might be rammed, the statement said.

While denying accusations in Vietnamese media that Taiwanese coast guard boats had enforced the law outside their territorial waters, the coast guard tried to keep the event low profile.

"That was a regular law-enforcement practice in a sensitive area," one coast guard official told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2016, with the headline 'Delhi-Hanoi satellite tie-up offers closer look at China'. Print Edition | Subscribe