India makes waves with South China Sea oil and gas exploration

By Liu Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2011-9-17 8:38:00

India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna began a 3-day visit to Vietnam on Friday as reports claimed that an Indian state-owned oil producer is set to undertake joint exploration of gas resources in the South China Sea with Vietnam, in spite of protests from Beijing.

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) was reported on Thursday to have cemented a deal with Vietnamese firms to exploit oil and gas in two offshore South China Sea oil blocks with Krishna expected to discuss the issue in Vietnam.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry also reportedly claimed on Thursday that the project has been approved by Vietnam, which claims sovereignty over the two blocks, according to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Responding to a question concerning these plans, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu responded Thursday that the UN Convention did not give any country the right to expand their own exclusive economic zone and continental shelf into other countries' territories. Jiang also warned countries outside the region to support the resolution of this dispute through bilateral channels.

"As for oil and gas exploration activities, our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaged in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China's jurisdiction. We hope foreign countries do not get involved in the South China Sea dispute," she said, according to Xinhua News Agency.

However, Krishna said on Thursday that China's objection had no legal basis, according to the Hindustan Times.

An Indian Ministry of External Affairs official said that despite China's concerns, the cooperation would proceed based on approval from Vietnamese authorities, the report said.

The remark came after an Indian Navy vessel was allegedly warned by the Chinese Navy in Chinese Waters in late July. New Delhi later protested the violation of the "freedom of navigation in international waters," including in the South China Sea, Xinhua reported.  

The disputed waters in the South China Sea are also claimed by countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia and contain rich oil reserves, estimated at up to 28 billion barrels.

China and Vietnam agreed in June to address the dispute through negotiations and consultations. At that time, both sides vowed to work together to avoid actions detrimental to bilateral friendship and mutual trust. They also agreed to adopt effective measures to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.

The joint exploration between India and Vietnam is not accidental since in recent years, India has taken an increasingly eastward-looking stance, according to Wu Xinbo, professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University.

"As a South Asian country, India actively takes part in East Asian issues through the support of the US, which has been advocating for Asian countries to counter China. The US takes every opportunity to counter China, and its joint military maneuvers with Japan and other regional countries have been more frequent in recent years," Wu told the Global Times.

Wu added that this project helps India kill two birds with one stone. It will bring economic benefits to India while also balancing out China politically, according to Wu.

Zhuang Guotu, director of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, agrees that India is urgently seeking to develop new resources. "India doesn't produce oil by itself, it will be very convenient if it can tap some directly from the South China Sea."

Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies of Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times that the move is provocation as India is not happy about the rise of China.  

"In recent years, China has also been building up relations with countries like Myanmar that neighbor India, not to mention that Pakistan invited China to provide safety protection, and offered China a naval port on the Indian Ocean. All these moves made India feel nervous," said Shen.

Agencies contributed to this story

Posted in: Diplomacy

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