By Tom Wright
India and Vietnam, whose leaders meet today in New Delhi, are squaring up for a fight with China over the right of a state-owned Indian oil and gas company to explore in disputed waters near Vietnam.
China is embroiled in territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. India’s ONGC, a state-owned oil and gas company, is planning to begin exploration next year at a block in waters claimed by both China and Vietnam.
Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang, who is meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Wednesday, is using one of his first trips abroad to rebuff China’s suggestions that ONGC’s plans amounted to a violation of Chinese sovereignty.
In an interview with the Press Trust of India before leaving Vietnam Tuesday, Mr. Sang said, “all cooperation projects between Vietnam and other partners, including ONGC, in the field of oil and gas are located on the continental shelf within the exclusive economic zone and under the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of Vietnam.”
These comments and Mr. Sang’s decision to visit India soon after becoming president in July are meant to underline an alliance of growing importance to New Delhi and Hanoi.
China has been involved in a number of angry exchanges and incidents at sea this year with Vietnam and the Philippines. Vice foreign ministers from China and Vietnam agreed during a meeting in Beijing to settle their disputes through “negotiations and friendly consultations,” the official Xinhua news agency reported Wednesday.
Still, Hanoi sees India as a strategic counterweight to China and both countries have been beefing up defense ties under a 2009 agreement.
In July, Indian officials say an Indian navy ship visiting Vietnam as part of this pact received a radio message warning that it was entering Chinese waters. China has dismissed India’s version of events as “groundless.”
For New Delhi, the growing ties offer potential access to stocks of energy in the South China Sea and are a way to project its growing strategic role in East Asia.
Both nations are hoping to boost trade in the coming years. Mr. Sang told PTI that he believed trade between the two countries could rise to $7 billion in 2015 up from $2.7 billion today.
But New Delhi and Hanoi cannot risk losing China as an ally due to their growing economic links. India and China fought a brief war in 1962 over their disputed Himalayan borders, a conflict Beijing won. Those border disputes still fester but a growing trade relationship between India and China, now worth $60 billion, has helped refocus the relationship.
Sensing this, China last month asserted, through the website of the People’s Daily – the main Communist Party newspaper – that India and Vietnam should not spoil their political and economic relationships with China “for the sake of these small interests in the South China Sea.”
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein begins a four-day visit to India on Wednesday. Myanmar, also known as Burma, is an ally of China. Beijing has invested heavily in Myanmar’s infrastructure and mining projects in recent years. India would also like to invest in Myanmar’s gas sector but has largely lost out to China.
Recent tensions between Myanmar and China could give India a window of opportunity. Earlier this month, the head of a major Chinese company behind a controversial dam in Myanmar said the project’s suspension by the Myanmar government was a surprise that “will lead to a series of legal issues.”
Original link: Vietnam, India Stand Firm on China Row