NEW DELHI: India has joined the US in ringing alarm bells over China’s expansionist expeditions in the South China Sea clashing with Vietnam and the Philippines early this week. Though trying to play safe, New Delhi refused to name China or Vietnam and instead called for freedom of navigation in the sea.
Almost five days after Chinese ships reportedly rammed Vietnamese vessels near the Paracel Islands, the external affairs ministry said it is concerned about the “recent developments” in the South China Sea. In a statement, the foreign office said, “We would like to see resolution of the issue through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.”
It is unclear whether India is referring to the issue of conflicting sovereignty of the areas that China and Vietnam claim, or whether it was concerned about a potential flare-up as a result of Chinese and Vietnamese ships apparently ramming each other and Chinese spraying them with water cannons.
Calling for “cooperation in ensuring security of sea-lanes and strengthening of maritime security”, India maintained freedom of navigation in the South China Sea should not be impeded.
Vietnam posted videos of how its ships were rammed by Chinese civilian and military vessels which formed the group that accompanied the CNOOC mobile oil rig, Haiyang Shiyou 981, which showed up in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for oil exploration activities. The rig was accompanied by a flotilla of civilian and military ships. According to Vietnam reports, after its naval vessels asked Chinese ships to move out, the Chinese ships rammed them, reportedly injuring six sailors.
Vietnam military spokesperson was quoted by the foreign media as saying, “Vietnam has exercised restraint”. “But if Chinese vessels continue ramming Vietnamese ships, we’ll have to act out of self-defence,” said a senior Vietnamese commander.
The Chinese have defended their actions, saying the Vietnamese ships had rammed theirs 171 times. Yi Xianliang, deputy director general of the department of boundary and ocean affairs, was quoted as saying, “Vietnam had started the problem. Between May 3 and May 7, Vietnam has dispatched 35 ships that have rammed Chinese vessels 171 times.” “Chinese ships are government ships. Vietnam ships are armed,” he said.