India said it is intensifying energy cooperation with Vietnam on a day China claimed “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea and asked countries in the region to refrain from oil exploration in its waters.
Foreign minister S.M. Krishna on Thursday went to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi to chair a joint commission meeting on trade, economy, science and technology cooperation with his Vietnamese counterpart.
“We have a very active programme of trade and economic cooperation with Vietnam,” foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said in New Delhi. “One facet of this cooperation is cooperation in the area of hydrocarbons.”
State-controlled ONGC Videsh Ltd has a “major joint venture” in Vietnam for offshore oil and gas exploration, he said. “They are in the process of further expanding their cooperation and operations in Vietnam.”
Prakash said an Essar Oil subsidiary has also been awarded an oil and gas block. “This is one area of cooperation and we would like to see this cooperation grow,” he said.
China and India, the world’s fastest growing major economies, are competing for energy resources in various regions to fuel their growth.
Prakash’s comments came hours after Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said, “China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea... China’s stand is based on historical facts and international law.”
Jiang’s remarks were in response to reports that ONGC Videsh Ltd planned to undertake oil exploration in two Vietnam blocks in the South China Sea. When pointed out that India’s stand was guided by Vietnam’s claim that it had rights over the blocks under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, Jiang said China’s sovereign rights and positions were formed in the course of history, the PTI news agency reported. “China is ready to engage in peaceful negotiations and friendly consultations to peacefully solve the disputes... We hope the relevant countries respect China’s position,” she said.
China and Vietnam are among at least 10 countries that hold competing claims over the South China Sea and the islands in its waters. In June, tension flared between China and Vietnam over the Spratly and Paracel Islands, following clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese boats.
Earlier this month, Prakash said Indian naval ship Airavat, which had paid a friendly visit to Vietnam in July, was issued a warning by radio against entering Chinese waters. However, the ship proceeded on its journey towards another Vietnamese port without incident, he said.
“India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and the right of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law. These principles should be respected by all,” Prakash said.
Such incidents happen because the issue of the sovereignty of the South China Sea has not been settled, said Sujit Dutta, a China expert at the Jamia Millia Islamia university.
“In the absence of an agreement, China’s actions are uncalled for and just give rise to another tension area between India and China,” Dutta said. “The Chinese action is also a manifestation of the kind of challenges a rising China poses to the region and the world.”
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