India sails into contested waters

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by LETHALFORCE, Sep 28, 2011.


    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    India sails into contested waters

    Beijing and New Delhi are honing a keener edge on their maritime rivalry in Asian waters as India begins to establish its presence in the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely as its own territorial waters.

    Last week, without naming India, China's Foreign Ministry said the actions of any country exploring for oil and gas in the South China Sea without China's permission are "illegal and invalid" and "constitutes an infringement upon China's sovereignty."

    The comments by Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman came after news leaked that India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) is negotiating with the Hanoi government to explore for and develop hydrocarbon deposits in blocks under the South China Sea that are held to be in Vietnam's economic zone, but which are claimed by China.

    The spokesman's comments were tame, however, in comparison with a blistering editorial in Beijing's state-controlled English language newspaper, Global Times, which the Communist party government often appears to use both to appeal to ultra-nationalists at home and threaten rivals abroad while officially hewing to a policy of "peaceful development."

    The editorial fumed that India should be warned that any deal with Vietnam would be a "serious political provocation."

    Beijing, said the Global Times, should "resolutely stop [ONGC] from pursuing this course of action."

    And if India persists "China should try every means possible to stop this cooperation from happening."

    While China is sincere about following a path of "peaceful rise" to superpower status, said the editorial, "India should bear in mind that its actions in the South China Sea will push China to the limit."

    It is not only India's apparent willingness to do deals with Vietnam over submarine oil and gas development that has incensed China, which regularly threatens and attempts to intimidate energy companies working in waters it claims.

    India is expanding its security and defence ties with Vietnam, because New Delhi holds the South China Sea and freedom of navigation across what is one of the world's major merchant shipping routes to be of strategic importance in protecting its prime maritime interests in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.

    India's incursion into the South China Sea, including visits to Vietnamese ports by its warships, is undoubtedly also a retort to Beijing's so-called "string of pearls" strategy to contain the Indian Navy.

    For years China has maintained electronic listening posts on Burma's Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal to eavesdrop on Indian naval communications.

    More recently Beijing has increased its naval relationship with Pakistan to include port privileges for Chinese warships and Beijing is heavily involved in the building of a deepsea port in Sri Lanka.

    Vietnam, of course, is happy to have regional naval power India as an ally in its increasingly tense relations with Beijing over the South China Sea and has also revived a longstanding security relationship with Moscow.

    Last week Hanoi also signed an agreement with Indonesia to establish joint patrols on their maritime border to improve security in the South China Sea.

    Hanoi is also buying attack submarines from Russia to try to counter China's burgeoning submarine fleet, whose most potent craft are based at the southern tip of Hainan Island.

    In confronting Beijing, India is entering a long and complex, but increasingly acid dispute over the South China Sea whose corrosive qualities have risen as the estimates of the submarine oil and gas reserves have escalated.

    As well as Vietnam, Beijing is lined up against Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia with rival claims based on ownership of some or all of the Paracel and Spratly groups of islands, islets and reefs.

    Based on these claims, each country asserts a 200-mile (322-kilometre) exclusive economic zone around each outcrop and the rights to all resources in that area.

    Beijing goes much further than the other claimants. It asserts that almost the entire South China Sea, right down to Indonesia, some 1,200 kilometres south of Hainan Island, is Chinese territory based on "historic title" that it says overrides the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

    Even beyond that, while UNCLOS allows for peaceful right of passage for foreign vessels across exclusive economic zones, Beijing increasingly portrays the South China Sea as its own territorial waters where its authority extends over all foreign vessels.

    China's Asian and southeast Asian neighbours are increasingly alarmed by this posture, especially as their fishing, merchant and research vessels now regularly have to deal with violent or threatening confrontations with Chinese ships.

    One response from China's neighbours has been to ask the United States to reassert its naval presence in the region and to reignite sometimes diminished defence alliances, for example with the Philippines.

    This Washington has done and Japan, which has its own territorial disputes with China outside the South China Sea but much of whose imports and exports travel its sea lanes, is moving to strengthen its political ties with Southeast Asia and India.

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