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Global Geopolitics

India Sails Into Troubled South China Sea

MANILA, Feb 4 2013 (IPS) - With territorial tensions in the South China Sea entering a new phase of confrontation, there are signs of growing Indian involvement in regional affairs.

Aside from its anxieties over China’s expanding naval capabilities, India has direct economic and strategic interests in Southeast Asia. For many years, India’s state-run Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) has been involved in joint ventures with TNK Vietnam and Petro Vietnam, conducting exploratory/offshore hydrocarbon projects in the disputed waters of South China Sea.

Meanwhile, India has also been expanding its strategic ties with the booming economies of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), hoping to raise bilateral trade to as much as 200 billion dollars in the next decade.

As ASEAN’s major dialogue partner, India has repeatedly underscored its commitment to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, cautioning against rising threats to maritime security.

During the recently-concluded ASEAN-India Summit, many Southeast Asian states, in response to China’s provocative actions, have sought greater role for and involvement of India in ensuring regional stability and deterring Chinese aggressive posturing.

“While the centre of the global economy is shifting eastward, the Indian and Pacific oceans have been and will become even more important in providing the vital sea routes for trade and commerce,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared during the summit.

Both India and the ASEAN seem to share growing concerns over China’s increasing maritime assertiveness and naval capabilities.

November of last year – when Chinese (paramilitary) vessels allegedly harassed the Vietnamese Binh Minh 02 seismic survey vessel in the hydrocarbon-rich blocks where India’s ONGC is directly invested – marked a turning point in India’s disposition towards the South China Sea disputes.

“Not that we expect to be in those waters very frequently, but when the requirement is there for situations where the country’s interests are involved, for example ONGC Videsh, we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that,” Indian navy chief Admiral D.K Joshi declared in response to the incident, warning China against further provocations.

His comments coincided with a new round of Sino-Indian negotiations over long-standing border disputes, which sparked a war back in 1962 and have embittered bilateral ties since then.

Recent years have witnessed a precipitous escalation in regional maritime disputes, pitting China – which claims almost all features in the South China Sea and continues to prefer bilateral dispute-settlement mechanisms – against Southeast Asian states such as Philippines and Vietnam.

However, last year marked a further deterioration in regional security, with ASEAN failing to adopt a common position on establishing a binding regional Code of Conduct (CoC) to settle maritime disputes.

The situation worsened when the new Chinese leadership engaged in a series of provocative actions, ranging from the issuance of a new Chinese passport, featuring the full extent of Beijing’s territorial claims across Asia, to the recent announcement by Hainan authorities to search and intercept foreign vessels straddling China’s claimed maritime territories, and the new Chinese official map featuring territories within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

In response, the Philippines and Vietnam sought deeper strategic and defence cooperation with sympathetic Pacific powers such as the U.S. and India. Vietnam, Philippines, and Taiwan formally protested against China’s passport design, while the ASEAN bloc expressed deep concerns over new maritime regulations by Chinese provincial authorities in Hainan.

There is also the bigger issue of India-China rivalry. Traditionally, the Indian Navy (IN) has focused on patrolling and safeguarding the country’s interests in the immediate waters stretching from the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean and the Strait Malacca. Yet, China’s rapid rise as a regional naval powerhouse has encouraged continental rival India to speed up its naval modernisation and develop an expeditionary outlook.

Between 2000 and 2012, the IN’s share of annual military expenditures has increased from 15 to 19 percent, while joint exercises with other regional allies, especially the U.S. Pacific Command, have intensified accordingly. An armada of new aircraft carriers, modern French submarines, indigenously designed nuclear submarines, and state-of-the-art aircraft are slated to boost the IN in coming years.

With one of Asia’s most formidable navies, dwarfing all of those in the ASEAN, India’s new naval arms race with China has gained even greater significance in light of rising frictions in the strategic, hydrocarbon-rich waters of South China Sea. Back in 2011, Chinese forces even challenged an IN ship that was patrolling off the coast of Vietnam.

The U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific region has been followed by renewed strategic-military commitments with regional partners, but the Philippines and Vietnam are also eagerly seeking India’s muscle to deter China.

“I hope that India supports ASEAN and China in full implementation of the declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea and ASEAN Six-Point Principle on the South China Sea…” Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung emphasized during the ASEAN-India summit.

In fact, the summit’s concluding ‘vision statement’ underscored, in the most unequivocal terms, the importance of maritime security: “We (ASEAN and India) are committed to strengthening cooperation to ensure maritime security and freedom of navigation and safety of sea lanes of communication for unfettered movement of trade in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS.”

Although India has historically stood up to China over territorial disputes as well as the Tibetan issue, in addition to its expressed commitment to defend energy investments in the disputed waters and challenge China’s new passport design, India has actually struck a moderate tone in numerous official pronouncements.

India is not a direct party to the disputes and a bulk of its strategic interests still lie in the Indian Ocean, while its booming bilateral trade with China – hovering above 70 billion dollars annually – means that it has little appetite for risking direct confrontation with Beijing in behalf of ASEAN.

“There are fundamental issues there (South China Sea) that do not require India’s intervention,” India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid stated in relation to the maritime disputes during the ASEAN-India summit. “(The disputes) need to be resolved between the countries concerned.”

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  • Zong

    According in the world history, India never has military power to help any country for success it goal or mission. I do not think China has any scare to the point India is interested involve with the south china sea crisis. If we compare the military power of China and India with ASEAN. The power of China can speed up to 60m/hr, but the power of India and ASEAN are 35m/hr. How can India and ASEAN stand for the power of China?

  • John

    With the help the legal and moral support of the UN, and if necessary the military support of the United States and Japan.

  • thalai raama

    we have observe china speed and its material and military quality. if we use china material, it will fail or not working for long, china military also same their product material, china’s bomb will not explosive or not working, but india’s speed MAG 3.5 per/hr promas missile, china need ten years more to catch this. India always like peace its mean not scare. Infront of india’s democracy china is nothing to india.

  • thalai raama

    if we look about china’s history back 100 years, japan very little country how to colony very big country, india not like japan, more big and strong, one day china kneel down before india’s military power and talented youngest nation.

  • thalai raama

    Mr.Zong you know how to born bangladesh, you want lession more about indias military history, 90,000 Pakistan troops surrendered before Indiam military. This is world biggest military surrendered till today, not like china surrendered against very little country Japan.

  • micky hammer

    The Chinese blatant acts of aggression have created a coalition of willing nations, not just India to prepare and sufficiently engage China when necessary. The question is for China if it wants to be a responsible global partner of growth or an ancient feudal bully that will hurt Asian progresses?

  • dgupta

    Legally china has claimed South China Sea(and islands) way before any other
    country did. Morally it is Vietnam and Phillipines who are encroaching Chinese
    islands. Although China wants to resolve the issues peacefully, China has the
    right to defend its territories.

  • Ross Payant

    Your lack of historical understanding is almost as bad as your English. If you knew anything about the history of China you’d know that during Japan’s power grab in East Asia China was NOT a country, it was a geographical region. The warlords who had only recently ruled as kings (maharajas?) had been co-opted into a loose confederation under the incompetent dictator Chiang Kai-shek who was engaged in a civil war with the communists under Mao. I seem to remember another country that was conquered under similar conditions by another small island country, oh yeah, that’s India.

  • Ross Payant

    And China also controlled Vietnam for hundreds of years in previous dynasties. Don’t fool yourself. China is stealing islands so close to other countries you can see them from the shore. Look at a map and do your homework before you regurgitate that lazy propaganda. No impartial observer would support China’s position here which is blatant expansionism not so dissimilar to WWII era Japan.

  • yz

    In that sense, GB has no right to occupy Falkland Islands. People can argue that the Brits has been on the islands long before Argentina was founded, however that is the same for the South China Sea islands. There are documents about Chinese fishermen using the islands to dodge storms/collect sea products long before the SE Asian countries were founded.

  • Dawn Dare

    China, simply put, is reneging on its word and cannot be trusted. It is a signatory to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

    3. The Parties reaffirm their respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;

    4. The Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;

  • Anon

    Ross Payant ,I accept your views.Our emotional Citizens with out weighing the pros and cons of a confrontation with China are blabbering.Our sensible bureaucrats in Delhi will take a right decision and advise Govt on sensitive issues.

  • Billy Maximus

    LOL you Indians seem to be forgetting how China made your troops wet their pants in 1962 and your Hindustan surrendered after two days fighting stay in your place slumdog

  • Billy Maximus

    your country is only famous for the rape of women on public transport and its caste system and its crushing poverty you are poorer than Africa and cannot even control Pakistan a country which can wipe you out with its nuclear weapons

  • Billy Maximus

    India is poorer than Africa according the UN statistics even Pakistan is better of than the average Indian it is highly offensive when you compare a superpower of poverty called India to the real Superpower of the future China the Indians should feed its starving children first and remember how China crushed them in 1962 in a few days the next war will last 24 hours and India will loose half its military if it ever got brave with Chinas military Pakistan is capable of taking out half of indias population what can India do to China?..nothing

  • Billy Maximus

    Also India is the largest country ever in the history of the world to be RULED by a tiny Island called Britain 5000 miles away China will never be ruled by anyone your history is of cowardice nothing impresses me of your history

  • Billy Maximus

    Well to go by your English China has nothing to fear from your MAG 3.5 Ponsy missile XD

  • Vietnamese Nationalist

    Chinese are creating a lot of enemies. Also, these enemies happen to be bordering them or close to them on all sides. It’s a very foolish move there, but we’ll be happy in the end when China fails.

    Xie Xie China, for helping us gather allies.

  • sam

    India was a rich country when the East India Company was formed in India in the 18th century. India became poorer under the rule of British up 1947. After the British left India we started from scratch. 1947. Now India’s GDP is third largest in the world, much higher than Briton. There is enough of grains and pulses in India for exports and food security is in place in India offering almost free rations to all those who are below poverty line. This is something unique to India in the world.

  • sam

    It was not conquering. They came for trading Indian spices and later, they became opportunist and cheated the peaceful kings and people of their money and power

  • hindi

    Lol u forget how japan kick china asssss and for treatment of chinese forces genral of china asked help from india n congress then they send doctors from india to treatment of civil and army personals but in return back lol snake china when was inndia busy to making democracy workable snake :china bite india lol

  • sartaj bedi


  • Dung Tran

    China helped Pol Pot gained power in 1975. This guy killed half of the Cambodian population ( 3 millions innocent people ). China also helped north Vietnam defeated south Vietnam. The communist then killed more than a million innocent south Vietnamese! With help from American companies in the last 20 plus years, China has become rich and powerful, and planned to make many smaller countries become many Tibets of China!!! China owe us blood !!! Blood Can pay back only by blood !!!

  • Noel Mecisamente

    what about your china who doesnt even have freedom of speech or your china who doesnt even have internet freedom? your china kills its own children specially the female gender. what about that?

  • Noel Mecisamente

    your china loss the korean war. what about that? hahaha

  • Maya Boneva

    Two giants are rising in the world and all we must respect their ability. Every state has made a mistake along the history, but we should pay attention about the new reality and new alliances. I do not argue peoples to forget, but I dream people to put efforts on new education and support for every in need.What is need, indeed.

  • im_earth

    China’s leaders plan to fail.

  • Rahul

    In 1962 India PM was not informed that Indian troop is ill prepared for battle. Later in 1971 you saw how a prepared Indian army stikes. Only 100 troops destroyed 1000 pakistani man whole night and later defeted and 90k captured.

  • rahul

    as you are saying that rape is not being performed in America and china or paki?

  • pFt

    Pft. India is a superpower of poverty? You try maintaining a population of 1.5 billion people and at the same time try to make sure that you remain a sovereign nation and don’t get bullied by your neighbors. Statistics don’t point out the truth, first of all which statistic are you referring to? Our GDP and our economy are rising while our poverty rate is decreasing.

    “Crushing defeat in 1962”, wasn’t really that crushing. It was a limited area fight and we lost because of lack of communication between the administration and the troops. We had just come out of several disputes with Pakistan and I don’t think you or anyone can judge India’s strength by that war.

    “Brave Chinese Military” – Yeah, that’s why they resort to bullying smaller island nations who neighbor them.

  • Jason P

    Thank You. So China’s claims of the seas are null and void.
    Really, they never exercised control of any sea territory.

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