Region key to country’s energy security, says envoy

As a result of increased sparring between China and its neighbours regarding disputed oil blocks in the South China Sea, India on Friday reiterated that the region was key to its energy security, and the conflict must be resolved peacefully as per international laws.

India’s Ambassador to Vietnam Ranjit Rae also noted that half of India’s export and import go through the South China Sea.

“The dispute should hence be resolved as per international laws. The South China Sea is very important, and there should be safety and security of international ships, so that import and export aren’t affected,” he told a group of visiting Indian journalists here.

China has been opposing resolution of the dispute under international laws, and insisting on resolving the issue through bilateral talks with the respective countries.

Fresh tension engulfed the region, after China sent four surveillance naval ships to patrol the sea, in a bid to assert its sovereignty on a host of islands, which are also claimed by a number of states, including Vietnam and Philippines, as part of their exclusive economic zone.

The situation deteriorated last week, after China’s state-owned oil firm, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), called for bids from foreign companies, offering exploration of oil in nine blocks in the South China Sea, sparking off protests in Hanoi.

Vietnam said the oil blocks belong to its exclusive economic zone.

Sources here said part of the oil block number 128, which was contracted to ONGC for oil exploration by Petro Vietnam, also fell under the blocks that CNOOC put up for bidding.

Sources said ONGC wanted to surrender the oil block number 128, after a study found that oil exploration wouldn’t be financially viable.

However, it agreed to re-examine the decision, if Petro Vietnam renewed the contract. A final decision by ONGC is expected if Petro Vietnam extends the contract.

China has been asking India to refrain from undertaking oil exploration in the Vietnamese blocks, in order to provide “peace and stability” in the area.

Unfazed by Chinese protests, India had inked an agreement with Vietnam in October last year, to expand and promote oil exploration in the South China Sea.

The Chinese claim on the South China Sea has been rejected by both India and Vietnam, saying as per the UN, the blocks belong to Vietnam. India has already made it clear that the entire Indian Ocean region, stretching from the East African coast to the South China Sea, remains crucial to its foreign trade, energy, and national security.

The despatching of ships by China came as the Philippines and Vietnam made strong moves to assert their claims on some of the resource-rich islands.

Besides the two, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan, too, have made strong claims on the islands, which China claims as its inherent territory.

While the Philippines has sent its naval vessels to ‘Panatag’ Shoal, which China calls ‘Huangyan Island,’ the Vietnamese Parliament has passed a new law asserting that ‘Xisha’ and ‘Nansha’ Islands, as they are called by China, are part of its territory.

Pointing to the historic relationship between India and Vietnam, Mr. Rae said ONGC was given permission to explore oil in the region by the Vietnamese government in 1988, and these explorations are purely commercial in nature.

Seeking maintenance of status quo till the dispute is resolved, he said all the concerned countries should do their best to guarantee peace in the region, and honour the declaration of the code of conduct.

“The region is a dynamic region, as people say that the centre of global economic gravity is shifting to the region, and new frameworks are being developed in the region on the economic, political, and security front. India sees itself as an integral part of the region and its development,” Mr. Rae said.

Indicating India’s strong resolve to remain engaged in Vietnamese oil blocks, he said the country had a huge requirement of energy, as its growth rates could be sustained with a stable and growing supply of energy.

“Our companies have been active in Vietnam for decades. It isn’t something new. These are commercial enterprises undertaken by Indian and Vietnamese companies and I don’t think these have any political connotations or bearings,” he said.

Regarding relations with Vietnam, Mr. Rae said it had grown “stronger and stronger with time.”

“It is a very vibrant and robust relationship which will only grow and strengthen during a period of time...This is a very important year in the bilateral relationship between India and Vietnam. We are celebrating 40 years of establishment of diplomatic relationship, and five years of establishment of strategic partnership,” he said.

More In: News | Business | Industry