China on Thursday indicated it was opposed to India engaging in oil and gas exploration projects in the disputed South China Sea, and warned Indian companies against entering into any agreements with Vietnam ahead of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's visit to Hanoi this week.
"Our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China's jurisdiction," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said, in reply to a question on reports that the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh Limited was considering exploration projects in two blocks that Vietnam claims.
While Ms. Jiang said she was not aware of reports of Indian involvement in any projects, she stressed China enjoyed "indisputable sovereignty" over the South China Sea and its islands.
"We hope foreign countries will not get involved in the dispute," she said. "For countries outside the region, we hope they will respect and support countries in the region to solve this dispute through bilateral channels."
China and Vietnam are among at least ten countries that hold competing claims over the South China Sea and the islands located in its waters.
In June, tensions flared between China and Vietnam over the Spratly and Paracel Islands, following clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese boats.
External Affairs Minister Mr. Krishna will hold talks in Hanoi later this week. Among the issues slated for discussion, according to media reports, is an agreement for oil and gas exploration in two blocks over which Vietnam claims sovereignty, by ONGC Videsh.
China had reportedly voiced its objections to India about the projects, saying that any projects would be "illegal" as China claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.
India, however, is likely to go ahead with the projects in the two blocks, which Vietnam says it holds rights to under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In recent weeks, India, too, has raised concerns over Chinese projects in disputed territory — in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). China has rejected Indian concerns over this issue, stating that it viewed the dispute as one for India and Pakistan to solve.
Ms. Jiang said the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea "did not give any country the right to expand their own exclusive economic zone and continental shelf to other countries' territories". The convention, she said, did not negate "a country's right formed in history that has been consistently claimed".
Disputes between China, Vietnam and other countries that hold claims to the South China Sea have flared in recent months. While China's neighbours have blamed an increasingly assertive Chinese navy for stirring tensions, with recent clashes with both Vietnam and the Philippines, Chinese officials have pointed the finger at the United States for fanning the flames with its renewing of military alliances in the region.
Ahead of Mr. Krishna's visit, India has also stressed its strong support for the "freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea", after the INS Airavat, on a recent goodwill visit to Vietnam, was asked over radio to leave "Chinese waters".