The Chinese government on Monday reiterated its opposition to exploration projects by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh and Vietnam in the South China Sea, saying any deal without its

approval would be “illegal and invalid” and an infringement on China’s sovereignty.

The comments from the Foreign Ministry came as Indian officials said ONGC Videsh would continue with exploration projects in two blocks, located near the Paracel Islands, over which Vietnam claims sovereignty. India has reportedly taken the position that Vietnamese claims were in accordance with international laws.

China, however, has conveyed its opposition to the Indian government about the project, citing its claims of sovereignty over all the South China Sea and the disputed islands. China’s claims are contested by a number of countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Asked about India’s reported decision to go ahead with the projects, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei, without directly referring to India, said on Monday that China enjoyed “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea islands.

“Any country engaging in oil and gas exploration activities in this jurisdiction without the approval of the Chinese government,” he said, “constitutes an infringement upon China’s sovereignty and national interest.”

The projects, he added, would be “illegal and invalid.”

China, he said, hoped that “relevant countries” kept its claims in mind, and refrained from “unilateral actions that may complicate and magnify the dispute.”

Mr. Hong was asked on Monday whether China’s claims extended to the whole of the sea, or only to waters around disputed islands. He said “historical evidence” showed that China was the first to discover and administer the islands, and was committed to resolving the dispute on the basis of historical facts and international law.

Asked if China would not object to any projects in waters outside of 12 nautical miles from the islands China claims, he only said any country or company that engaged in projects “in waters in China’s jurisdiction” infringed on China’s sovereignty.

Countries from outside the region, he said, needed “to respect efforts by regional countries” to solve the dispute through bilateral negotiations.

China’s neighbours across the South China Sea, including Vietnam, have, however, not backed its demands for bilateral talks, and have called for a settlement on a multilateral basis to take into consideration the interests of the many claimants.

The extent of China’s claims over the South China Sea and its islands have also stirred debate in recent months. It was only last year that reports said Beijing had declared the South China Sea as a “core interest”, alongside Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang.

China’s claims have also raised concerns among a number of countries who are not directly party to the dispute, including India, over the freedom of vital shipping lanes that pass through the sea. China’s neighbours say Beijing has grown increasingly assertive in stating and enforcing its claims, citing recent clashes between naval vessels and fishing boats from Vietnam and the Philippines. The South China Sea is

also thought to hold huge reserves of gas and oil, estimated by some United States surveys at nearly twice as much as China’s current known reserves of oil.

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