China on Thursday responded cautiously to India’s agreements with Vietnam on oil exploration in the disputed South China Sea, expressing its hope that countries would “do more things that are conducive” to stability, while at the same time not directly voicing its opposition to the projects.
Thursday’s response from China, which in the past strongly opposed exploration projects in the disputed South China Sea citing its “indisputable sovereignty” over its islands and waters — a claim that is being contested by at least 10 countries, including Vietnam — was more measured than the warnings directed at India last year about undertaking projects in the region.
Only last year, in December, did Beijing say it opposed “unilateral energy exploration” and called on India to respect its “sovereignty and national interests” over exploration of blocks 127 and 128, which Chinese officials said were located in a basin that is currently under Vietnam’s control but fell within their claim lines.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in response to a question about the deal that “the situation in the South China Sea is, generally speaking, stable.”
“China’s position on the South China Sea issue is clear-cut and consistent,” he said.
“We hope relevant countries,” he added, “can do more things that are conducive to development of peace and stability in the region.”
China had mounted a far stronger response to India’s deals on blocks 127 and 128, issuing formal protests. India has since returned the first block as explorations did not yield significant finds, while the second block has reportedly stalled on account of financial and technical difficulties.
The issue strained bilateral relations at a time when Beijing was seen as adopting a more assertive stand on territorial disputes.In recent months, however, the new leadership under Xi Jinping, who took over in March as President, has attempted to tone down regional tensions.