With the confrontation between Chinese and Vietnamese naval vessels in the disputed South China Sea showing no signs of abating, Hanoi wants New Delhi to speak up, especially with India’s growing role on the world stage.
Thus far, New Delhi has maintained a studied silence on the three-week-long standoff, even though an OVL (ONGC Videsh Ltd) oil block isn’t too far from the region where Chinese ships are flexing their muscles in what Vietnam claims its waters.
Hanoi wants New Delhi to raise its voice with regard to freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce as enunciated by Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) in the resource-rich South China Sea.
Besides, diplomatic sources said India also has stakes in the region as nearly 50 per cent of its ships pass through this; therefore, India needs to back Vietnam’s demand for the observance of the rule of law and to ensure peace and stability is maintained in the region.
According to sources, OVL oil block no. 06/1 is located close to the area where Chinese and Vietnamese vessels have been engaged in a standoff since July 4. The oil block is barely 10 nautical miles from Vietnam’s base line and is located in its continental shelf as stipulated in the 1982 Unclos, sources added.
“China has conducted activities to obstruct Vietnam’s oil and gas exploration in block 06/1which lies within our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf,” said sources.
They further said that joint ventures between OVL, Vietnam’s PetroVietnam and Russia’s Rosneft for oil and gas production have been in place for 17 years in these waters. Therefore, China’s opposition to such activities and use of force in this area is “unlawful and violates Vietnam’s sovereign rights over our waters as per Unclos,” said sources.
There are other reasons why Vietnam has gone on the diplomatic offensive and is counting on countries like India to back it. Hanoi maintains that the current sparring is “a matter that concerns all countries whose ships pass through the region”.
It’s seeking Indian support in the current spat in its capacity as a leading Asian power too. Further, it says India, a member of the Quad, should use the grouping to fend off Chinese assertion in the South China Sea.
Other than India with whom Hanoi has taken up matters at both the political and diplomatic levels, the sparring has also been taken to the ASEAN of which Vietnam is a member. Vietnam, in fact, says China should not escalate tensions and instead facilitate an environment that will be conducive to Code of Conduct negotiations between it and the ASEAN. A first reading of the draft code has just been completed by ASEAN member states and China.
So far, there appears to be no end in sight to the maritime dispute. Vietnam has sent diplomatic notes to China protesting what it says is violations by its neighbour of Unclos and asking that Bejing respect Hanoi’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction. Vietnam is also exploring legal remedies like approaching the international tribunal.
The faceoff began with Chinese seismic survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 entering Vietnamese waters accompanied by a number of Coast Guard and fishing vessels. At one point of time, there were nearly 35 such vessels criss-crossing the region, said sources. Now, their number is estimated to be a dozen.
Vietnam is also worried about Chinese claims over the Spratly and Paracel islands, also in the South China Sea. It believes that regional peace, security and stability in the region is at risk with what it describes as Chinese militarisation on features it has “illegally built” on these islands.