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India a ‘trusted partner' of VN in East Sea dispute: academic

Update: May, 27/2014 - 09:23

Avilash Roul (Ph.D.), Senior Fellow, Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict (SSPC), India

Uncle Ho was one of the tallest leader against imperialism. We read about Ho Chi Minh when we were at an usual primary school in India. Along with the achievements of Gandhi and Nehru, we have grown up reading and listening story of Uncle Ho. When the US bombarded far Viet Nam with B-52 bombers, nearly 3000 KM away, India was leading the front by extending moral support to Vietnamese to struggle for independence from foreign occupation. Since, the world has transformed vertically but bilateral relations between two countries have grown from strength to strength. The bilateral relationship is a time tested friendship, character-ised by shared interests, mutual trust and multi-dimensional cooperation.

For last six decades or more, India and Viet Nam have unhindered bilateral relation. So also, last week's Chinese bulling attitude in South China Sea (East Sea) where India lost no time to convey its discontent of former's irresponsible act. China is a true case of showing off muscle power in its influence without respecting international accepted norms.

It is unacceptable to Viet Nam as China sent billion-dollar offshore oil rig to Viet Nam's continental shelf.

Vietnamese officials said, Chinese ships sent to escort the oil rig rammed and fired water cannons at Vietnamese coast guard vessels damaging ships and injuring men. However, On May 9, the Chinese official claimed that Vietnamese ships are interfering with its oil rig's operations. This is the second time the standoff between two countries attracted international huddle since 2007. Unfortunately, the just concluded ASEAN summit couldn't arrest the growing fissure which shifted from seas to lands in Vietnam raising many diplomatic eyebrows.

India has never missed any opportunities to extend its unconditional support to Viet Nam be it US bombardment or more recently Chinese aggression in South China Sea (East Sea). It's the India who first officially conveyed its concerns over Chinese arrogance when Chinese ship deliberately rammed into guarding Vietnam ship. In return, Chinese official warned Indian government to keep away from waters of South China sea (East Sea).

India has been strongly advocating peaceful resolution of South China sea (East Sea) disputes in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law. However, India makes it loud and clear that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea (East Sea), right to passage, unhindered commerce shouldn't be taken into hostage by single dominant power.

A calm South China Sea (East Sea) is overwhelmingly and potentially advantages to India and Viet Nam for commerce, navigation, management of resource and above all protection and conservation of marine world from deterioration. The Indian government undertaking ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) has been engaged in exploration activity in the South China Sea (East Sea) since 1988 with Vietnamese. The Essar Exploration and Production Ltd (EEPL), an Indian company, has signed a contract for an off-shore block off Viet Nam's coast.

Amid conflicting claims in South China Sea (East Sea), Viet Nam sees India as a reliable and trusted partner for its economic development. Indian companies are investing nearly US$2.2 billion in nearly 87 projects in Viet Nam including two power plants by TATA. Besides, under the lens of its ‘look east policy', India's economic prospects is destined towards Southeast Asia especially in Viet Nam. In 2013, India's export to Viet Nam at $3.96 billion is more than import ($3 billion) with further space for increasing trade. The two countries have decided to reach bilateral trade target $7 billion by 2015 and $15 billion by 2020. There is a huge potential of cooperation of science and technology, environmental and water resource management including curbing climate change threat bilaterally.

Despite India's hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation projects in off the coast of Viet Nam which are commercial in nature, India shouldn't keep mum from its contribution in diffusing the disputes as a responsible country and to protect its national interest.

On the other hand in many occasions China have been raising concerns against India's involvement in South China sea (East Sea). It was in Bali 2011 when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met Indian prime Minister, the former conveyed its concerns related to India's hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation projects. Couple of months before Bali, during a friendly visit of Indian Naval vessel-INS Airavat to Hai Phong, a Chinese navy had stalked at a distance of 45 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast! At least, each coastal country has a sovereignty over the resources within 200 nautical miles as its exclusive economic zone as per United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) .

Since July 2012, deployment of Chinese army approved by the Central Military to guard the islands in disputed sea areas, China have undermined the Declaration of Conduct of Parties (2002)- the multilateralism process to diffuse the international high seas disputes. The Chinese unilateral intension has been clear which has its nadir last week by ramming into Vietnamese naval vessel.

A multilateral mutual beneficial resource management and preservation of south china sea is the only means to peaceful resolution of crisis. Bullying at high seas is not character of a responsible great power. Viet Nam wants India to be a proactive player during this turbulent time. India must stand by with further strengthening the strategic partnership with Viet Nam for peace, stability and prosperity in the region and beyond. — VNS


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