India for peaceful resolution of S China sea dispute

Hanoi: Amid increasing sparring between China and its neighbours over disputed oil blocks in the South China Sea, India today said the region was key to its energy security and the conflict must be resolved peacefully as per international laws.

Expressing concern over the escalating tension in the area, India`s Ambassador to Vietnam Ranjit Rae said half of India`s export and import go through the South China Sea and India considers itself as an integral part of the archipelagos and its development.

"The dispute should be resolved as per international laws. The South China Sea is very important and there should be safety and security of the international ships so that import and export are not affected," he said here.

China has been opposing resolution of the dispute under international laws and insisting on resolving the issue through bilateral talks with respective countries.

Fresh tension engulfed the region after China deployed four surveillance naval ships to patrol the South China Sea in a bid to assert its sovereignty over a host islands which were also claimed by a number of states including Vietnam and Philippines as part of their exclusive economic zone.

The situation deteriorated last week after China`s state-owned oil firm China National Offshore Oil Corporation called for bids from foreign companies offering exploration of oil in nine blocks in South China Sea sparking off protests in Hanoi.

Vietnam said the oil blocks belong to its exclusive economic zone.

Sources here said part of the oil block number 128, which was contracted to ONGC for oil exploration by Petro Vietnam also fell under the blocks that CNOOC put up for bidding.

Sources said ONGC wanted to surrender the oil block number 128 after a study found that oil exploration would not be financially viable.

However, it agreed to re-examine the decision if Petro Vietnam renews the contract. A final decision by the ONGC is expected if Petro Vietnam extends the contract.

China has been asking India to refrain from undertaking oil exploration in the Vietnamese blocks in order to ensure "peace and stability" in the area.

Unfazed by Chinese objections, India had inked an agreement with Vietnam in October last year to expand and promote oil exploration in South China Sea.

The Chinese claim on the South China Sea has been rejected by both India and Vietnam, saying as per the UN, the blocks belong to Vietnam. India has already made it clear that the entire Indian Ocean region stretching from East African coast to South China Sea remains crucial to its foreign trade, energy and national security.

The timing of the deployment of the ships by China came as the Philippines and Vietnam made strong moves to assert their claims on some of the resource-rich islands.

Besides the two, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan too have made strong claims over the islands which China claims as its inherent territory.

While the Philippines has deployed its naval vessels in `Panatag` Shoal, which China calls as `Huangyan Island`, the Vietnamese Parliament has passed a new law asserting that Xisha and Nansha Islands as called by China are part of its territory.

Pointing towards historic relationship between India and Vietnam, Rae said ONGC was offered to explore oil in the region by Vietnamese government way back in 1988 and these explorations are purely commercial in nature.

Seeking maintenance of status quo till the dispute was resolved, Rae said all the concerned countries should do their best to ensure peace in the region and honour the declaration of code of conduct.

"The region is a very dynamic region as people say often that the centre if world economic gravity is shifting to the region and new frameworks are being developed in the region on economic, political and security front. India sees itself very much an integral part of the region and its development," Rae told a visiting group of journalists.

Indicating India`s strong resolve to remain engaged in Vietnamese oil blocks, Rae said the country has a huge requirement of energy as its growth rates can be sustained with a stable and growing supply of energy.

"Our companies have been active in Vietnam for decades. It is not something new. These are commercial enterprises undertaken by Indian and Vietnamese companies and I do not think these have any political connotations or bearings," he said.

About relations with Vietnam, Rae said it has grown "stronger and stronger over time".

"It is a very vibrant and robust relationship which will only grow and strengthen over a period of time… This is a very important year in bilateral relationship between India and Vietnam. We are celebrating 40 years of establishment of diplomatic relationship and five years of establishment of strategic partnership," he said.