The foreign ministers of India and China discussed their disputes over the South China Sea on the sidelines of the Russia-India-China trilateral conference in Moscow on Friday.
India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi emphasized that the two Asian giants need to resolve issues related to the South China Sea, including a plan by India’s state-owned oil and gas company, Oil and Natural Gas Corp., to drill for oil in the international waters.
India has signed joint agreements with Vietnam on energy projects in the disputed waters.
According to The Hindu, prior to the meeting, Krishna said that trade along international waters should be open to all nations, and that India’s oil exploration activities in the sea was a purely commercial enterprise with no political meaning whatsoever.
China has previously warned India away from exploration projects in the South China Sea.
Wu Shicun, president of the government-run National Institute of South China, told the Times of India newspaper: China will not stand any joint cooperation in our claimed maritime areas.”
Wu added that India’s involvement in the sea would entail a lot of economic and political risks.
In response, Ashwani Kumar, an Indian government minister, told the Times of India: South China sea is the property of the world. Nobody has a unilateral control over it and India is capable enough of safeguarding its interests.
Similarly, Krishna described the South China Sea as property of the world.
Explaining India’s interest in the South China Sea, Amit Singh Research Associate, National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi, wrote: India has a strong interest in keeping sea lanes open in the [South China Sea]. The [South China Sea] is not only a strategic maritime link between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, but also a vital gateway for shipping in East Asia.”
Singh added: “Almost, 55 percent of India’s trade with the Asia Pacific transits through the [South China Sea]. Apart from helping secure energy supplies for countries like Japan and [South] Korea, India has the unique distinction of shipping oil from Sakhalin [Russia] to Mangalore [India] through sea routes of the region. Therefore, it is vital for India to have access to the region. If China continues to assert dominance over these waters, it will be difficult for India to continue with its activities through this channel.”
China is also engaged in contentious dispute with Vietnam and the Philippines and other Asian nations. over the South China Sea. The Times of India reported that China directly controls seven of the 52 islands in the Spratly Islands area of the sea -- however, it claims ownership of 90 percent of the area. Currently, Vietnam has control over 40 of the islands, Philippines controls nine, Malaysia controls five and Taiwan control one island.