Chinese vessel in the South China Sea
Representation. A Chinese vessel in South China Sea REUTERS

Vietnam is planning to step up its presence in the South China Sea, close on the heels of India asserting its maritime power in the region raising concerns over the rapid modernization of Chinese Navy.

Vietnam's civilian-led patrols, supplemented by marine police and a border force, would be deployed from Jan. 25 to stop foreign vessels that violate fishing laws within Vietnam's waters, Reuters reported Tuesday citing Vietnam's government and state media.

Hanoi finalized the decision Nov. 29, the day Chinese media announced new rules authorizing police in the southern Chinese province of Hainan to board and seize foreign ships in the South China Sea, Reuters reported.

India’s Navy chief Admiral DK Joshi had earlier said that the Indian Navy was prepared to defend Indian assets in the South China Sea.

"Not that we expect to be in those waters very frequently, but when the requirement is there for situations where the country's interests are involved, for example ONGC Videsh, we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that," he told reporters in New Delhi Monday.

He added that China’s upgraded Navy was a “major, major cause of concern” for India.

It was reported in July that India's state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) would continue its oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, off the Vietnam coast, ignoring Chinese objection.

ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of ONGC, accepted Vietnam's proposal to continue investment in Block 128 after Hanoi offered additional data that would improve the economic feasibility and commercial viability of the Indian operations.

The plan to continue investment was a turnaround from ONGC's decision in May to pull out from certain oil blocks citing "techno-commercial considerations" in Vietnamese waters, as the establishment seemed to be disinterested in continuing the project, which was not "economically viable."

The move was criticized in China with the Global Times, owned by Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily, stating China “must insist on exerting political pressure over both India and Vietnam, warning them that their joint exploration in the South China Sea are illegal and violate China's sovereignty."

"If they conduct oil and gas exploration in waters under China's sovereignty, China should give a strong response," the Global Times wrote.

Vietnam's state oil firm, Petrovietnam Monday accused Chinese boats of sabotaging an exploration operation by cutting a seismic cable, which was being towed behind a Vietnamese boat.

South China Sea has long been a bone of contention between China and several members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). China lays claim to almost the entire South China Sea including what is recognized by the U.N. as the exclusive economic zones of other neighbors, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.

Beijing’s relations with India and Vietnam has grown worse in the past weeks over China’s decision to include in its revised passports an offending map, which shows Beijing staking its claim on the entire South China Sea.

Both India and Vietnam have refused to stamp the new Chinese passports and are issuing separate visa sheets to the Chinese nationals.