A Chinese seismic survey vessel accompanied by that country’s coast guard ships and air cover recently entered Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and stationed themselves for weeks near an offshore gas field in which India’s state-run ONGC Videsh is a partner.
This is the latest in a series of such manoeuvres Beijing has been undertaking to assert its claims in the territorial dispute with Vietnam and is not particularly aimed against India. China had in the past also warned Russian giant Rosneft against drilling fresh production wells in the field, identified as Block 6.1, in the Nam Con Son basin.
Sources said survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi first entered Vietnam’s EEZ on July 4 and stayed till August 7. It left the Vietnamese waters after an international diplomatic outcry, including an MEA statement reiterating India’s “genuine and legitimate” interests in the region. Vietnamese diplomatic sources in Delhi, however, said the vessel returned on August 13 and was supported by H-6K bombers and fighter jets. Reports said the two Chinese coast guard ships stationed near the field with ONGC stake, located well within Vietnam’s 200-nautical mile EEZ limit, used loudspeakers to assert Chinese sovereignty over the area. ONGC Videsh has 45% stake in the field operated by Russian Petroleum refining company Rosneft, which holds 35% stake. PetroVietnam holds the remaining 20%.
ONGC Videsh had acquired the block in May 1988 with 100% interest and discovered gas the following year. But it had to sell 35% stake to UK oil major BP at the time of the foreign exchange crisis in the 90s. Under an arrangement with the Vietnamese government, it also offloaded 20% in the project to PetroVietnam after gas production started. Rosneft acquired BP’s stake and field operatorship.
ONGC also has exploration licence for Block 128, which too has drawn protests from China in the past. After several years of survey, ONGC Videsh sought to exit the block due to lack of prospectivity. This was also supported by a Vietnamese institute.