Experts believe India accords great importance to its marine cooperation with Vietnam and will not let any other country to get in the way.
India will not reconsider its oil and gas cooperation with Vietnam, said Geeta Kochhar, faculty member of the Center for Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Kochhar made the judgment in the context of China’s illegal oil and gas activities in the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea, including the deployment of Chinese oil survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts to Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
“If China really wants to be assertive of not letting India cooperate with Vietnam, I do not think India would accept that and they should not accept that,” Kochhar said Tuesday on the sidelines of a conference on India’s relations with neighboring countries held Tuesday in Hanoi by the Vietnam Institute of Indian and Southwest Asian Studies (VIISAS).
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined on “not accepting any kind of domination or control by any powers in the region,” she said.
She added that the competition in oil and gas cooperation should not be converted into any kind of confrontation, and it is not fair if China has some objections to India’s cooperation with Vietnam because China itself also cooperates with Vietnam and other countries, such as Nepal.
Explaining the consistent policy of India in cooperating with Vietnam, Associate Professor Doctor Om Prakash Dahiya from the Department of Political Science, Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi, said “Vietnam plays a pivotal role in India’s Look East policy,” given its strategic location in the South China Sea.
New Delhi has cooperated with Hanoi in offshore oil exploration in the waters of the South China Sea since 1988 and India’s attention in cooperating with Vietnam in the sea is not merely economic, but for military and security interests as well, said Tien-sze Fang, Associate Professor at the Center for General Education and Deputy Director of the Center for India Studies, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.
He said it is imperative for India to call for freedom of navigation in the region as around 40 percent of its global trade passes through the South China Sea.
“China’s militarization of the South China Sea is widely seen as a major roadblock to the open and free Indo-Pacific region and will result in significant changes to the 29 sea lanes of communications passing through the region, trillions of dollars of trade passage, potential energy or fishery resources,” Fang said.
In addition to economic concerns, what worries India much more is the geopolitical competition.
If, for Beijing, the Indian Ocean is not an India’s ocean, New Delhi’s imperative is to contest impressions that the South China Sea is not waters that fall under China’s control. “Additionally, the South China Sea is the gateway to the Pacific region and the center of the Indo-Pacific region,” he added.
Both Fang and Dahiya mentioned the fact that China has more than once requested India and Vietnam to stop their oil and gas cooperation, but it has failed to cut the bonds between the two countries.
Back in 2014, during her visit to Vietnam, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said state-owned OVL (ONGC Videsh Limited) would continue its oil exploration and exploitation in accordance with cooperation agreements that India has inked with Vietnam.
The move came after China opposed to the operation of OVL in the East Sea.
On August 2, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar confirmed that India would like to continue its oil and gas cooperation with Vietnam in the sea in a meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh in Bangkok.
Commenting on the current East Sea situation, Indian Ambassador to Vietnam, Pranay Verma, said New Delhi was seeking to build international connections for peace, stability and prosperity with its neighboring and nearby countries.
“As India strives to become a five trillion-dollar economy in the next five years, it is creating capabilities and demands that present unique opportunities for all of its partners, particularly its neighbors, to build mutually reinforcing stakes for shared prosperity and development,” he said.
He also said India has had greater awareness on its due role in the regional and global order, and its willingness to play that role, to be a contributor of ideas and capabilities in the international arena, and to embrace globalism and internationalism at a time when national instincts are increasingly turning inwards.
Vietnam and India established diplomatic relations in 1972.
India, a staunch ally in Vietnam’s fight for independence and reunification, is also one of Vietnam’s top trading partners, with two-way trade turnover reaching $10.69 billion last year, double that of 2016, according to the Vietnam Trade Affairs Office in India.