China, India at odds over South China Sea oil

September 29, 2011

India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Company (ONGC) announced yesterday that it has signed a deal with Vietnam to develop off shore sites in the South China Sea.  The announcement was met with an immediate response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry:

As for oil and gas exploration activities, our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaged in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction. We hope foreign countries do not get involved in the South China Sea dispute.

China makes vast claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, based on what they term as “ancient” rights.   As the map below demonstrates, the Chinese claims overlap those of every other nation bordering the oil-rich sea (Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia).  Vietnam makes the next largest claim in the region, claiming an area extending out 200 miles from their coastline based on the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.

This is not the first run-in between China and India over the South China Sea – last summer, a Chinese naval vessel confronted an Indian navy ship in Vietnamese waters, and just two weeks ago, China issued a formal warning to all nations that it considered the SCS its “indisputable” property.   China also had brief naval run-ins with both Vietnam and Philippines this summer.

China also sees an American hand behind India’s push into the SCS.  “As a South Asian country, India actively takes part in East Asian issues through the support of the US, which has been advocating for Asian countries to counter China. The US takes every opportunity to counter China, and its joint military maneuvers with Japan and other regional countries have been more frequent in recent years,” Chinese think-tanker Wu Xinbo told the Global Times.

Personally, I don’t believe the US is “pushing” India at all.  India’s natural growth and needs – and wariness of China – provide all the necessary impetus.  Although, as I have written before, the United States should seek to encourage and foster India’s growth as a world power, as we have much in common as the world’s two largest democracies and as flowers from the same tree of British liberal tradition.  While it is in no one’s interest to see a war break out in the vital sea lanes of the SCS, and the US should thus seek to soothe both sides rather than inflame them, it is certainly in the long term interest of the US to ally with a growing Indian maritime presence.


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