India, China run into turbulant waters
September 27, 2011

Just when you thought everything was smooth sailing between the two Inchin neighbors, they go and squabble again!

Laying claim to one of the most important shipping routes and largest underwater reservoirs of oil and gas, in a rhetoric that could ignite into a much stronger flaming blame game, the two countries have taken their tussle to the high seas where India’s  state oil company ONGC together with the government of Vietnam is jointly exploring the South China Sea for oil, a region hotly contested for by China which shares territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

As the energy hungry developing nations expand their sources of supply, ONGC has said it plans to resume drilling next year at one of its two remaining blocks in the area, after suspending work there because of a hard seabed, and after relinquishing another block last year because it lacked production potential.

“We plan to restart drilling there,”  ONGC Chairman A.K. Hazarika told the Wall Street Journal. “The [Indian] Ministry of External Affairs has informed us that the block is well within the territory of Vietnam and so there are no issues with exploration there.”

The testy public exchanges which reminisce of the 1962 war the two countries fought follows an unusual incident in July when, according to the Indian government, an Indian navy ship visiting Vietnam as part of expanding bilateral defense ties received a radio message warning it that it was entering Chinese waters. China has dismissed India’s version of the incident as “groundless.”

The move by India to tide with Vietnam which like Malaysia and the Philippines is beefing up its navy in the area follows China’s claim of the entire sea region. Embroiled in tussles with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, China is keeping a keen eye out on the South China Sea. India which is trying to break China’s string of Pearls, is working with governments in the region to jointly secure natural energy assets.

India has stepped up its defense ties with Vietnam, winning access to naval ports while helping Hanoi ready a new fleet of submarines. Beijing has been somewhat spooked by such collaboration, not least because of Vietnam’s proximity to Hainan, the island province where China’s own rapidly modernizing nuclear submarine fleet is housed.

The fear remains that while an attack on land is often a much calculated one, its much easier to drift into another country’s territory on sea, sparking a war.  What remains to be seen is that if the good-will that India and China have built over the last few months will help them sail over these troubled times?

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