India is prepared to counter any aggression in the disputed South China Sea to guard the country's interests, navy chief Admiral DK Joshi said on Monday. His comment comes at a time when Beijing's aggressive posturing in the resource-rich waters has shifted global attention to the Asia-Pacific region.
China's new passports show the disputed waters of the sea along with Akshai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh as its own territory. The Chinese government has also declared its authority to board ships for search and seizure in those waters.
Joshi said India did not expect to be in that sea "very frequently," but the navy would protect the country's economic interests there. He said the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation had oil exploration blocks off the Vietnamese coast and should the need arise, the navy would be on standby.
"When the country's interests are involved, we will be required to go there and are prepared for that. Are we holding exercises of this nature, the short answer is yes," Joshi said, talking to reporters ahead of the Navy Day on December 4.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan have competing claims to parts of the South China Sea - a crucial international trade route. China has objected to India's oil exploration efforts in the sea. The oil blocks allotted to India for exploration lie in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone, but China claims the maritime zone as its own.
The navy chief emphasised India had "no direct stakes" in that part of the world. He said Indian interests were linked to freedom of navigation in accordance with principles of international law and access to natural resources.
He said the swift modernisation of the Chinese navy was a " major concern" for India and was constantly being evaluated.