India can’t explore for oil in disputed areas of the South China Sea, Beijing said Thursday while defending its $46 billion trade corridor through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir — described as unacceptable by New Delhi — as a “livelihood project”.
A network of roads, railways and pipelines, the 3,000km-long corridor aims to connect China’s northwestern Xinjiang region to Gwadar port in Pakistan’s southwest while passing through PoK.
But, according to Huang Xilian, deputy director general, Asian Affairs in foreign ministry, India has nothing to worry as it is a commercial venture.
“We know the concern of the Indian side and those projects are not political projects. They are all for livelihood of people,” he told a group of Indian journalists and academics in Beijing.
The same principle, however, does not seem apply to India. Huang said he was not aware exactly which part of the sea India planned to look for oil but indicated if it was in disputed waters, it would be a problem.
“India will react if a Chinese company goes to a disputed area with a South Asian neighbour,” Huang said when asked about Beijing’s objections.
China has, in the past, reacted sharply to India’s ONGC being awarded exploration contracts by Vietnam. India has defended the projects, saying they are purely commercial and need not be politicised.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, a major global shipping route believed to be home to oil and gas reserves, and is locked in maritime disputes with several countries such as Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei.
The diplomat, however, sought to distinguish between India’s South China Sea plan and his country’s investment push in PoK. China’s commercial activity in Pakistan was nothing new but India’s forays into the Sea were fairly recent, he said.
To India’s objections to the economic corridor passing through PoK, Huang said bilateral territorial disputes should be resolved by sides involved.
“There is this kind of action for many years. We do not side with the any party on the issue of the territory. We have been advocating that the disputes should be solved through concerned parties through peaceful means,” he said.
China and Pakistan share close ties and the corridor, a part of Beijing’s aim to forge “Silk Road” land and sea ties to markets in West Asia and Europe, is a step further in cementing the ties.
“These kind of commercial activities do not affect the position of China on the claimants of the territory,” he said.
India had called the Chinese ambassador and also made known its objections to the plan through its envoy in Beijing. “… And, when the Prime Minister had gone there (to China), he talked about it very firmly. He raised it very strongly that it is not acceptable to us what you are talking about China-Pakistan economic corridor going to PoK,” India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said in New Delhi on May 31.