China has reacted sharply to navy chief DK Joshi’s remark that New Delhi was ready to dispatch ships to protect Indian interests in the diplomatically choppy South China Sea region.
On Tuesday, visiting Indian emissary Shiv Shankar Menon had indicated that Joshi was ambushed by journalists in New Delhi in to making a general comment which was then exaggerated and reported.
Menon had also added that China knew how the media operates in India and that none of the top Chinese officials he met had raised the issue.
This could be true. But as it now appears China didn’t take Joshi’s remarks lightly.
“China opposes any unilateral oil and gas exploration activities in disputed areas in the South China Sea and hopes relevant countries respect China's sovereignty and national interests, as well as the efforts of countries within the region to resolve disputes through bilateral negotiations,” Hong Lei, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told a regular press briefing.
Hong was responding to Joshi’s remarks on Monday when he told the annual Indian Navy Day press conference that though India was not a direct claimant in the South China Sea, its primary concern was the “freedom of navigation in international waters.”
“It is not that we expect to be in those waters very frequently,” but whenever the situation required, with the country’s interests at stake — for example ONGC Videsh has three oil exploration blocks there” — “we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that,” Joshi said.
ONGC Videsh has invested more than $600 million in exploring oil and gas in those blocks in the past few years.
“India is not a direct claimant of disputed islands in the South China Sea, but a deal signed by the Indian state-run explorer ONGC and Vietnam in October last year to explore the oil and gas block in the disputed waters has sparked a diplomatic row between Beijing and New Delhi,” state-run Global Times said.
“The real threat posed by India to China is the military co-operation between India and Vietnam. Moreover, India is now controlling several Indian Ocean islands at the entrance of the Malacca Strait, an international energy channel that sees 80 percent of Chinese oil imports passing by every year,” said Du Jifeng, an Asia-Pacific issues researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the newspaper.
“As for China, India poses far less of a threat than the US and Japan, because what India can offer to Southeast Asian nations is much less than what the US and Japan can offer," Zhuang Guotu from the Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University added.