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Assertive India firm on its South China Sea stand

world Updated: Nov 19, 2011 09:12 IST
Jayanth Jacob

India told China that it would continue its oil and gas explorations in the South China Sea, an issue that has triggered strong words between the two countries in the past few months.

India asserted that the oil and gas work that ONGC Videsh Limited was carrying out in the South China Sea was purely commercial. This was communicated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who met Chinese premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Bali on Friday. China had sent a demarche — a petition of protest or communication through diplomatic channels — to India earlier this year about OVL’s activity, first reported by HT. Beijing had said the exploration violated Chinese sovereignty.

The PM told Wen that “issues of sovereignty” should be resolved “in consistence with international law and practice,” said Sanjay Singh, secretary (east) in the ministry of external affairs. The two countries avoided a direct confrontation on the issue of China’s territorial claims on the South China Sea, saying they would abide by “international law” — even though the two countries clearly have different interpretations of that.

China agreed international law should be the basis of the territorial issue — reflecting Beijing’s views that it has a strong historical basis for its maritime claims. While New Delhi avoided saying it in public, it is known that India does not accept the validity of China’s territorial claims.

However, given that only a small part of one of OVL’s exploration blocks actually intrudes inside China’s territorial claims, neither side was prepared to make a noise about it. Instead, both Singh and Wen, during their 55 minute meeting, committed themselves to developing the “best of relations,” reiterating that the “21st century belongs to Asia.”

Both sides talked of trade ties being “core” to the bilateral ties, with Wen praising the “economist” Singh for his leadership. Singh, however, expressed concerns over the trade deficit that India runs with China. He “underlined the need for balanced trade to create more conducive environment pertaining to considerably untapped potential,” said the foreign ministry.

India argues that its ability to balance its trade is hampered by China’s closed services sector. China had a trade surplus of $ 20 billion with India in 2010. Bilateral trade is projected to touch $ 70 billion this year.

“We should cooperate bilaterally and globally” Singh told Wen. He noted that when the two had worked together on climate change, the impact had been “positive.”

Jayanth Jacob


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