India's state-run Oil & Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) recently announced that the company has accepted Vietnam's proposal to continue to explore for oil and gas in the South China Sea, after Hanoi has offered additional data that could help make future exploration economically viable.
Such a move is obviously a complete about-turn in India's policy on the issue, as Indian officials had said in May that the ONGC had decided to return Block 128 to Vietnam since exploration there wasn't commercially feasible.
This change is possibly related to the recent development of the situation in the South China Sea, as Vietnam's renewal offer to India came after the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) decided to offer nine blocks in the South China Sea for joint exploration with foreign companies, including Block 128.
The strategic intention of India's renewed involvement in the South China Sea issue is obvious. New Delhi wants to further complicate the issue and seeks to pin down China in the area so it could gain dominance in affairs across the region.
It's clear that such cooperation between Indian and Vietnamese companies in South China Sea is motivated more by politics than economic interests.
Indian companies have already acknowledged that their oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea is not commercially feasible. New Delhi and Hanoi signed a three-year deal last year for joint oil and gas cooperation in the South China Sea, but so far there have not been follow-up moves. Their exploration is faced with not only the issue of economic viability, but technological difficulties as well.
India believes that the rise of China poses a challenge, and it is trying to find ways to contain China.
To achieve the goal, India has conducted joint military drills and stepped up security cooperation with countries that have disputes with China in the South China Sea.
At the same time, India also wants to strengthen its economic presence in the area. Vietnam's offer of joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea provides an excellent opportunity for India to promote its strategy.
On the Vietnamese side, it is aware that its erosion of Chinese oil and gas resources in the South China Sea is considered by China to be illegal, and it hopes to gain some backing from other big powers. Vietnam wants to take advantage of India's strategy to confront China. New Delhi and Hanoi do share common interests on the issue.
Under such circumstances, China must first insist on exerting political pressure over both India and Vietnam, warning them that their joint exploration activities in the South China Sea are illegal and violate China's sovereignty. If they conduct oil and gas exploration in waters under China's sovereignty, China should give a strong response.
Meanwhile, China should continue with its own development and exploration of oil and gas in the South China Sea, and step up efforts in protecting natural resources in the area. CNOOC's recent bidding offer can be seen as a good beginning on this regard.
Compared to India and Vietnam, China has advantages in its deep water drilling technologies. When the conditions are ripe, China should expand its exploration of oil and gas in the South China Sea. I believe this is going to be a major development trend in the future.
The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Zhaokun based upon an interview with Su Hao, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at the China Foreign Affairs University.
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