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India Vows to Protect S. China Sea Interests

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As India vows to protect its interests in the South China Sea, China has reiterated that it has indisputable sovereignty of the islands and the surrounding waters. India is not directly involved in the disputes over the South China Sea, but has begun gas exploration in the waters which China claims.

Navy Chief Admiral, D.K. Joshi made the assertion that India will not back off from protecting its maritime and economic interests.

Joshi said Monday that although India is not a territorial claimant to the South China Sea, it will deploy naval vessels there as necessary. India’s state-run oil agency, Oil And Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has a stake in a portion of the sea which Vietnam says is its exclusive economic zone.

"Not that we expect to be in those waters very, very frequently, but when the requirement is there, for example, in situations where our country's interests are involved, for example ONGC, ONGC Videsh, etc., we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that," the admiral said. "Now, are we preparing for it? Are we having exercises of that nature? The short answer is yes."

Asked what Beijing would do if the Indian Navy came to protect its oil interests in the South China Sea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei stated that Beijing has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the sea and adjacent waters.

Hong said China opposes unilateral oil and gas development in the South China Sea, adding that he hopes concerned countries will respect China’s position and rights.

China, which claims much of the South China Sea’s waters and islands, has been locked in a series of disputes with East Asian countries like Vietnam and Philippines. Tensions have been escalating centered in, the resource-rich waters, with some analysts expressing fears of conflict .

In the past India, had been a largely passive observer to the growing tensions in the South China Sea.

But Indian analysts say that New Delhi has waded into the dispute by starting exploration in a Vietnamese gas field. New Delhi strategic affair analyst Bhaskar Roy said India wants to hold on to its presence in the South China Sea, which is rich in oil reserves.

“There have been indications, not direct but indirect, that Chinese would like to get us out of that," noted Roy. "Now we cannot just be picked up and thrown out. There is public interest in India on this issue: where are we going, are we giving up our sovereignty because of Chinese pressure. It also shows that we also have capabilities and also determination to protect our own interest.”

Indian officials say that the South China Sea region is key to its energy security. Half of the country’s imports and exports also go through the waters and New Delhi says it wants safety and security for international ships.

Some Indian analysts also say that, if China has a right to naval cooperation with neighboring countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, India has a similar right in the South China Sea.

Article by Anjana Pasricha, VOA News