Because of increased tensions between China and its neighbours over disputed oil blocks in the East Sea, India reiterated on July 6 that the region is the key to its energy security and the disputes must be settled peacefully in line with international laws.

Indian Ambassador to Vietnam Ranjit Rae noted that half of India’s trade travels through the East Sea.

“The disputes should therefore be resolved as per international laws. The East Sea is very important and safety and security should be maintained for international ships so imports and exports are not affected,” he told a group of Indian journalists visiting Vietnam.

Unfazed by Chinese protests, India signed an agreement with Vietnam in October last year, to expand and promote oil exploration in the East Sea.

Pointing to the historic relationship between India and Vietnam, Ambassador Rae said the Vietnamese Government gave the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) permission to explore for oil in the region in 1988, and these explorations are purely commercial in nature.

Seeking to maintain the status quo untill the dispute is resolved, he said all countries concerned should do their best to guarantee peace in the region, and honour the Declaration of the Code of Conduct (DOC).

“The region is dynamic and some people say that the centre of global economic gravity is shifting to the region, and new frameworks are being developed on economic, political, and security fronts. India sees itself as an integral part of the region and its development,” Mr. Rae said.

“Our companies have been active in Vietnam for decades. It isn’t something new. These are commercial enterprises undertaken by Indian and Vietnamese companies and I don’t think they have any political connotations or bearings,” he said.

Regarding relations with Vietnam, Mr. Rae said they have grown stronger and stronger with time. “It is a very vibrant and robust relationship which will only grow and strengthen over the years. This is a very important year in the bilateral relationship between India and Vietnam. We are celebrating 40 years of diplomatic ties and five years of our strategic partnership,” he added.

Indicating India’s strong resolve to remain engaged in Vietnamese oil blocks, he said the country has huge energy demands and its growth rate could be sustained with a stable and increasing supply of energy.

Fresh tension engulfed the region after China sent four naval surveillance ships to patrol the sea, in a bid to assert its sovereignty on a host of islands, which are also claimed by a number of states, including Vietnam and the Philippines, as part of their exclusive economic zone.

The situation deteriorated last week, when China’s state-owned oil firm, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), called for bids from foreign companies on oil exploration rights in nine blocks in the East Sea, sparking off protests in Vietnam.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) said part of oil block number 128, which was contracted to ONGC for oil exploration by Petro Vietnam, also fell under the blocks that CNOOC put up for bid.

China has been opposing the resolution of the dispute under international laws, and insists on resolving the issue through bilateral talks with the countries involved.

The Chinese claim on the East Sea has been rejected by both India and Vietnam, stating, as per the UN, that the blocks belong to Vietnam. India has already made it clear that the entire Indian Ocean region, from the East African coast to the South China Sea, remains crucial to its foreign trade, energy supply, and national security.

The dispatching of ships by China came as the Philippines and Vietnam made strong moves to assert their claims on some of the resource-rich islands.

China has asked India to refrain from oil exploration in the Vietnamese blocks to ensure peace and stability in the area./.