NEW DELHI, India—Recent events between India and Vietnam could drastically change dynamics in the South East Sea.
On 12 October 2011, India and Vietnam expanded their relationship by signing several pacts and agreeing to a deal allowing both countries to benefit from oil exploration in the South East Sea.
Though, China has stepped up its military efforts in the South East Sea, making sure other claimants to the sea yield to China’s projected authority.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan all have territorial claims in the South East Sea, creating dispute as China is accused of ignoring international law establishing borders.
In late July 2011, an Indian naval assault vessel, the INS Airavat, was sailing in the South East Sea. Over a radio, the Airavat was told to get out of the sea because it was in China’s waters.
According to the Times of India, the Airavat was making a friendly visit to Vietnam, while China’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported, “India's move shows that it hopes to have a presence in the Asia Pacific region.”
Will China be able to keep India and Vietnam from going forward with their oil exploration deal?
India garners forces
Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang visited India last week, as Vietnam made several agreements with India, including signing cultural cooperation pacts and deciding to double their bilateral trade from $2.7 billion to $7 billion by 2015.
However, Vietnam is not the only country strengthening its relationship with India.
One of China’s allies, Burma, visited India last week. This followed Burma President Thein Sein’s ending work on the Myitsone dam, being built by Chinese companies.
According to the Business Standard, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC Videsh), has plans for oil exploration in Burma
And although one of Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s party colleagues, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has been considered one of China’s allies, Nepal is also regarded as having a closer relationship to India than China.
As India appears to be gaining prospects in weakening China’s force, there could be possibilities it will fail to do so.
China courts Vietnam
While President Truong was visiting India, Vietnam’s General Secretary Nguyễn Phu Trong was visiting China.
During General Secretary Nguyễn's trip, Vietnam and China announced a process to diminish tensions in the South East Sea and agreed to hold talks twice each year to help resolve their differences.
According to the Times of India, General Secretary Nguyễn's visit to China suggests that China is trying to pressure Vietnam to cancel its oil exploration deal with India.
Though, Xinhua reported China to believe Vietnam might be trying to involve India as a third party into the dispute over the South East Sea.
“Challenging the core interests of a large, rising country for unknown oil at the bottom of the sea will not only lead to a crushing defeat for the Indian oil company, but will most likely seriously harm India's whole energy security and interrupt its economic development,” China Energy News also reported. “[India] must not enter into the disputed waters of the South China Sea.”
If Vietnam is brining India in as a third party in the South East Sea dispute, is it justified in doing so?
China’s recent military escalation, counter responses?
This summer China heightened its military presence in the South East Sea.
In May 2011 and June 2011, China attacked Vietnamese exploration vessels in the South East Sea and participated in armed threats against Vietnamese fishermen off the Spratly Archipelago.
After China’s force, the Vietnamese government held a military exercise on an uninhabited island in the South East Sea.
China viewed this action as threatening.
With China’s growing sea, air, and cyberspace prowess in the Asia Pacific region, other countries are ill prepared to compete individually, according to a report released by the Project 2049 Institute.
The report is called, “Asian Alliances in the 21st Century,” and it analyzes how the United States uses its allies in the Asian Pacific region, as well as possible steps to decreasing China’s military force in the region.
Thought to consider
As India and Vietnam are not official U.S. allies, will they work with the United States to decrease China’s force or will they do it alone, if wishing to do it at all?