Vietnam seeks India role in East Sea as PMs meet

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Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (C) in Bodhgaya. Photo: AFP Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (C) in Bodhgaya. Photo: AFP

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Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called for India to play an active role in resolving territorial disputes in the East Sea, also known as South China Sea, ahead of a meeting today with counterpart Narendra Modi.
Dung, who arrived in New Delhi yesterday on a two-day trip, told state-run Press Trust of India that the entire region should be interested in “the proper settlement of disputes” in the waters. China prefers to resolve the issue through one-on-one talks and opposes the involvement of other countries.
“Vietnam hopes that India, as a major power in the region and the world, will actively support the parties concerned to peacefully resolve all disputes,” Dung said in an interview with PTI published yesterday. Vietnam “highly appreciates” India’s position on the East Sea and cooperation in oil and gas exploration, he told reporters in New Delhi today.
Vietnam is looking for help from regional powers to counter China’s military might as both countries vie for oil, gas and fish in the East Sea. Chinese moves this year to drill in disputed waters and set up airstrips on contested islands sparked maritime clashes and deadly race riots in Vietnam.
“Vietnam has no other choice but to rely on countries like the U.S., India, Russia to protect its exploration activities in areas that are heavily contested by China,” Alexander Vuving, an analyst at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, said by phone. The strategy will also help reduce Vietnam’s reliance on China for trade and investment, he said.
Robust ties
Disputes in the East Sea “should be resolved through dialogue and consultation by countries directly involved on the basis of respect and historical facts and international laws,” Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a briefing in Beijing today. “This is in line with international laws and common practices, and is also a consensus reached by China and Asean countries.”
India is examining oil and gas blocks Vietnam has offered in the East Sea and will proceed if they are commercially viable, Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters in New Delhi on Oct. 24. He dismissed concerns that Chinese pressure would prompt India to back off, saying its ties with Vietnam are “not contingent on other countries.”
“Our ties with Vietnam are robust and growing,” Akbaruddin said.
China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade close to $54 billion last year -- about seven times more than Vietnam-India commerce, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Trade between India and Vietnam grew 30 percent to about $8 billion in the year through March 2014, according to India’s Foreign Ministry.
China opposition
Dung is looking to bolster an economy that the World Bank estimates will grow 5.4 percent this year, a seventh year of expansion below 7 percent. The government aims for domestic investment to reach 30 percent of gross domestic product in 2015, about the same level as this year, even as it takes steps to resolve bad debt at banks and privatize state firms, Dung told lawmakers on Oct. 20.
China has opposed India’s presence in the disputed waters in the past, with Oil and Natural Gas Corp., India’s biggest explorer, abandoning a block in 2012 after China asserted its sovereignty over the waters. China claims about 90 percent of the East Sea under a 1940s map, including the Paracels off Vietnam’s coast and the Spratlys to the south. The map has been emphatically rejected by international experts
Vietnam needs India’s presence in the region to create a balance, Vietnamese Ambassador to India Nguyen Thanh Tan said in an interview with India Writes Network posted on the Vietnam Foreign Ministry website. Vietnam will strongly protest unilateral actions to change the status quo in the islands, Foreign Ministry deputy spokesperson Pham Thu Hang said, Vietnam News reported Oct. 24.
“The oil reserves in South China Sea are attractive for India given its energy requirements,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese Studies at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University. “If China gobbles up the whole region then India has very little leverage, and this is the reason why India and Vietnam are coming together.”

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