India pokes nose into East Vietnam Sea

22/12/2012- Navy chief’s threat to send forces complicates an already tense situation, writes Asia Sentinel’s Neeta Lal

India prepares to confront China in East Vietnam Sea (East sea)

Indian Navy Chief Admiral D.K. Joshi’s recent comment that India will protect its interests in the East Sea by “sending forces” if need be, has created consternation in the region and added to the tensions generated by the countries already laying claim to various parts of the sea.

“When the requirement is there, for example, in situations where our country’s interests are involved…we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that,” Joshi told a news conference. “Now, are we preparing for it? Are we having exercises of that nature? The short answer is yes.”

The admiral’s statements are regarded as an expression of Delhi’s newfound resolve to act as a serious regional ‘balancer’ and underscores a growing appetite to expand its footprint in a region that hitherto has been viewed as outside its core interests. At the moment, the equation between the two navies is vastly in China’s favor, with the Indian navy possessing140-plus warships compared with 750 for the Chinese, whose navy is not only far bigger but more sophisticated.

“The East Sea is Asia’s most politically volatile spot, said political scientist Vipin Bhambri of Jawaharlal Nehru University. “It is also rich in oil and gas – and more than half the world’s oil-tanker traffic passes through it. The region’s salience makes it tough for Asian nations to overlook any frisson of development in its waters,”

China has reacted with uncharacteristic reserve. Asked about Admiral Joshi’s comments this week, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry told the media, “China opposes unilateral oil and gas development in disputed waters of the East Sea. We hope that concerned countries respect China’s position and rights, and respect efforts made through bilateral talks to resolve disputes.”

Despite this veneer of restraint, however, there’s no denying that regional dynamics are increasingly complicated in the area with parts of East Sea also being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. Against this backdrop, China’s recent decision to empower the police in the Hainan province, which administers the East Sea for China, to intercept foreign ships and seize vessels in sea’s disputed waters from 1 January has considerably ratcheted up the tension. According to the rules, the police can take necessary measures to stop international ships or “to force them into changing or reversing course.”



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