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How can India help Vietnam in the disputed South China Sea ?

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The South China Sea in the Western Pacific Ocean has become one of the most conflicted zones of the world.

China is trying every possible strategy to make this naval area a part of its domestic territorial water.

China has been increasingly assertive over its extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea and is trying to establish its sovereign rights over many ”disputed islands” in the region.

Competing claims for the South China Sea by countries such as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam have been rejected by China.

While China has a dispute with Indonesia regarding Natuna Islands, it also has a conflict with Vietnam about the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands are involved.

Its maximum extent of historical claims with the South China Sea are represented by the nine-dash line.

The South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade pass annually, is filled with natural as well as ecosystem resources and has geostrategic importance.

It has a reserve of 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil.

To counter China, Vietnam is increasing its dependency on India. The two countries had conducted a two-day passex drill in the South China Sea amid high tensions with Beijing.

It was the first drill conducted by India after the clash with Chinese troops in the Galwan valley where it lost about twenty of its military personnel.

Paracel Islands is a collection of ten small coral islands in the Northwestern part of the South China Sea. It is a rich fishing ground due to its abundant marine life. Experts believe their is a possibility that they are rich in energy reserves as well.

It was named by the Portuguese mapmakers in the 16th century. China has forcefully occupied it for over 45 years. 

There is no indigenous population on these islands to protest Beijing’s move. They are in fact filled with Chinese military garrisons, artificial harbours, and airfields.

Vietnam calls Paracel Islands a part of the Nguyen dynasty which ruled the country as per the maps in 1686.

Gia Long, the king of the Nguyen dynasty had formally annexed the islands in 1816 and established Vietnamese sovereignty over it.

However, China’s narrative differs and it claims that the islands have been under its control for over 2,000 years. The country calls them Xisha.

According to a statement issued by its foreign ministry, ”China has explored and discovered resources in the South China Sea before any other country and has thus, established its sovereignty over this region.

Territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea have become a challenge for the peace and security of the Indo-Pacific region.

In such a scenario, maintaining the South China Sea as a safe zone with time is becoming an important challenge for extra-regional countries such as India, the United States, and Australia which have formed the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) along with Japan to counter China.

Although India does not share a direct boundary in the South China Sea, it tries to maintain a rule-based order and freedom of navigation in the region.

It has increased its historical balanced approach and started to play a proactive role in this region.

India has revealed its vision to the world by changing its ‘Look East Policy’ into ‘Act East Policy.’

Last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised ”securing the interest” of other countries in the South China Sea during a virtual meeting his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

The Indian ministry of external affairs has stated clearly that the country wants a rule-based order under the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in this region.

India has expressed concern over a Chinese proposal for the region in which it wants to restrict any third-party military exercise.

It had released a bilateral document named ‘Vietnam Joint Vision for Peace, Prosperity, and People.’ In this document, both parties have emphasised on the effective implementation of the declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea.

It had sent a strong message that nations will not let anyone hamper the legitimate rights and interests in this region.

The joint statement of India and Vietnam also promoted significance of non-militarisation and self-restaurants in the South China Sea so that the situation in this region does not complicate further and maintain peace as well as stability.

Vietnam is an important country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which has severe disputes with China.

India and Vietnam have signed an agreement for oil exploration in the South China Sea.

India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Vietnam’s Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety department have signed an agreement regarding defence industry and nuclear cooperation.

It has also provided a grant of $5 million for the development of an army software park at the Nation Telecommunication University of Vietnam.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, India has assured to establish a reliable, efficient and resilient supply chains with Vietnam.

Vietnam’s health ministry has approved India’s Covaxin vaccine, made by Bharat Biotech, for emergency use.

Last year, India had handed over a high speed guard boat along with a defence line of credit of $100 million to Vietnam.

By  Vyomica Berry – – November 13, 2021

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