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May 24, 2012

Four Navy ships in South China Sea to mark Indian presence


Despite getting out of oil exploration blocks in the South China Sea, India is keen to maintain a strong role for itself in the region.

Four Indian Navy ships, INS Rana, Shakti, Shivalik and Kurmak are currently scudding across the South China Sea on their way to Shanghai, where they will arrive for a goodwill visit in a couple of weeks. This week, two of the four ships -- INS Rana and Shakti -- have been saying hello to the Philippines navy in Subic Bay. Two others, Shivalik and Kurmak, are calling at Haifong in Vietnam. Philippines and China have been on a faceoff in the past few weeks over territorial rights over Scarborough Shoal, in an area that is believed to be energy-rich.

Meanwhile, on May 28, officials from ONGC Videsh (OVL) will meet their counterparts from Petro Vietnam in Hanoi to look at energy cooperation after OVL pulled out from Block 128 in South China Sea. The joint cooperation committee was set up as part of the energy agreement during the visit of Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang to India in October 2011.

The Indians have paid a $15 million exit fee to Petro Vietnam for getting out of the block. The energy body was initially intended to explore ways of getting OVL the BP stake in South China Sea. As it turned out, the stake went to BP's Russia arm.

But sources said India continues to have a strong interest in South China Sea, because this is key to India's Look East policy. In July, Indian and US officials will hold discussions on a key project in southeast Asia -- an East-West Mekong connectivity corridor. Envisaged as a trilateral project with Japan, this project intends to set up a multi-modal transport and trade corridor from India, traversing Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, ending in Vietnam. Japan has recently stepped up its funding commitments to this corridor.

However, China is much ahead with its own connectivity plans -- although these run north-south -- and has done much to put a grid of connectivity in the Mekong region in southeast Asia.

Apart from naval exercises, India and China are stepping on the gas diplomatically as well. On June 6, foreign minister S M Krishna will travel to Beijing to represent India as an observer at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting. This year, with the prospective presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad at the conference, India will have a chance to interact with China on Iran. 


Times of India

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