Thursday, September 15, 2011

All At Sea

Two weeks ago, the press reported about an alleged confrontation between the INS Airavat and an un-named Chinese "warship" in the South China sea.

An MEA statement on the matter said "India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea... These principles should be respected by all."
Today, China upped the ante. A foreign ministry spokesman said "I would like to reaffirm that China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the island."

So why now? India's foreign minister is in Vietnam to negotiate an agreement on oil exploration. Vietnam and China both claim the portion of the South China Sea where the oil blocks are located.

There are three options here. India and Vietnam could make a joint petition to the relevant international authority so the matter can be settled legally. The second is for India & Vietnam to stake their claim by force. The third is to back off and find oil somewhere else.

I've argued - half-jokingly - that a good response to China's aggression would be for India to send a Carrier Group on a 'friendly tour' of East Asia. This awesome hard-power ambassador would send a fitting message to Beijing. First because China's aggression and claims are maritime. More importantly however, China's carrier program is still in its infancy. Thus, its ability to project matching power isn't as great. 

China is in a precarious position. Vietnam isn't the only East Asian country it has a maritime dispute with. Several countries - Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand - have mutual defence treaties with the U.S. Chinese aggression against one of them will spread fear across the region. Already, Indonesia and Vietnam have begun joint-patrolling of the area to stave off Chinese advances. It won't take much more for one of these countries to invoke their respective treaty if attacked. 

China knows this. India should realise that China knows this and call its bluff. B. Raman has (as always) more excellent, analysis here.

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