With India still locked in a military standoff with China, Vietnam‘s ambassador to India Pham Sanh Chau briefed Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla about the deteriorating security situation in South China Sea (SCS) following Beijing‘s deployment of fighter aircraft and a bomber in disputed islands.
While it was described as a courtesy call by diplomatic sources, the meeting saw the ambassador sharing Vietnam’s position with Shringla on the latest flare up in the region and also expressing his country’s determination to advance “strong Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” with India.
China deployed its H-6J bomber earlier this month to the Woody Island, the largest of the disputed Paracel Islands, to allow PLA, according to Chinese state media, to suppress US military activities in the region. Global Times quoted experts to say that it will act as a “huge deterrence” to US aircraft carriers.
Vietnam, which also claims the Paracels, responded to the move saying that it didn’t just violate its sovereignty but also “jeopardised” the situation in the area.
The two officials in the meeting discussed recent developments related to growing Chinese assertiveness. Apart from expanding its defence ties with India, Vietnam has also sought greater role for India in exploring oil and gas blocks off its coast in SCS, despite opposition from China, saying that the area falls in its exclusive economic zone.
India had earlier helped Vietnam purchase patrol boats with a $ 100 million Line of Credit (LOC). It announced another $ 500 million LOC for Hanoi to help it procure more defence equipment from India.
While the US has accused China of treating SCS as its “maritime empire”, India too reiterated its position last month that it stands firmly for the “freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in these international waterways, in accordance with international law, notably UNCLOS”. India has also said SCS is a part of global commons and that it has an “abiding interest” in peace and stability there.
Just as India has accused China of unilaterally changing the status quo at LAC, Vietnam and other claimants accuse Beijing of doing the same in SCS with its construction of artificial islands and installation of military equipment in the region.