Despite India getting out of oil exploration blocks in the South China Sea, the navy is keen to maintain a strong role for itself in the South China Sea.
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Four Indian Navy warships, INS Rana, Shakti, Shivalik and Kurmak are currently moving across the South China Sea and are on their way to Shanghai, where they will dock at Shanghai port for a goodwill visit in a couple of weeks. At the same time, two of the four ships, INS Rana and Shakti have been mingling with the Philippines navy in Subic Bay. Two other warships, INS Shivalik and INS Kurmak, are making port calls at Haifong in Vietnam.
In the recent past, Philippines and China have locked guns over each other over territorial rights on Scarborough Shoal. The area is believed to be extremely energy-rich.
In the next couple of days, 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. ONGC had entered into an energy agreement with the Vietnamese company during the visit of Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang to India in October 2011.
India is believed to have paid a $15 million exit fee to Petro Vietnam for getting out of the block.
But despite India’s pull out from the oil block, the navy continues to have a strong interest in the South China Sea, because it is key to India’s Look East policy. In July 2012, Indian and US officials will hold discussions on a key project in southeast Asia. The project is about further developing East-West Mekong connectivity corridors. The project is envisaged as a trilateral project with Japan. This project intends to set up a multi-modal transport and trade corridor from India, traversing through Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and ending in Vietnam. Japan has recently stepped up it’s funding commitments to this corridor.
However, China is much ahead with it’s own connectivity plans and these run north-south and has done much to put a grid of connectivity in the Mekong region in southeast Asia.
On June 6, India’s foreign minister S. M. Krishna will travel to Beijing to represent India as an observer at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting.
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