India’s Navy chief, Admiral D.K. Joshi, on Monday indicated a hardened stance towards the increasingly belligerent attitude adopted by China and its navy over jurisdiction over the South China Sea, saying the Indian Navy was prepared to protect the oilfields of the Indian ONGC. While calling the modernization of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ‘truly impressive’ and a ‘major, major concern for us’, he said, “When the requirement is there – for example in situations where our country’s interests are involved – ONGC, ONGC Videsh etc, we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that.”
Now are we preparing for it – are we having exercises of that nature? The short answer is yes.”
Referring to the three oil blocks that India’s state oil and gas exploration company, ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation), was exploring in the South China Sea, Joshi said, “Our country has economic interests in that area. ONGC Videsh is engaged in three blocks in the maritime zone of a country (Vietnam) in that area. Production has already started in one of those three blocks. And as I’ve said before, the Indian Navy has a mandate to secure our country’s interests in the maritime domain, wherever there is a requirement, which we will execute.”
If the navy were not to protect the nation’s sovereign interests, then what are we there for?”
Admiral Joshi emphasized freedom of navigation to be a priority interest for India in the ‘complex’ situation in the South China Sea, at the annual Navy Day press conference on Monday.
“We would like the international regime under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea) to remain uninterrupted over there. Freedom of navigation is not stand-alone – it is a derivative. The maritime zones outlined in the international regime – what are territorial waters, what is an exclusive economic zone – these should be followed on the basis of international norms. So freedom of navigation over there is our primary concern and it’s a concern for the whole world, not just us.”
Authorities in China’s Hainan island recently announced an assumption of the right to board and search foreign vessels ‘illegally’ entering what they consider to be Chinese waters. Countries littoral to the South China Sea have protested the move.
Referring to the Indian Navy’s rules of engagement in the event of a challenge from the PLAN in South China Sea, Joshi said, “We do not hope and expect that a situation would come where an issue of engagement comes into play. Secondly, rules of engagement are constant. They are not – they do not change from one area to the other.”
And in essence, it is wherever your right of self-defense – if it is impeded into, there are certain options provided.”
China had recently sparked a row with neighboring countries with which it has disputes over land or maritime borders when it began issuing new passports with maps that marked disputed territory as its own. In India’s case, it had marked the Aksai Chin region, which it occupies, and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of its own territory. India has since responded by stamping visas on Chinese passports with a map outlining the official territory of India.