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India tries to mediate the South China Sea conflict

May 17, 2012
“Too many dragons, too much noise.” That is how one Chinese scholar explained constant friction in the South China Sea to the Financial Times. The South China Sea is a region hotly contested for by China and which shares territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei primarily because it is one of the most important shipping routes and largest underwater reservoirs of oil and gas
India and China ran into turbulent waters last september when India’s state oil company ONGC was caught in a tropical storm together with the government of Vietnam which was jointly exploring the South China Sea for oil. Now its the Philippines turn to run rough waters with the Middle Kingdom.  In a seemingly strange twist, the Foreign Ministry of India has ostensibly decided to intervene and resolve issues faced by the South China Sea. Inchin Closer takes a look up the periscope get a clearer picture on why  India is sitting the warring parties down for an amicable chat.

Trouble, which had been brewing for a while, flared up last April when the Philippines accused Chinese fishing vessels at Scarborough Shoal of containing illegal fish and coral, leading to a drastic marring of relations between the two. Scarborough Shoal is understandably a bone of contention, spanning about 800 kilometres south of China and over 160 kilometres west of the Philippines and claimed by both countries. Having being tipped off that eight Chinese ships were supposedly involved in illegal fishing, the Filipino navy sent a war ship to investigate, not aware of the repercussions of their choice of naval vessel. Despite the Filipino navy’s attempts at clarifying that the only reason for sending the warship was the absence of any other vessel closer to the shoal, China perceived this as a hostile move. China maintains its stand that the Shoal, and by extension, the entire South China Sea, inherently belongs to China.  As conditions worsened, the Philippines announced a two month ban on fishing last Wednesday in response to China’s fishing ban around the Huangyan Island area, and on Friday, India announced its intention of mediating between the two. The Times of India reports that India has officially released an “unusual” statement on the conflict: “Maintenance of peace and security in the region is of vital interest to the international community. India urges both countries to exercise restraint and resolve the issue diplomatically according to principles of international law.”

So, why is India putting in its two cents? The answer is simple -oil. The strain between the South China Sea nations exists primarily over resources and their control. According to a study, the area contains approximately 80 percent of Saudi Arabia’s established oil reserves. BP has also estimated that natural gas reserves here are five times more than those now identified in the US. India has long been a contender for oil by virtue of having several companies concerned with the exploration of oil and natural gas.

Additionally, India has diplomatically decided to keep parity with Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, all of whom are in individual disputes with China. The resolve is to protect India’s future supply of natural resources, while yet underpinning the growing dominance of China in the region. As China and India consume 1/3rd the world’s energy by 2035, the need for energy security will rise, tensions are expected to increase further in the South China Sea, as Asia’s growing economic powerhouses become stronger, demand more oil and seek to asset themselves.

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