Amid standoff with China in South China Sea, Vietnam seeks India’s support

Amid Hanoi’s continuing South China Sea standoff with Beijing, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn is expected to meet India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in Bangkok and apprise him of latest developments in the fraught situation.

Vietnam’s Deputy PM is likely to seek India’s support for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the right to explore energy in its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Issues relating to freedom of South China Sea and freedom of navigation are expected to be high on the agenda of a series of ASEAN ministerial meetings in Bangkok on August 1-2.

Mr Jaishankar will co-chair the 10th MGC Ministerial Meeting with Vietnam’s Deputy PM in Bangkok on August 1 and discuss enhanced cooperation under the MGC framework. He will co-chair the ASEAN-India Ministerial Meeting with his Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai and also exchange views on important regional and international issues and on ways and means of further strengthening the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership.

The continuing South China Sea standoff with China has led Vietnam to start a diplomatic outreach to its key friends and partners in the region, including India.

Vietnam has already briefed India’s foreign office on latest developments regarding the activities of Chinese vessels in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and sought New Delhi’s support for its position, said Vietnamese diplomatic sources.

“We have briefed the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) about the incident. We are waiting for an official statement,” said well-placed diplomatic sources. They appealed for a vocal stand by India on the issue in view of New Delhi’s growing global profile and stature. India is emerging as a major global and regional player, and hence should take a clear-cut stand on the issue, especially as it has direct commercial stakes in the South China Sea, said sources.

Vietnamese diplomats pointed out that India has direct commercial stakes in the current South China Sea standoff as it is partnering with Vietnam and Russia in oil exploration in this area. Besides, more than 50 per cent of India’s maritime trade passes through the South China Sea.

The Southern Vietnam Maritime Safety Assurance Corporation issued a notice this week, saying the Hakuryu-5 rig’s operations – a joint venture with Russia – would be extended from July 30 until September 15. The notice also urged vessels to stay away from the rig as a matter of safety.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, however, has accused Vietnam of violating China’s sovereign rights to Vanguard Bank since May. “China has already expressed its stance and is keeping in touch with the Vietnamese side,” she told reporters in Beijing. “We call on Vietnam to properly handle the incident.”

Vietnam has made it clear to China that only a withdrawal by Chinese vessels can end the crisis. Vietnam resolvedly and consistently safeguards its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the East Sea as defined in the 1982 UNCLOS through peaceful means based on international law, said Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang.