An influential Communist Party-run newspaper on Friday called on the Chinese government to use “every means possible” to stop the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh from going ahead with exploration projects in the South China Sea, warning India that any deal with Vietnam would amount to a “serious political provocation” that would “push China to the limit.”
“China should resolutely stop [ONGC] from pursuing this course of action,” said the Global Times, a widely-read popular tabloid known for its nationalist views, in a lead editorial. “Reasoning may be used first, but if India is persistent in this, China should try every means possible to stop this cooperation from happening.”
Even as Chinese officials on Friday sought to play down the row with India over projects in the South China Sea, the Communist Party-run paper hit out at the Indian government for testing “China's will”, saying that although China was “sincere” about its peaceful rise, “it will not give up the right to use other means to protect its interest.”
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials had said they were opposed to any project in the disputed South China Sea, without directly referring to India. Officials said they would not comment on the matter on Friday.
The Global Times editorial described the deal between ONGC and Vietnam as reflecting India's rising ambitions, and a likely Indian move to “counter China's behaviour in the Indian Ocean,”
“Chinese society has already been indignant about India's intervention in the Dalai [Lama] problem,” the editorial said. “India should bear in mind that its actions in the South China Sea will push China to the limit.”
“China cherishes the Sino-Indian friendship, but this does not mean China values it above all else.”
A lead editorial in the Global Times, a Party-run paper, cannot be published without the approval of the Communist Party's Propaganda Department. The paper is, however, known to represent the views of more hard-line voices within the party.
The editorial reflected a popular sentiment among nationalist voices in the Communist Party, who have been increasingly calling for China to take a more assertive position in its diplomacy.
“We should not leave the world with the impression that China is only focused on economic development, nor should we pursue the reputation of being a “peaceful power,” which would cost us dearly,” the editorial said.
“China has been peaceful for so long that some countries doubt whether it will stick to its stated bottom line. China should remind them of how clear this line really is.” The editorial added that China should, however, “remain calm” and not take “rash actions”.
The Global Times has, in the past, run editorials hitting out at the Indian government. Chinese Foreign Ministry officials have often stressed that the paper, known to represent the views of more nationalist voices in the Party, did not speak for the government, and have privately criticised the paper for causing strains in relations and not taking a more “moderate” line.
For instance, in December, days ahead of Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to New Delhi, which Chinese officials had framed as an opportunity to draw a line over recent differences, the Global Times published an editorial, written by a General of The People's Liberation Army (PLA), calling on China to take a more aggressive line in its foreign policy.
China, the article said, needed to recover territory “looted by neighbours” - if necessary, by force....
( To be read in continuation of my article of September 2,2011, titled “INS Airavat Incident: What does it Portend?” at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers47/paper4677.html )
China has reacted ---moderately through a spokesperson of its Foreign Office and somewhat virulently through the Party-controlled “Global Times”--- to reports that India has been considering an offer from Vietnam to award oil and gas exploration bids over two blocks in the South China Sea to India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL). These blocks presently come under the de facto control of Vietnam, which also claims de jure sovereignty over the blocks under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982.
2. Vietnamese claims of de jure sovereignty have been rejected by China, but accepted by India as would be evident from the following reported comment of a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India : “The Chinese had concerns but we are going by what the Vietnamese authorities have told us and have conveyed this to the Chinese.”
3. The Chinese spokesperson, without referring to India by name, has stated as follows: “ China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the island. China's stand is based on historical facts and international law. China's sovereign rights and positions are formed in the course of history and this position has been held by Chinese Government for long.On the basis of this China is ready to engage in peaceful negotiations and friendly consultations to peacefully solve the disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights so as to positively contribute to peace and tranquillity in the South China Sea area. We hope that the relevant countries respect China's position and refrain from taking unilateral action to complicate and expand the issue. We hope they will respect and support countries in the region to solve the bilateral disputes through bilateral channels. As for oil and gas exploration activities, our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China's jurisdiction.We hope the foreign countries do not get involved in South China Sea dispute.”
4. The “Global Times” (September 16 ), which does not necessarily represent the views of the Chinese Government and reflects more the views of conservative sections in the Communist Party of China, has been less measured in its comments and has talked of the need to confront the Indian move more vigorously.
5. As I had pointed out in my article cited above, there are two issues involved in the so-called South China Sea dispute.The first is its status as international and not Chinese waters and the second is the conflicting claims of sovereignty made by China, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries in the region over the island territories found in the Sea.
6. The US has so far been following a policy of rejecting Chinese claims of sovereignty over the entire Sea while not getting involved in the various disputes over the claims of sovereignty over the island territories. Indian policy closely converged with that of the US. It rejected the Chinese projection of the Sea as a whole as Chinese waters. It took steps to develop its strategic relations with Vietnam. It asserted the rights of the ships of the Indian Navy to transit the South China Sea during their visits to Vietnamese ports without the need to inform China beforehand or ask for Chinese permission.
7. At the same time, India rightly observed a nuanced silence on the dispute over the island territories. Now, for the first time, India is seeking to take a position on the island territories under the de facto control of Vietnam by accepting Vietnamese claims of de jure sovereignty over them.
8. This is a position with inherent seeds of an undesirable military confrontation between India and China in the South China Sea itself and subsequently or simultaneously across the land borders between the two countries. India is still in the process of strengthening its military-related infrastructure near the Chinese border. In my assessment, it will take India from five to 10 years to bring its infrastructure on par with that of China in Tibet.
9.The reach and strength of the Indian Navy in the South China Sea is far behind that of the US. The US is in a position to engage China in a naval confrontation in the South China Sea, but it realises that such a confrontation could be counter-productive. That is why it has been observing a neutral stand on the island territories.
10. The implications of the reported Indian move to accept Vietnamese claims of sovereignty and to consider favourably the Vietnamese invitation to undertake oil and gas exploration do not appear to have been carefully considered by the Government of India. China has been opposing with determination repeated Vietnamese moves to undertake explorations for natural resources around the island territories under its de facto control. It is likely to oppose any move by the Indian company to undertake exploration in the area.
11. We have seen that Vietnam has not been able to counter effectively Chinese disruptions of its exploration activities. It will not be able to provide adequate protection to the Indian company. Will we be able to keep a permanent presence of the Indian Navy in the area to protect the operations of the Indian company? Will it be able to counter Chinese attempts to disrupt the operations of the Indian company?
12. The ultimate result may be a confrontation with China in the seas adjacent to the Chinese mainland which India cannot hope to win and an over-all deterioration in Sino-Indian relations at a time when India is not yet prepared for a full-blown confrontation with China.
13. Some analysts have projected the Indian move as a tit-for-tat response to Chinese troops moving into the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistani occupation to assist Pakistan in the development of its infrastructure in an area over which India claims sovereignty.
14. The Gilgit-Baltistan area is legitimately ours. The Chinese have no business to be there. We have many options for countering them and for making their foray into the area prohibitively costly and bloody for them. Instead of identifying those options and undertaking them, we should not try to confront the Chinese in the South China Sea, which is not India’s cup of tea....