The standoff between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea is heating up, and India, because it has two oil blocks in the area, could find itself caught in the crossfire. Vietnamese diplomatic sources said that on August 13, Chinese ships entered its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), one or two of the vessels close to where one of India's two oil blocks is. This is the second time recently that the Chinese have entered the area, the sources said. The first stretch was between July 3 and August 7.
The sources said they have informed Indian government officials about the 'threat' to the oil blocks. This time, there are 20 Chinese ships in the EEZ in different places -- eight Coast Guard ships, two survey vessels and ten fishing boats. There were more ships in the Vietnamese EEZ in July, but this time, there appears to be more Chinese military aircraft activity. Like India, Russia also has oil blocks in the area.
They said the Chinese withdrew the previous time after protests all over the world but the recent arrival is an added concern. The Chinese ships and planes, they added, have come from the artificial islands the Chinese have built in the area. Similar intrusions also happened in 2011 and 2014. China says that the area where its ships are placed is part of its EEZ.
This confrontation could be a headache for India, keeping in mind India's close ties with Vietnam. With China, after the Doklam face-off, ties have been slowly improving. The Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, went to Wuhan for a meeting with Mr. Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader. Now, Mr Xi is expected to visit India later this year. Can India take tough measures before the visit? That is yet to be decided.
What India will do now-- wait till the visit is over (it is yet to be announced) or adopt a muscular approach by sending warships on their way to other ASEAN countries for a port-call in Saigon or some other port or do something in between -- remains to be seen. Currently, Saigon has taken the diplomatic initiative and has spoken with Chinese diplomats about 30 times in recent weeks, Vietnamese diplomatic sources said. But the tensions remain.