ASEAN Regional Forum meeting at Myanmar gives hope to India

India has reason to cheer from the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meeting at Myanmarbeginning tomorrow with Philippines all set to present Triple Action Plan (TAP) to resolve territorial disputes involving few Southeast Asian countries and China in South China Sea (SCS) region where Delhi has significant oil investments.

Delhi, which has made clear that it will continue its presence in the oil blocks offered to it by Vietnam in the SCS region despite Beijing's pressure, would receive further boost by Philippines TAP at ARF on Aug 9-10. Besides all ten ASEAN countries, India, China, USA, Russia, Australia, Japan, South Korea EU, Pakistan and Bangladesh are among 27 members of the ARF that focuses on security in the region.

State-run ONGC Videsh Limited or OVL has a presence in Vietnam through 45 per cent and 100 per cent stakes in blocks 06.1 and 128 respectively. OVL has invested 46 million USD in Block 128 located in South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam. Last May despite China-Vietnam tensions over positioning of deep sea oil rig by Beijing in Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone, ONGC decided to continue exploration in Block 128.

Following the rig incident China-Vietnam relations touched lowest ebb and set off a wave of anti-China riots in Vietnam. Beijing, finally removed the oil rig last month and lowered the tensions in the region. Last year Philippines and China too had face-off over territorial claims.

Days ahead of China's move to position oil rig, Vietnam offered two more exploration blocks to state-run ONGC Videsh (OVL) in addition to the five already offered. All the blocks have been offered to the company without competitive bidding. Vietnam and India has a growing strategic and defence partnership amid China's territorial disputes with both countries. Officials view India-Vietnam partnership as part of efforts to increase Delhi's footprints in the periphery of China.

The TAP entails three-staged approaches to address the provocative and destabilizing activities in the region without prejudice to existing territorial claims, official sources told ET.

Coming in the backdrop of oil rig incident, the TAP's immediate approach calls for a moratorium on specific activities that escalate tensions in the SCS and maintaining status quo in the region which is home to vital shipping routes and has huge oil and gas deposits, sources informed.

Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei have already supported the TAP, sources said, adding, India has long been advocating freedom of navigation in the SCS in accordance with the international law. India had earlier declared that its Navy has reach in this region. Earlier this week Navy's warships made port calls in Vietnam on their way back from Japan.

Foreign ministers of Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam met informally in Myanmar's capital Nay Pyi Daw (venue of ARF meeting) late Thursday to reinforce a joint stance on the South China Sea. ASEAN emphasizes on a collective approach to deal with China over tensions in SCS.

Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam along with China and Taiwan, have conflicting claims to parts or all of the South China Sea. Tensions have risen in recent years as China has become more aggressive in enforcing its claims. China's withdrawal of the rig in mid-July removed an irritant but left a legacy of strained relations with Vietnam and raised questions among China's other neighbors about its long-term strategy.

The Economic Times