India, China square off for sea fight

19/09/2011 11:17


India China sea.jpg
The oceans are the new battleground for India and China competition. While New Delhi plans to explore South China Sea, Beijing is eyeing the Indian Ocean.
NEW DELHI: The oceans are the new theatre of India-China competition, but one with possible security implications. 

Soon after India announced its decision to go ahead with oil exploration in South China Seawith Vietnam, China on Saturday said it would expand its exploration of 10,000 sq km of seabed in southwest Indian Ocean. This was announced as part of its 2011-2015 oceanic development policy. 

Xinhua, China's state run news agency, quoted China's head of oceanic development Liu Cigui as saying, "We will expand the depths and scope of oceanic research and improve our understanding of the ocean, with special focuses on the polar regions and deep sea environments." Liu, head of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), made the comments at a meeting on oceanic technology in Beijing on Friday. 

The Chinese intent would have security implications. India's Naval Hydrography Department, one of the best in the world, has done extensive work, mapping the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Sources said Indian hydrographers, with skills developed over the years, have perhaps the best knowledge in the world of the bottom of the ocean -- which would not only help mariners, but are invaluable resources for India's defence and strategic planning. 

On July 11, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) allowed exploration for polymetallic sulphides by China Ocean Minerals Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA). The development sent shockwaves across the Indian government. The thing is, India could have done any number of such exploratory activities. India has received exploratory rights by the ISA for a large number of blocks. But Indian inaction has meant that a number of these blocks have had to be surrendered to the ISA. India still retains a number of blocks in the Indian Ocean. India cannot object to China obtaining mining rights in the Indian Ocean, particularly as India has itself neglected its concessions. 

Obviously, keeping in mind China's swift moves into the Indian Ocean, the government last month released its surveys of the sea-bed on Indian territorial waters. The surveys by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) shows the presence of heavy deposits of ilmenite, rutile, zircon, sillimanite, monazite and garnet off the east coast, as well as off Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The GSI has also conducted reconnaissance surveys to identify potential areas for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) off Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

Meanwhile, China is getting ready to square off with India in the South China Sea. In an opinion piece in Xinhua, China asked India to wise up and "refrain" from moves in the South China Sea, where China retains "absolute sovereignty". "For countries outside the region, we hope they will respect and support countries in the region to solve this dispute through bilateral channels," the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said while responding to a question concerning ONGC's plans to explore in two offshore oil blocks in South China Sea.