NEW DELHI: Vietnam has renewed India’s lease of two oil blocks in the South China Sea for another year, on the eve of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s first visit to Hanoi next week. The move reaffirms India’s position as a continuing commercial stakeholder in a region where territorial disputes between southeast Asian nations and China have flared up recently.
Swaraj will travel up to China for a meeting of the almost irrelevant Russia-India-China grouping. before having bilateral meetings with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. The meeting is part of the preparation for Chinese premier Xi Jinping’s visit here in mid September.
The oil blocks, 128, have little commercial value because the Indian entity, OVL had concluded there is little prospect of striking oil in that area. After India gave up the blocks in 2012, Vietnam persuaded India to stay on to explore further. That lease expired this year and has just been renewed. India clearly remains there because it believes it has strategic interests in the South China Sea. India maintains the importance of free lanes of navigation and access to resources. It also gives India a very good reason to keep a naval presence there. Indian naval vessels run goodwill visits in all the countries affected by China’s expansionist foreign policy.