India ramps up engagement with Vietnam in oil sector

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India today decided to ramp up its engagement with Vietnam in the oil sector and is assessing whether to explore hydrocarbons in five new blocks that have been offered, a move that could rile China which has publicly asked New Delhi to keep off the disputed South China Sea.

The Indian desire to deepen its ties with Vietnam, especially in the oil sector, was conveyed to the top leadership here by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

"External Affairs Minister mentioned that India is already engaged and is committed to continue cooperation with Vietnam (in oil sector) and also is looking to expand its cooperation with Vietnam in this sector," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

He said both sides also discussed "briefly" the five oil blocks which Vietnam had offered to India during the visit of Secretary General of Vietnamese Communist party Nguyen Phu Trong, last November.

"OVL (ONGC Videsh Limited) is looking at them in terms of their feasibility and there is in touch to see how to proceed further," he said.

Asked if the new oil blocks are situated in the disputed territory of South China Sea, Akbaruddin said, "These have to be assessed. These are, according to Vietnam, within their domain."

Swaraj's visit to Vietnam comes just days after Hanoi renewed India's lease of two oil blocks in South China Sea for another year.

China and Vietnam have an acrimonious relationship due to their standoff over the South China Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons.

China has been objecting any activity in South China Sea region including Indian oil exploration as it has territorial disputes with some ASEAN countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines.

Terming the South China Sea as a disputed region, China had in March 2012 warned India to refrain from undertaking oil exploration in the resource-rich Vietnamese blocks in order to ensure "peace and stability" in the area.

"The area is disputed one. So we do not think that it would be good for India to do (explore oil) that," then Deputy Director General of Asian Department in China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sun Weidong had said.

Earlier in February this year, a Chinese government think-tank researcher had warned India against participation in oil projects with Vietnamese government on the disputed islands of the South China Sea.

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