In an era where many in the international community regard China as the regional hegemon, few countries attempt to challenge China’s political and economic influences. But just last week, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung embarked on a state visit to India and conducted high-level talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As a result of these talks, India and Vietnam have strongly reaffirmed their political and economic relationship by signing a new security pact.
While inter-Asia relations are not usually an affront to China’s regional hegemony, the new pact between India and Vietnam targets an area of the world that is wrought with tensions – the South China Sea. The pact signed this week stated that India would invest USD $100 million in modernizing Vietnam’s security and defense sectors. Even more controversial, the agreement also confirmed that India would partner with Vietnam to develop oil exploration sectors in Vietnamese waters of the South China Sea.
To the international community, this new pact might not seem so inflammatory. But in the eyes of the Chinese government, it is an affront. The territorial conflict between China and Vietnam includes the waters in which India intends to aid in oil exploration endeavors. Within this territory is the archipelago of the Spratly Islands, which is currently claimed by China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Earlier this year, China made an aggressive action to reclaim the territory by implementing new construction projects on the islands in direct violation of a former agreement.
To China, the pact is a violation of its national sovereignty. In response, Hong Lei, a spokesman from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that China would accept joint oil explorations in undisputed waters. However, he went on to say that if India or Vietnam harmed China’s “sovereignty and interests” in any way, then the government would vehemently oppose the pact.
This development in Asian politics arises at an interesting time. Chinese President Xi Jinping conducted a state visit to India just last month, and made numerous mutually beneficial trade agreements with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During this official visit, both leaders affirmed their mutual support for both nations, and announced that they seek to improve political and economic relations between China and India.
Additionally, the Indo-Vietnamese pact has arisen while China and India are experiencing increased tensions along the Sino-Indian border. For the past few months, numerous clashes have occurred in the regions of Ladakh, Aksai Chin, and Arunachal Pradesh. While serious conflict has yet to break out, many in the international community fear that a reprise of 1962’s border war is imminent.
Overall, China sees the recent pact between Vietnam and India as a slight to its national sovereignty. As China continues to grow as a leader in Asia both economically and politically, the international community will have to adjust its actions accordingly. Although India and Vietnam are indeed within their rights to forge new economic ties, it will be interesting to see how China responds to these actions in the future.