Energy Interests Make India a Player in South China Sea Disputes

Energy Interests Make India a Player in South China Sea Disputes

On India’s Navy Day in December, Indian Chief of Naval Staff D.K. Joshi declared that the Indian navy was prepared to operate in the South China Sea if called upon to do so. The government subsequently downplayed Joshi’s remarks, but the fact remains that the South China Sea has emerged as a vital sea corridor for India, with more than half the country’s trade currently passing through it. The security of the South China Sea will grow even more important to New Delhi in the years to come as India looks to link itself to East Asian supply chains and Indian energy imports through the corridor grow.

Speaking at a conference in New Delhi last month, Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said that the country’s energy requirements were growing at a “terrifying pace.” He further observed that if India continued to grow at its current rate of 8-9 percent, its energy import dependence would also increase dramatically. Khurshid projected that India would be importing up to 57 percent of its coal, 94 percent of its oil and 57 percent of its gas within the next two decades, compared to 15 percent for coal, 80 percent for oil and 15-18 percent for gas currently. India now imports 70 percent of its oil and 80 percent of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the Middle East. But given recent instability in that region, there is a sense of urgency in India about pursuing more diverse sourcing options.

These will include supplies from the Russian Arctic and Far East and the Pacific coast of North America as well as fields in the South China Sea itself. All of these sources will depend on freedom of navigation on the high seas. To secure that freedom, India will require greater coordination with Japan as well as some kind of understanding with China.

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