A Chinese warship confronted an Indian naval vessel shortly after it left Vietnamese waters on July 22 in the disputed South China Sea. This is the first such reported encounter between the navy’s of the two countries in the region. The unidentified Chinese warship demanded that the India’s INS Airawat, an amphibious assault vessel, identify itself and explain its presence in the South China Sea, Financial Times reported.
The London-based paper said that the Indian warship was in international waters after completing a scheduled port call in Vietnam.
It termed the actions of the Chinese warship as the latest example of Beijing's assertiveness which had irked India and Vietnam. China claims South China Sea in its entirety, rejecting claims by other nations like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan over the resource rich region.
The paper said that the Vietnamese foreign ministry has acknowledged that the Indian warship had visited the country from July 19 to 22 but said it had no information about the incident.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently condemned acts of intimidation in international waters in an apparent reference to mounting tensions in the South China Sea.
A Pentagon report last week had said China was rapidly building up its surface and underwater naval capabilities as it places growing priority on securing shipping lanes and mineral rich areas in South China Sea.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaox, sought to obfuscate the issue by saying that inquiries have been made with the “competent authorities” about the reported incident but so far no information has been received. China has “not received any representation from any other country”, he said, implying that no protest has been received from India.
A statement released by the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi said, “INS Airawat, paid a friendly visit to Vietnam between July 19 and 28. On July 22, INS Airawat sailed from the Vietnamese port of Nha Trang towards Hai Phong, where it was to make a port call.
“At a distance of 45 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast in the South China Sea, it was contacted on open radio channel by a caller identifying himself as the ‘Chinese Navy’ stating that ‘you are entering Chinese waters’. No ship or aircraft was visible from INS Airawat, which proceeded on her onward journey as scheduled.”