New Delhi, Dec 3 (IANS) Against the backdrop of Beijing's assertiveness in South China Sea, India's navy chief in a tough message Monday said the rapid modernisation of the Chinese Navy is a "major, major cause for concern" and declared support for an Indian firm's oil interest in the contested waters.
Navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi Monday robustly defended freedom of navigation and underlined that the force was ready to protect the country's assets in the maritime domain.
The navy chief's remarks came on a day when National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon is in Beijing to hold talks with China's influential state councillor Dai Bingguo, Beijing's chief pointsperson for boundary talks.
"The modernisation (of Chinese Navy) is truly impressive... It is actually a major, major cause of concern for us, which we continuously evaluate and work out our options and our strategies," Admiral Joshi told reporters here at the Navy Day press conference.
With an assertive China flexing its muscles in South China Sea, he also stressed that the Indian Navy will protect ONGC Videsh's investments in oil blocks off the coast of Vietnam.
"Our primary concern is freedom of navigation. The ONGC also has blocks in the South China Sea. The navy is here to protect our interests in the maritime domain," he said.
"The South China Sea is a complex issue. We are not a direct party. No territorial interest is there for us," Joshi told reporters here to queries about recent Chinese activities in the South China Sea.
"In certain sectors ONGC Videsh has certain interests. It has energy exploration blocks, three in number, and since it is an area of Indian interest the Indian Navy, should there be a need, would stand by," he said.
"Not that we expect to be in those waters very, very frequently, but when the requirement is there for situations where the country's interests are involved, for example ONGC Videsh, we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that.
"Are we holding exercises for that nature? The short answer is 'yes'."
Joshi also underlined that disputes over freedom of navigation and territory within the South China Sea must be resolved within the ambit of international treaties.
"Not only us, but everyone is of the view that they have to be resolved by the parties concerned, aligned with the international regime, which is outlined in UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), that is our first requirement," he said.
China's massive military build-up in recent years has evoked much concern among strategic circles in India.
"The accretion of trans-border military capability by China is a matter of legitimate concern for India," C. Uday Bhaskar, a strategic expert at the Society for Policy Studies, a think tank, told IANS.
Bhaskar stressed that while China does not pose an immediate threat to India's interests, the Chinese modernisation needs to be monitored carefully.
China's military budget has recorded a major upswing, ansd has officially touched $106 billion in 2012.
With an evolving strategic environment on mind, Joshi focused on scaling up the Indian Navy's capabilities and spurring the modernisation of the naval infrastructure to meet a host of challenges.
"Modernisation and enhancement of the Navy's capabilities is an ongoing process, to meet emerging maritime challenges/threats. These include aircraft carriers, stealth frigates, destroyers, corvettes, amphibious ships and submarines."
"The Indian Navy would also be inducting state-of-the-art aircraft and helicopters to augment our surveillance and integral aviation capabilities," he said.