India is trying to extend its influence over the disputed South China Sea by exploring the possibility of setting up a tsunami early warning system for the region — something that China has reportedly also been working on. India’s system would provide South China Sea littoral states such as Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia with early alerts in the case of a tsunami — high waves caused by a quake in the sea that can cause unmitigated damage.
China’s tsunami warning centre in the region was expected to start trial operations this year, its official news agency, Xinhua, reported from Beijing in March.
M Rajeevan, secretary in the Ministry of Earth Sciences, said India already had a system in place to provide tsunami warnings to south-east and south Asian nations.
“India is the chairperson of RIMES (Regional Integrated Multi-hazard Early Warning System for Asia and Africa). We are also a major contributor in terms of resources. So we are exploring the possibility of having a tsunami early warning system in the South China Sea,” Rajeevan said.
India also has economic interests in the disputed waters, especially in offshore oil exploration, along with Vietnam’s PetroVietnam. With China claiming the Spratly archipelago in the sea as its own, India’s role in the region acquires greater significance.
Rajeevan, however, clarified that the project had no official sanction yet. “If the project materialises then the alerts will be provided through RIMES and will benefit nations such as Vietnam and Thailand,” he said.
The Xinhua report quoted a member of the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Centre as saying that issuing tsunami alerts to the international community was an “important” move for China for regional marine cooperation and global ocean governance.
The significance of the region for India was highlighted by External Affairs Minister V K Singh who said, in a written response to a question in Rajya Sabha on February 2, that over 55 per cent of India’a trade passed through the South China Sea and the Malacca Straits.
“India undertakes various activities, including cooperation in the oil and gas sector, with the littoral states of the South China Sea,” Singh said, stressing that stability in the region was of “great significance” to India.