India's state-run oil firm ONGC plans to press ahead with long-term partner Vietnam in exploring the disputed South China Sea for oil, shrugging off complaints by China, a report said Thursday.
ONGC has accepted Vietnam's proposal to maintain its investment in Block 128, as Hanoi has offered additional data to help make future exploration economically feasible, Dow Jones Newswires said.
The move marks a reversal of India's position as the country's junior oil minister R.P.N. Singh said in May ONGC had decided to return Block 128 to Vietnam.
India's decision could rile China, which has repeatedly said it has "indisputable sovereignty" over essentially all of the mineral and fuel-rich South China Sea, a key trading route.
But India insists the area ONGC wishes to explore is well within Vietnam's territorial waters.
India, worried about encirclement by Chinese interests in the South Asian region, has been cooperating with Vietnam since the early 1990s as part of its "Look East policy" aimed at expanding ties with its eastern neighbours.
Vietnam's offer to India comes after China National Offshore Oil Corp. in June offered for bidding nine blocks in the South China Sea for joint exploration with foreign companies, including parts of Block 128.
Vietnam says Block 128 is inside its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone granted under the United Nations' Law of the Sea.
PetroVietnam has urged China to cancel the bidding for the blocks, saying they are in Vietnamese waters and has called on foreign companies not to take part, Dow Jones said.