Amid China tensions, Southeast Asia looks to India

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"It's not something that cannot be resolved, it is certainly not something in which we are directly involved, we've said categorically that there should be compliance and respect for the law of the sea."

But India's "Look East" policy and a need to lock down energy supplies for its rapidly growing industrial sector are pushing it to gradually step up military activities in the region with more joint exercises and visits.

This month, India's navy chief said his force was ready to deploy naval vessels to the South China Sea to protect its oil-exploration interests there if needed.

India is exploring an oil and gas block with Vietnam in the disputed waters and in future is likely to bring more liquefied natural gas through the Malacca Straits. Khurshid said that along with counter-terrorism, energy security was among India's top foreign policy priorities.

"We have become far more resource orientated because development is of course heavily dependent on resources. We import 80 percent of our fuel," Khurshid said.

Ian Storey, senior fellow of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said India had yet to impress many ASEAN partners, despite strong ties to Vietnam,

"India is not a serious player in Southeast Asia, it has aspirations to be a player, but it has a long way to go," he said.

"A common view is that India talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk."

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