The South China Sea continues to bubble as the small fish in the sea summon bigger fish to counter the Chinese leviathan.

Vietnam has strengthened its ties with the United States and now the sub rosa ties between New Delhi and Hanoi are surfacing.

India has quietly been providing Vietnam with help in beefing up its naval and air capabilities. India is taking a more overt stance by accepting Vietnam's offer to conduct oil and gas explorations in waters claimed by China. Indian foreign minister SM Krishna told his Vietnam counterpart Pham Binh Minh that the Indian oil company OBGC Videsh will go ahead with the exploration despite the Chinese keep out warnings.

Some months ago China warned India to refrain from such projects in the region and to "respect and support countries in the region to solve this dispute through bilateral channels".

China wants territorial disputes decided bilaterally because of China's sizable military and economic advantage over any other country in the region. For that same reason, countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines want the issue internationalized - in order to equalize the equation.

The meeting between foreign ministers Krishna and Pham produce a communique in which the two parties "expressed satisfaction that the strategic partnership was developing well and agreed to add greater content to bilateral relations in the fields of defense and security, trade and investment, education and culture and other areas,"

China's Global Times voiced Beijing's displeasure with the growing ties between India and Vietnam. It warned India that "Chinese society has already been indignant about India's intervention in the Dalai (Lama) problem…India should bear in mind that its actions in the South China Sea will push China to the limit." The editorial continued:

"China has been peaceful for so long that some countries doubt whether it will stick to its stated bottom line. China should remind them of how clear this line really is."

In a related development, Philippine President Benigno Aquino announced that on his forthcoming state visit to Japan he would bring up the South China Sea issue and expected a sympathetic hearing. The sea is a prime concern of both Manila and Tokyo as a major trade route that should remain peaceful and open.

The Philippine president who visited China recently said that his country would continue to defend its claim to part of the disputed Spratly Islands. "We will defend our right. A right that is not defended his lost." The territorial dispute, he felt, had to be decided internationally, thus opposing the Chinese preference for a bilateral approach.