Vientiane: Terming sea lanes passing through the strategic South China Sea as the "main arteries" of global trade, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said India supports freedom of navigation as he sought "utmost respect" for international law, amid China's muscle flexing in the region.
While outlining India's principled position on the raging issue over the South China Sea, the Prime Minister in his address at the 11th East Asia Summit (EAS) said "the threat or use of force" to resolve would complicate matters affecting peace and stability.
Earlier in the day, the issue cropped up during Modi's bilateral talks with his Laotian counterpart Thongloun Sisoulith during which the two sides shared the same perspective on South China Sea.
The sea lanes of communication passing through the South China Sea are the "main arteries" of global merchandise trade, he said, adding the threat or use of force to resolve disputes would complicate matters affecting peace and stability.
"India supports freedom of navigation based on international law, as reflected notably in the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). "As a State party to the UNCLOS, India urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS," Modi said.
He added that India's "own track record in settling its maritime boundary with Bangladesh can serve as an example". The comments come amid China's muscle flexing in the disputed South China Sea and "emerging regional challenges".
China is involved in a raging dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei over ownership of territory in the South China Sea (SCS), a busy waterway through which India's 50 percent trade passes.
China has also objected in the past to India's Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) undertaking exploration at the invitation of Vietnam in the SCS, which is believed to be rich in undersea deposits of oil and gas. India and the US have been calling for freedom of passage in the international waters, much to the discomfort to Beijing, whose claim over SCS was recently struck down by an international tribunal in favour of the Philippines.
In his address, Modi also said India can share experience and build partnerships for protection of marine resources, prevent environment degradation and tap blue economy. He added that the countries need to be mindful of common security challenges and India will organise the 2nd EAS on maritime security and cooperation later this year for this.
Noting that natural disasters were a prime concern, the Prime Minister announced India's initiatives to help devise coordinated approaches and responses.