India bats for freedom of navigation in South China Sea at ASEAN meet

Nay Pyi Taw: The fresh standoff in the South China Sea (SCS) dominated proceedings at the ASEAN and East Asia Summit where India strongly favoured freedom of navigation and access to resources in the resource-rich area saying the dispute must be resolved as per international law.

A belligerent China which was under attack in both meetings remained unperturbed and insisted it will resolve the issues relating to the disputed area bilaterally with concerned nations including Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei.

In the ASEAN Regional Forum Meeting, the US put forth a proposal to stop any activities in the South China Sea that may escalate tensions further but none of the stakeholders supported it.

 India bats for freedom of navigation in South China Sea at ASEAN meet

Representational Image. AFP

In the meeting, China rejected demand for resolution of the issue at a multilateral fora and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters that China will continue to exercise restraint but at the same time will respond to provocations "unequivocally and resolutely".

In the ARF meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry asked the stakeholders to take lessons from resolution of water-related issues between India and Bangladesh and called for settling the dispute through negotiations.

In her address at the 4th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said maritime territorial disputes have the potential for undermining comprehensive security and mutual confidence.

"India opposes the use or threat of use of force and supports freedom of navigation and access to resources in accordance with principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"We hope that progress will be made with respect to implementation of Guidelines to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the adoption of a Code of Conduct on the basis of consensus," she said.

Fresh standoff started recently when China deployed a deep sea oil rig into waters close to the Paracel Islands, which Vietnam says belong to it.

India's ONGC Videsh (OVL) has operations in oil blocks in hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea.

China has been objecting to India's oil exploration projects in the disputed waters.

Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam have been making territorial claims over parts of South China Sea which was rejected by China.

China's growing activities in the disputed waters have escalated the tensions.

ASEAN urged all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions which would complicate the situation and undermine peace, stability, and security in the South China Sea.

In her address at the 21st ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Meeting, Swaraj said the recent developments in the South China Sea underscore the need to resolve sovereignty issues
peacefully by the countries concerned in accordance with international law.

The ASEAN in its statement said, "We remained seriously concerned over recent developments which had increased tensions in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, maritime security as well as freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea".

The grouping noted the Philippines' Triple Action Plan for resolution of the tensions.

Wang reaffirmed China's willingness to listen to "well-intentioned suggestions" from all parties on the issue but said suggestions leading to "double standards" are rather unfair and will not be accepted.

He referred to China's position of safeguarding its sovereignty and maritime rights and interests as "firm and unshakable".

The Chinese Foreign Minister advocated a "dual track" approach in resolving the issue.

Explaining it, he said relevant dispute should be addressed by countries concerned directly through friendly consultations and peace and stability in the South China Sea
should be ensured jointly by China and ASEAN countries.

"Overall the situation in the South China Sea is stable on the whole. There has not been any problem regarding navigation in the South China Sea," he said.

Officials said the US proposal for a freeze on activities that may lead to escalation in tension in the South China Sea did not find any backers.

China has also opposed it tooth and nail.

The ASEAN Regional Forum is a premium platform for security dialogue which has 17 other countries including China, Russia, Japan, India and Australia besides the ASEAN countries.

East Asia Summit is a forum for co-operation between various countries of this region with ASEAN and includes Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US, in addition to the 10 ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries.

The ASEAN nations are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

PTI

Updated Date: Aug 11, 2014 08:19:42 IST