India on Saturday tacitly opposed China’s latest move to press the ASEAN hard to insert in the proposed Code of Conduct on the South China Sea certain clauses that would help the communist country to keep its rivals and other nations outside the region away from the disputed waters.
The negotiation for the code “should not be prejudicial to the legitimate interests of the third parties and should be fully consistent with the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)”, said External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar while representing Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the East Asia Summit, which was held through video-links in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Without mentioning China, he expressed India’s concern over the nation’s aggressive moves in the region, including building military infrastructures in the disputed waters, and purported plan to create an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) covering the disputed Pratas, Paracel and Spratly Islands.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) expressed concern about “actions and incidents that erode trust in the region”.
Jaishankar’s remarks on the South China Sea came amid the six-month-long military stand-off between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh.
Premier Li Keqiang represented China in the East Asia Summit. He also attended the ASEAN-China summit on Friday, when he nudged the leaders of the South East Asian nations to speed up negotiations for a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
The conclave was attended by the leaders and representatives of the 18 nations – the 10 Southeast Asian nations and India, Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and the United States. President Vladimir Putin represented Russia, but the US President Donald Trump, who recently lost the election to his rival Joe Biden, skipped it. The US was represented by Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
India last month joined the US to stress that the proposed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea should not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation in accordance with the international law.
Beijing has of late been stepping up pressure on the ASEAN to agree to insert certain clauses in the Code of Conduct in order to make it restrict Japan, India, the US and the other nations outside the region from engaging in maritime security cooperation with the South East Asian nations and exploring resources in the South China Sea.
If China manages to get all the clauses proposed by it included in the Code of Conduct, the ASEAN nations may have to get prior clearance from Beijing for joint military drills in the South China Sea with the US, Japan, India or any other nations outside the region.
It may also make it difficult for ONGC Videsh Limited of India and similar entities of other nations to continue exploring hydrocarbon and other resources in and around the disputed waters. China has been protesting the role of the OVL and other foreign companies in the exploration in the blocks in the continental shelf of Vietnam.
The Code of Conduct was necessitated after Beijing started building artificial islands in the South China Sea in 2014. China also started building military facilities, including airstrips and radar towers, on the artificial islands, ostensibly to get a strategic edge in the disputed waters.
China had initially been reluctant to enter into any negotiation with the ASEAN for a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. It, however, finally agreed to start the negotiation in May 2017. The communist country is now trying to turn the Code of Conduct into its favour, so that it can keep dominating the disputed South China Sea.