NEW DELHI: In a significant formulation aimed at China, India and Indonesia officially brought up disputes in the South China Sea on Monday as they urged all parties to show utmost respect to UNCLOS, the convention establishing international legal order of the seas and oceans.
The reference, part of a joint statement issued after PM Narendra Modi‘s meeting with Indonesian president Joko Widodo, is important in the light of China’s refusal to acknowledge a ruling by an international tribunal formed under UNCLOS that dismissed Beijing’s claim to “historical rights” to over 90% of South China Sea’s waters. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Philippines.
“Regarding South China Sea, the two sides stressed the importance of resolving disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including UNCLOS,”‘ said the joint statement.
The ruling of the international tribunal apart, China’s bid to unilaterally demarcate a “nine dash line” has created serious differences with neighbours and it is interesting that the issue was sharply delineated in the first, and some feel overdue, visit to India by Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi. The landing of the first direct flight between the two countries at Mumbai on Monday underscored the need to reel in the slack in ties. India has so far namechecked South China Sea in summit meetings only with the US, Japan and Vietnam. As reported by TOI, it proposed the same ahead of Modi‘s summit meeting with his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong in October but Singapore did not agree to it.
Indonesia is not directly involved in the South China Sea disputes but has taken a more concerted approach as Jokowi has strongly advocated a strategic vision to make Indonesia a “respected maritime power”. The strand ran through his campaign in 2014 where his victory as that of someone from outside ‘Jakarta elite’ drew comparison with Modi’s win in India.
Indonesia has concerns about the presence of Chinese fishing boats near the Natuna islands, which it claims as part of its exclusive economic zone, and also Chinese attempts in the past to include the island chain in its territorial maps.
India and Indonesia also exhorted all parties to resolve disputes through peaceful means without resorting to threat or use of force avoid unilateral actions that raise tensions.