On April 18, foreign ministers of India, China and Russia stated after an RIC meeting in Moscow that “Russia, India and China are committed to maintaining a legal order for the seas and oceans based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS).All related disputes should be addressed through negotiations and agreements between the parties concerned. In this regard, the Ministers called for full respect of all provisions of UNCLOS, as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the Guidelines for the implementation of the DOC.”
But just about a week earlier, when US defence secretary Ashton Carter was in Delhi, a joint statement between him and Manohar Parrikar had this to say: US and India “reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea.They vowed their support for a rules-based order and regional security architecture conducive to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean, and emphasized their commitment to working together and with other nations to ensure the security and stability that have been beneficial to the Asia-Pacific for decades.”
Both affirmations are slightly different, raising questions about what Indi a’s actual position is. Sources said the RIC statement was in the context of a multilateral forum, but India’s sovereign position will be clarified on the day the permanent court of arbitration pronounces its verdict.
China has declared in its state media outlets that India is sympathetic to China’s view, and the RIC statement affirms it. Meanwhile, US Pacific Command chief, Admiral Harris indicated India and US may soon be sailing together for joint patrols, as part of a roadmap of the Strategic Vision document signed when Barack Obama visited India in 2015.
The official Chinese position was clarified by the charge d’affairs at the Chinese embassy here. Speaking to TOI, Liu Jinsong said, “We do not accept the jurisdiction in the South China Sea arbitration at the request of Philippines.The matter concerns China’s territorial sovereignty, which is beyond the scope of UNCLOS. We can settle and manage the issue bilaterally through peaceful means based on international law, including UNCLOS.”