Narendra Modi joins Donald Trump to oppose China’s bid to tweak South China Sea code in its favour

US endorses India as net security provider in Indian Ocean region
Last Updated 26 February 2020, 05:59 IST

India has joined the United States to oppose China’s move to tweak the proposed Code of Conduct on the South China Sea in order to keep its rivals and other nations outside the region away from the disputed waters.

The United States has endorsed India as the net provider of security in the Indian Ocean region, where China has been trying to spread its tentacles over the past few years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and American President Donald Trump also sent out a message to China, underscoring in a joint statement that a close partnership between their two nations was “central to a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region”.

Trump left New Delhi for Washington D.C. late on Tuesday at the end of a two-day state visit to India. He and Modi discussed ways to step up cooperation between India and the US as well as with Japan and Australia to counter China’s expansionist aspiration in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Cooperation between India and the US at the global level is founded on our common democratic values and objectives, especially in the Indo-Pacific region and other global commons,” Prime Minister said, as he and US President addressed media-persons after a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Tuesday.

A joint statement issued after Modi-Trump meeting endorsed centrality of the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) in Indo-Pacific region and called for adherence to international law and good governance, pledged support for safety and freedom of navigation, over-flight and other lawful uses of the seas as well as unimpeded lawful commerce. It also called for peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international laws.

The leaders of India and the United States took note of the efforts being made to work out a meaningful Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which has been at the centre of an escalating conflict between China and its maritime neighbours in South East Asia. They “solemnly urged” that the Code of Conduct should “not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of all nations according to international law”.

New Delhi and Washington D.C. are concerned over China's recent move to tweak the proposed South China Sea Code of Conduct, which it has been negotiating with the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations). Beijing has of late been stepping up pressure on the ASEAN to agree on a Code of Conduct, which could restrict US, Japan, India 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 the exploration of hydrocarbon and other resources in and around the disputed waters.

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 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 its favour, so that it can keep dominating the disputed South China Sea.

“Together, the Prime Minister and I are revitalizing the Quad Initiative with the United States, India, Australia, and Japan. Since I took office, we have held the first Quad ministerial meeting — I guess you would call it a meeting, but it seems like so much more than that — and expanded cooperation on counterterrorism, cyber-security, and maritime security to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Trump said as he and Modi addressed media-persons on Tuesday.

The Quad had first come into existence in 2007 but had fizzled out soon. The four-nation initiative was re-launched in Manila in November 2017, ostensibly to build a democratic bulwark against the hegemony of China in Indo-Pacific.

The senior diplomats of the four nations had several meetings ever since the quad was re-launched. It was elevated to the level of Foreign Ministers when US Secretary of State hosted his counterparts from Japan, Australia and India on the sideline of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 26 last year.

Trump’s visit to New Delhi saw India announcing that it would procure more military hardware worth over $ 3 billion from the US, including Apache and MH-60 Romeo helicopters. The US President noted that a strong and capable Indian military would support “peace, stability, and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific”. The visit also saw India and the US elevating the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.

(Published 26 February 2020, 05:59 IST)

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