Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday the world must protect the oceans from the race for "expansion and exclusion" as he urged the international community to speak in one voice to strengthen a rules-based world order, in an apparent reference to China which is flexing military muscles in the strategic Indo-Pacific region.
Addressing the 76th UN General Assembly session here, Prime Minister Modi described the oceans as "our shared heritage" and said "we must keep in mind that we must only use ocean resources and not abuse them further.”
"Our oceans are also the lifeline of international trade. We must protect them from the race for expansion and exclusion. The international community must speak in one voice to strengthen a rules-based world order,” he added.
Speaking in Hindi, Modi said that the broad consensus reached in the UN Security Council during India's presidency in August showed to the world the way forward for maritime security.
The Presidential Statement on maritime security, adopted unanimously under India’s presidency after the UN Security Council open debate chaired by Prime Minister Modi, reaffirmed in categorical terms that the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) sets out the legal framework for maritime activities, sending a strong message to China.
In 2016, an international tribunal ruled against China's claims to rights in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing dismissed the ruling that favoured the Philippines and said it would not be bound by it.
India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China's rising military manoeuvring in the resource-rich region.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. China also has territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea.
A day earlier, the Quad countries – comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US - pledged to ensure a "free and open" Indo-Pacific, which is also "inclusive and resilient", as they noted that the strategically vital region is a bedrock of their shared security and prosperity.
"We stand for the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states. We commit to work together and with a range of partners,” the Quad leaders said in a joint statement after their first in-person meeting hosted by US President Joe Biden and attended by Prime Minister Modi, his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison and Japanese premier Yoshihide Suga at the White House.
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