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India expresses concern over territorial row in Southeast Asia

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2014 - 12:50pm

NEW DELHI, India – India is concerned about the possible impact of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute on trade and is urging claimants to follow the international law in addressing the issue.

Shri Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East) of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said on Thursday that sea lanes and communication lines should remain open.

“We advocate that the lines, the channels of trade and communication should be kept open and of course the sea, which, according to UN (United Nations) international law of the sea, is common to all the countries that use it,” he told journalists who attended the Delhi Dialogue VI here. “Definitely we are concerned.”

India regards its relationship with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a cornerstone of its foreign policy, being a dialogue partner of the regional bloc since 1992.

Trade between India and ASEAN has been robust, reaching $76.4-billion in 2012, higher than the $70-billion goal for that year. The country seeks to increase its trade volume with Southeast Asia to $100-billion in 2015 and $200-billion in 2020.

“Our position has always been India stands for freedom of navigation on high seas. We would like to ensure that all countries in the region adhere to the international conventions on the law of the sea in this issue,” Wadhwa said.

“We would also like to see the dispute settled in a peaceful manner. We also support the centrality of ASEAN as a general principle. We hope that the ASEAN together can find a solution,” he added.

Wadhwa said ASEAN is “on the right track” with the negotiation on a proposed code of conduct for claimants but thinks it “might take a little bit of time.”

“In the meantime, all restraint should be exercised in the region,” he said.

Some stakeholders in the region have raised issues over the possible effect of China’s posturing in the West Philippine Sea on regional commerce.

China has been conducting maritime patrols in disputed areas and has enacted a law requiring foreign fishing boats to seek its permission before operating in the West Philippine Sea.

The law, which was issued by the Hainan Provincial People’s Congress, seeks to cover two million hectares of the area.

Philippine officials said they would disregard the law and even encouraged local fishermen to continue their activities in the area.

China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping territorial claims.

The Philippines has been advocating a multilateral and rules-based approach in resolving the territorial row and has filed a case against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

China, however, insists that the dispute should be addressed through bilateral negotiations and thinks that international arbitration could complicate the issue.

President Aquino has called on the international community to speak against China’s aggressive acts and even likened them to Nazi Germany’s demands for land before the World War II.

“If we say yes to something we believe is wrong now, what guarantee is there that the wrong will not be further exacerbated down the line?” Aquino said in an earlier interview with The New York Times.

 

ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS BRUNEI AND TAIWAN CHINA DELHI DIALOGUE HAINAN PROVINCIAL PEOPLE INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL LAW LAW OF THE SEA SEA WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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