China’s behaviour on matters of territorial disputes smacks of unilateralism that makes countries in the region concerned about Beijing’s intentions, said former foreign secretary Shyam Saran.
In an interview with HT on the sidelines of Hindustan Times Leadership summit here on Friday, Saran pointed out steps such as Beijing announcing the air defence zone on East China Sea and the continuing territorial disputes over the South China Sea with some South-East Asian countries had a pattern.
“These indicate that the Chinese are taking unilateral decisions on issues of sovereignty,” he said.
China’s decision last month to declare an air defence identification zone in an area that covers islands disputed with Japan had triggered protests from Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. However, India hasn’t joined the issue, taking a cautious view that it shouldn’t get embroiled in China’s territorial disputes with others. India has a long unsettled boundary with China.
While signs of tension are in the offing in the region, Saran said India’s Look East policy should be seen from a broad perspective, taking into account economic, political and security components altogether.
“The countries in the east are economically important to us. Now we have greater security cooperation with them. But these relationships have many sides to them.”
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Saran was appreciative of New Delhi’s position on oil exploration in the South China Sea. In the past, China has raised objections to India wading into what Beijing considers its territory in taking up oil exploration projects in Vietnam.
“The oil exploration activities are decided by commercial viability. While that should be the focus, other issues can be left for diplomats,” he said. Asked why countries in the region that have strong trade ties with China don’t see its rise as benign, Saran pointed out that the way China behaves makes many feel that Beijing’s rise was not so benign.