A day after a top American naval officer pitched for a security dialogue involving India, the US, Japan and Australia, a guarded China on Thursday warned that such cooperation should not be directed at a third country.
Admiral Harry B Harris, the US Pacific Command chief, said in New Delhi that the four countries should be involved in a security dialogue focussing on freedom of navigation in international waters.
China’s response to Harris’s remarks at a conclave organised by the external affairs ministry and a think tank in New Delhi was wary.
“We have no objection to relevant countries’ normal cooperation, but we believe that relevant cooperation should not be targeted against a third party,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said when he was asked for a response at the regular news briefing.
Harris had also said that this year’s Malabar naval exercise with India will include Japan and the drills will take place in the northern Philippine Sea, close to the South China Sea.
“We hope that cooperation among relevant countries will be conducive to regional peace and stability as well as security instead of harming interests of a third party,” Hong said, when he was asked about the Malabar exercise.
Till last year, Japan had been kept out of the exercise, apparently to keep China in good humour.
During his speech at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, Harris described the safeguarding of freedom of the seas and access to international waters and airspace as a “principle based upon the international, rules-based global order that has served this region so well”.
“And for decades, the US has conducted freedom of navigation patrols – or FONOPs – without incident. No nation should perceive FONOPs as a threat,” he said.
Referring to a meeting between India, Japan and Australia held in New Delhi last year, Harris said: “Some of the topics discussed were maritime security – including freedom of navigation patrols – and trilateral cooperation in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. An idea to consider is perhaps expanding this trilateral to a quadrilateral venue between India-Japan-Australia and the US.
“We are all united in supporting the international rules-based order that has kept the peace and is essential to all of us.”
He also made a reference to the South China Sea, through which trade worth $ 5.3 trillion passes every year. “…we all have a vested interest in ensuring the entire region remain secure, stable, and prosperous. How Indo-Asia-Pacific nations employ naval forces to support these economic interests matters greatly,” he said.