India, Japan, US stir South China Sea during trilateral meet
India, Japan and the US on Wednesday called for freedom of navigation, overflights and commerce including in the South China Sea, which is claimed by China and has fuelled tensions in the region.Updated: Oct 01, 2015 02:17 IST
India, Japan and the US on Wednesday called for freedom of navigation, overflights and commerce including in the South China Sea, which is claimed by China and has fuelled tensions in the region.
The three countries, holding first trilateral meeting, also agreed to work together on maritime security through greater collaboration, highlighting the growing convergence of interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
The meeting between India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, her Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida and US secretary of state John Kerry is unlikely to go down well with China.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, a major global shipping route which is believed to be home to massive oil and gas reserves, and is locked in maritime disputes with several countries such as Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei.
China, however, maintains there is “no problem” in freedom of navigation and overflights in South China Sea.
The three leaders underscored the importance of international law and peaceful settlement of disputes, freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce, including in the South China Sea, a joint statement said.
India’s ONGC is exploring hydrocarbons off the Vietnam coast in the South China Sea, upsetting Beijing that says the exploration is illegal. In August, Hanoi gave ONGC a year’s extension to explore Block 128 that lies in the part claimed by China.
“The three countries agreed to work together to maintain maritime security through greater collaboration,” the statement said.
To allay fears of undermining East Asian countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the ministers said the annual East Asia summit was the best forum for addressing regional issues.
Initially an annual gathering of the leaders of 16 East Asian countries, the East Asia Summit was expanded to include Russia and the US in 2011.
India, Japan and the US also launched an expert group to identify collaborative efforts to strengthen regional connectivity, especially between South and Southeast Asia.
China, in the past, has strongly reacted to US’ statements on overflights and navigation, saying these should not be a ruse for foreign warships and military jets to violate other countries’ sovereignty and security.
China’s island-building spree has sparked fears that control of the South China Sea will allow Beijing to disrupt trade shipments to all countries in East and Southeast Asia and also deny access to foreign military forces, particularly the US.
The US, which hosted the trilateral, maintains the South China Sea is international water, and sovereignty in the area should be determined by the UN.
With China getting more assertive, the US is looking to marshal allies in the region to take a strategic role. Japan, which recently passed laws giving the government power to use the military in international conflicts, along with the US, is planning to supply military hardware to the Philippines and Vietnam.
(With agency inputs)
First Published: Oct 01, 2015 00:00 IST