NEW DELHI: Reiterating the call for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, India Thursday joined the Philippines in asking China to abide by a 2016 legally binding ruling that strongly refuted China’s expansive claims in its dispute with the southeast Asian country over South China Sea (SCS) waters.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar and his Philippines counterpart Enrique Manalo, who together co-chaired a meeting on bilateral cooperation, underlined in a joint statement the need for peaceful settlement of disputes and for adherence to international law, especially the UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award on the SCS in that regard.
While India’s support for UNCLOS, under which the Arbitral Tribunal was instituted, has always been unequivocal, the joint statement is significant as this is the first time India has unambiguously called upon China to adhere to the ruling that Beijing continues to call null and void. It comes on the back of a downward spiral in bilateral ties with China that was caused by the 2020 eastern Ladakh stand-off that is yet to be fully resolved.
After the ruling in July 2016, in its initial reaction, India was more guarded as it urged all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS which, the government said, established the international legal order of the seas and oceans.
Upholding the Philippines’ case against China, the tribunal had called Beijing’s nine-dash line, which claims sovereignty over 90 per cent of SCS waters, and its reclamation activities in Philippine waters, unlawful.
According to a joint statement issued after the 5th joint commission meeting between the two countries, Jaishankar and Manalo held wide-ranging and substantive discussions on regional and international issues of mutual concern, while agreeing that both had a shared interest in a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. As Jaishankar said in a tweet, they discussed a wide range of issues, including defence, maritime security and counterterrorism.
Significantly, the G7, in their last summit in Hiroshima this year, had also backed the 2016 award describing it as a useful basis for peacefully resolving disputes between the two countries. China had responded by asking G7 to refrain from using maritime issues to drive a wedge between regional countries “and incite bloc confrontation”.
India’s Quad partner Japan, which is embroiled in a similar dispute over Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in East China Sea, has repeatedly called upon Beijing to abide by the ruling, saying not doing so is against the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law. Tokyo has also complimented the Philippines for having fully complied with the tribunal. The recent India-US summit saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Joe Biden addressing challenges to the maritime rules-based order in East and South China Seas and expressing concern over coercive actions in the region.
India and the Philippines are looking to provide a leg-up to defence cooperation with the latter considering India’s offer for a concessional Line of Credit to meet its requirements.
“They expressed satisfaction at ongoing cooperation between the two countries in Asean and at multilateral forums and agreed to continue to work together in the United Nations and other multilateral organisations, especially on issues such as climate change, sustainable development and counterterrorism,’’ said the joint statement.