Thursday, September 1, 2016

South China Sea: Respect international law, say India, US

 New Delhi,  India and the US on Wednesday urged all parties concerned to respect international law in the wake of the ruling by an international arbitration tribunal in favour of the Philippines in a dispute with China over the South China Sea In a joint statement issued following Tuesday's Second India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, the two sides "stressed the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, and unimpeded lawful commerce throughout the region, including in the South China Sea". 

 Tuesday's talks were co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and US Secretary of State John Kerry with Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman and US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker also in attendance. "They (India and the US) urged the utmost respect for international law, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea," the statement said. "They reiterated that states should resolve disputes through peaceful means, and exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability." 

 An international arbitration tribunal in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the The Hague ruled on July 12 that China violated the Philippines' rights in the South China Sea, one of the busiest commercial shipping routes in the world. The court accused China of interfering with the Philippines' fishing and petroleum exploration, building artificial islands in the waters and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.

The tribunal held that fishermen from the Philippines had traditional fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea and that China had interfered with these rights by restricting their access. The court held that Chinese law enforcement vessels unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels in the region. China is locked in disputes over the Spratly and Paracel groups of islands in the South China Sea with other countries of the region. While the other claimants over the Spratly islands are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, the Paracel islands are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. 

 The most heavily contested are the Spratlys, a group of 14 islands, islets and cays and more than 100 reefs that are strategically located. The South China Sea is a resource-rich strategic waterway through which more than $5 trillion worth of world trade is shipped each year. The Philippines, which brought the dispute to the tribunal in 2013, welcomed the ruling while China reacted angrily. China said it has historic rights over the resource-rich sea and declared that the tribunal award "is null and void and has no binding force". 

 "China neither accepts nor recognises it," Beijing stated. In Wednesday's joint statement, India and the US also reaffirmed their commitment to work together as priority partners in the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions in accordance with the road map for cooperation under the India-US Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region. "In this regard, they welcomed the convening of the inaugural Maritime Security Dialogue in May 2016 and engagement on maritime domain awareness, including through a White Shipping Agreement," the statement said. "They also decided to strengthen cooperation in the area of connectivity."

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