In an unusual statement that signals India’s growing interests in South China Sea, the MEA on Thursday weighed in on the growing dispute between China and the Philippines. Admitting Indian concern about the events, the MEA spokesperson said, “Maintenance of peace and security in the region is of vital interest to the international community. India urges both countries to exercise restraint and resolve the issue diplomatically according to principles of international law.”
India not only has a growing presence in oil and gas exploration off Vietnam in the South China Sea, there has been an Indian presence in helping to keep the sea lanes safe and open for some time now. Besides, India is also signaling to the Southeast Asian nations that it remains engaged about the issues that concern them.
According to reports, over 1,000 people are expected to protest in Manila on Friday against what the Philippines calls a sovereignty dispute over a set of islands. While, China calls them Huangyan Islands, the Philippines calls them Scarborough Shoal. This week Beijing has asked Manila to ensure security of its citizens, asked its citizens to stay indoors, etc.
The People’s Liberation Army Daily, the official voice of Chinese military, has also published a commentary on Thursday titled, “Never Expect to Take Away Half an Inch of China’s Territory.” It said, “We never tolerate any unreasonable embarrassment with blind patience, not to mention that the issue matters for China’s territorial integrity, national dignity, and even social stability.
“For anyone who tries to snatch the sovereignty over Huangyan Islands, not only will the Chinese government not agree; the Chinese people will not agree; and the Chinese army will not agree.”
In early April, Filipino naval forces intercepted eight Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed islands, boarded them and forced China to back off. It was then seen to be part of China’s new aggressive policy in the region. But things heated up last week, when China asked the Philippines to withdraw all its vessels from the island.
Any conflict in that region would affect Indian economic interests. But equally, China has been commenting on issues that New Delhi considers its own bilateral ones – like Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s recent whistle-stop India visit. And, India’s commentary on the South China Sea issue has to be seen in that light.