South China sea calls for nuanced approach

9/7/110 nhận xét

[ET] Fresh bouts of turbulence in South-China Sea surfaced with Vietnam holding a live fire drill on June 13 on the grounds that Beijing exacerbated the tension by hindering the operation of the Vietnamese oil & gas operation boat in the Nansha island in the South-China Sea, or the East Sea, as referred to by Hanoi. 

Relations between Beijing and Hanoi have been strained recently over a long-standing dispute relating to the sovereignty of the resource-rich Paracel archipelago and the Spratly islands in the South China Sea. In the latest spat, besides Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Singapore have joined the bandwagon. 

The jurisdiction over South China Sea, which has rich natural resources like oil and gas, has been a matter of dispute between China and a number of littoral states in the region, which includes the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, besides Vietnam. A large volume of the world's merchandise pass through the sea-lanes.

China has claimed a large number of islands there, which covers most of the sea's 6,48,000 squire miles, including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos. The US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said recently that the incidents had raised tension and concerns about maritime security. US Senator John McCain has also called on the US military to boost its forces in the South China Sea to counter what he described as China's 'undisputed' claims. 

Beijing has displayed some degree of restraint, at least for two reasons. First, it does not want to dilute its recent projection of a responsible power, and second, it doesn't want to provoke other countries in the region party to the dispute. China, however, perceived the Vietnamese act as some sort of challenge to its claimed jurisdiction over the Nansha island. It, therefore, viewed the development as creating new enmity. 

In a globalised world of mutual inter-dependence, the development in the region puts India in a piquant situation, in the sense that there are expectations in Hanoi for India to articulate a stand or position. Following some bilateral and unilateral naval exercises by India in the vicinity of the South China Sea earlier in 2000, which created some consternation in China, India displayed some restraint, which was reflected in the rather nuanced position of India with regard to South China Sea. 

Minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur, participating at the Asian Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Hanoi in July last year, had emphasised the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. The ARF meeting reaffirmed the continuing importance of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of 2002 as a milestone document between Asean members and China. 

India has to calibrate its relationship with China, the US, and the countries of the region with degree of circumspection. No doubt, it's a tight ropewalk, given that some sections of the Chinese strategic community perceive that Washington wants Southeast Asia to form the centre of an Asian strategic alliance that also includes Northeast Asia and India. 

India hopes that the temper and tide in the South China Sea will die down sooner than later, because China and Vietnam attach great importance to their bilateral relationship. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with Nong Doc Manh , general secretary of the Central Communist Party of Vietnam, in Hanoi on the sidelines of the Asean summit meeting in October last year. 

The defence ministers of the two countries also met on the margins of the annual Shangri La dialogue in Singapore in this June. Both sides agree that the situation should be addressed diplomatically and politically and not allowed to escalate. It augurs well that in a latest move to diffuse the tension, China and Vietnam concluded a joint naval operation in the Gulf of Tonkin. 

Following this, Vietnamese vice-foreign minister Ho Xuan Son paid a visit to Beijing in June and, according to Chinese media, a mutual consensus has been reached to solve the South China Sea dispute through friendly consultation only. These positive signs will hopefully de-escalate the regional conflict.
(The writer is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi)
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