Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei Darussalam). Oct 10: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today articulated sharp differences with China over Beijing’s demand that nations settle their disputes with the Asian power over the South China Sea bilaterally, indicating that India leans towards “collective action”.
The East Asia Summit grouping of regional nations that includes China, India and a group of countries in maritime disputes with Beijing is “ideally placed” to manage differences between members states, Singh said.
The Prime Minister made his statement at the East Asia grouping barely an hour after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told most of the same leaders to resolve territorial and maritime disputes bilaterally, and less than two weeks before he travels to Beijing for a key bilateral summit.
“Territorial and maritime disputes between relevant countries in this region should be resolved by countries concerned through friendly consultation,” Li had said last evening at a meeting between leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), China, Japan and South Korea.
Though Li did say that China was ready to ink a pact of “good-neighbourliness, friendship and co-operation” with Asean nations, and is working on a code of conduct with them for the South China Sea, his emphasis on bilateral resolution of disputes was a reassertion of China’s position. It was made before the very nations that have engaged Beijing individually and collectively in a diplomatic joust over claims to tiny Asia-Pacific islands and the waters around them.
His audience included Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister who Beijing sees as its current top diplomatic antagonist, Philippines President Benigno S. Aquino III, and leaders from Vietnam. All three nations are locked in maritime disputes with China — Japan over the Diaoyu Islands (known in Japanese as the Senkaku Islands) and the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea.
But Singh’s call to collectively handle regional differences and his clear references to the South China Sea disputes later in his speech tilted India’s position closer to that of the other regional nations and the US — that the tensions aren’t just bilateral concerns.
The Prime Minister didn’t limit himself to India’s traditionally worded position that the dispute resolution should be peaceful and in accordance with international law, that maritime routes must not be affected, and that nations adopt and implement a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
“This vast region faces challenges arising not only from its diversity, but also from differences,” Singh said, after asserting that the region needs co-operation, collaboration, and collective action more than ever before. “The East Asia Summit is a forum that is, in my view, ideally placed to help us realise our common goals for advancing security and prosperity in a co-operative framework.”
Singh’s statement mirrors concerns expressed last evening by Aquino, the Philippines President, at the meeting of the 10-member Asean here.
“Our development as a region cannot be realised in an international environment where the rule of law does not exist,” Aquino said. “The challenge that confronts one is a challenge that confronts all.”