India Backs Freedom of Navigation, Access to Resources in SCS

Amid tensions over territorial claims in the South China Sea overshadowing the ASEAN and East Asia Summit here, India today said it supports freedom of navigation and access to resources in the area and that the dispute must be resolved as per international law.

In her address at the 4th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting here, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said maritime territorial disputes have the potential for undermining comprehensive security and mutual confidence.

"India opposes the use or threat of use of force and supports freedom of navigation and access to resources in accordance with principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"We hope that progress will be made with respect to implementation of Guidelines to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the adoption of a Code of Conduct on the basis of consensus," she said.

State-run ONGC Videsh Limited has operation in number of oil blocks in South China Sea which were offered to it by Vietnam. China has been objecting to India's oil exploration projects in the disputed waters.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, which lies on key shipping routes and is believed to be rich in mineral and oil. But its claims clashes with ASEAN states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan.

On the Korean issue, Swaraj said, "India continues to be seriously concerned about the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the proliferation of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) in the region."

Talking about Thailand, she said as a friendly neighbour of Thailand, India supports ongoing dialogue and the restoration of the democratic process in that country.

Referring to security related issues, Swaraj said non- traditional security threats such as international terrorism, piracy, trans-national crimes, drug-trafficking, maritime security and proliferation of sensitive items require a more comprehensive response from the international community.

"We are seeing different theatres getting interconnected through terror networks and a globalisation of supply chains of ideology, radicalisation, recruitment, training and financing of terrorism," she said.

Highlighting issues relating to maritime security, she said India has been working with coastal states in the Indian Ocean region to help them build capacities to counter piracy and ensure maritime security.

"We have, however, flagged our concern at the continued emergence of Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSC) and Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) and the security implications of the increasing use of PCASP by merchant vessels," she said.

In her address, Swaraj also asked EAS to push for reform of the UN Security Council to reflect contemporary geo-political realities.

"The lack of reform has affected the credibility and effectiveness of the Security Council, as seen in a number of new crises around the globe. With the 70th Anniversary Summit of the United Nations in 2015, it is more necessary than ever that multilateralism become effective and multilateral institutions, of which the UN is the first, undergo urgent reform," she said.

Swaraj also favoured a "broad-based" international investigation covering all aspects into the crash of MH17 - believed to be shot down by a missile over eastern Ukraine.

"The senseless loss of lives in the crash of MH17 on July 17 has left the international community with responsibility to ensure safety of civil aviation. Parties in conflict situations must urgently abjure violence and work for diplomatic solutions. We must ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated. A broad-based international investigation must cover all aspects of this incident," she said.

The External Affairs Minister also expressed deep concern at the steep escalation in the current conflict between Israel and Palestine in the Gaza Strip, resulting in large number of civilian casualties and heavy damage to property.

"India remains firmly convinced that dialogue remains the only viable option that can effectively address the issues confronting the region and its people," she said.

On EAS, Swaraj said the grouping can become a "very powerful instrument" for building an open, transparent, inclusive and egalitarian architecture in East Asia.

She also called for collaborative solutions to "emerging and non-traditional" challenges and the peaceful settlement of various disputes.

"This is necessary for anchoring a stable environment in East Asia, which is oriented to growth, peace and stability."

On the trade front, she said East Asian economic space must allow the growing and emerging economies in Asia to become the long-term engines for this process.

"The economic commons in East Asia would benefit from connectivity and infrastructure sufficiency in the region. Connectivity should imply not only trade and investment ties but also capacity building, the bridging of expertise and technological knowledge and the bringing about of integration at the institution and people-to-people level," she said.

Talking about EAS cooperation on disaster management and mitigation, she said it was a good synergy of learning even as member countries are, in operational terms, following different systems and national and legislative mandates.

There is primacy of civilian-led systems in some countries and military-led responses in others.

On health issues, she said India and Australia have made specific recommendations to assist the regional response to malaria control through the Task Force on Access to Quality Medicines and other Technologies.

"I endorse the need to now address the emerging challenge of the Ebola virus," she added.

"We hope that leading medical institutions in EAS will participate in the Workshop in New Delhi on December 11-12, 2014 on 'Tertiary Healthcare with focus on Trauma Care and Nursing'. Invitations to this would be sent shortly to your capitals," the Minister said.

"We would also welcome EAS members to work with us on another initiative, which we have proposed under ASEM in early 2015, to bring together 'Innovations in Non-invasive Diagnostic Technologies and the Treatment of Diabetes as a Lifestyle Disease'."

Referring to education, she said the first two Schools of Nalanda University, the Schools of Historical Studies and Ecology and Environment Studies, will begin programmes from the academic year starting September 2014.

"We would like to welcome students from the EAS countries to these Schools," she added.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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