India flags maritime troubles with China at meet with Japan

November 3rd, 2011 - 2:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Tokyo, Nov 3 (IANS) Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony has called for global cooperation in maintaining the freedom of navigation in international waters, an issue that has gained major focus for India after one of its warships sailing in the South China Sea was warned against venturing there by a radio communication believed to be from China.

Antony’s statement, made in Tokyo, during a meeting with his Japanese counterpart, is significant as Japan too has faced maritime disputes with China in the East China Sea, with navigation there being a major issue of contention.

“An issue of maritime security is the one concerning the freedom of navigation and maintaining the security of the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) to facilitate unhindered trade by the sea routes. This is of vital importance to all countries which depend on maritime trade,” Antony said during his meeting with Japanese Defence Minister Yaso Ichikawa.

“India supports freedom of navigation in international waters and the rights of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). These principles should be respected by all,” he said, without naming China.

The Chinese warning to the Indian warship came a few months ago when it was passing through the South China Sea on its way to a Vietnamese port. The open radio communication from an unidentified source had warned the Indian ship that South China Sea was Chinese territorial waters and that the Indian warship was violating the borders.

China has a territorial dispute with Vietnam in the South China Sea and Hanoi awarding contracts to Indian oil companies to prospect in the waters has irked Beijing to no end, though both India and Vietnam maintain that the oilfields were within Vietnamese territorial waters.

Among the issues that came up for discussion at the meeting, held late Wednesday night, included maritime security, anti-piracy operations, freedom of navigation and maintaining SLOCs, according to Indian defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar, who accompanied Antony on the day-long visit.

“The delegation level talks, led by Antony and Ichikawa, recognized the importance of sea lanes and decided to actively pursue consultations and cooperation in the field of maritime security both bilaterally and in association with all other countries in the region,” Kar said.

The Indian delegation included Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, Indian Ambassador to Japan Aloke Prasad, Vice Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral R.K. Dhowan and Army Central Command General Officer Command-in-Chief Lt. Gen. V.K. Ahluwalia.

During the meeting, Antony said maritime security challenges were becoming increasingly complex and varied, and noted that India had substantially increased its anti-piracy deployment in the east Arabian Sea since November 2010.

He, however, felt that concerted efforts of the world community, under a UN mandate, is necessary to effectively address the piracy problem.

“Anti-piracy efforts need to be supplemented by adoption of better security measures by the world maritime community. There is a need to not only have a legal framework for prosecuting the pirates, but concerted efforts are also necessary to track the money-trail and to stop it from being channelised for funding terrorist activities, worldwide,” he added.

Expressing happiness over the Indian and Japanese navies exchanging escort schedules of their naval vessels deployed in the region to coordinate the anti-piracy efforts, Antony was hopeful the shipping organisations of the two countries would be able to establish a mechanism to share the schedules with the merchant ships flagged with them.

The two sides also exchanged views on regional and international security and decided to step up defence cooperation and exchanges.

Antony said India-Japan defence cooperation “is geared towards peace and prosperity of the region and is transparent.”

Discussing specifics of exchanges and cooperation, the two countries expressed “satisfaction” at the planned activities based on agreed annual calendars.

The Japanese defence minister will visit India early next year and both sides will implement the Japan-India Defence Policy Dialogue in Tokyo, also early next year, apart from the staff talks between land forces of the two nations in 2012. They will hold the first staff exchanges between their air forces in 2012.

In 2012, warships of both nations will make mutual visits and Japanese naval aircraft will visit India. Bilateral exercises will be carried out on these occasions.

The two sides will implement exchanges on peacekeeping operations, including between International Peace Cooperation Training and Exercise Unit of the Central Readiness Force of Japanese army and India’s Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping (CUNPK).

There will be cadet exchanges between the national defence academies of Japan and India. The two sides will also implement exchange of ideas aimed at concrete collaboration, such as joint training for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

“The two countries resolved to continue to make active contributions to the peace, stability and prosperity of Asia as a whole,” Kar said.

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