India, Indonesia back freedom of navigation in South China Sea (Lead)

July 27th, 2012 - 10:08 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) Against the backdrop of growing Chinese assertiveness in southeast Asia, India and Indonesia discussed tensions in the South China Sea and backed freedom of navigation and regional peace.

The situation in the South China Sea was among a cluster of regional and international issues discussed between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Indonesian counterpart Marty M. Natalegawa.

At a joint press interaction, Krishna underlined the need for freedom of navigation in international waters.

Responding to a question, he asked all parties concerned to resolve the issue through dialogue.

“We have been following developments in respect of South China Sea. India supports freedom of navigation and access to resources in accordance with principles of international law,” Krishna said.

“It is our earnest desire that these principles should be respected by all. We urge the parties concerned to engage in discussions to address this issue and hope that progress would be made on this important matter with respect to implementation of guidelines to the 2002 declaration of the code of conduct on South China Sea,” he added.

In an oblique reference to China, Natalegawa said that although there were countries growing in the region, the growth should be “conducive” to the region’s peace and security.

He added that the ASEAN countries were continuing with efforts to come out with a code of conduct for the South China Sea after a failed attempt at the recent ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

South China Sea has been a point of tensions between China and ASEAN countries over territorial disputes. India has consistently supported freedom of navigation and access to resources in the region in accordance with principles of international law.

Later, addressing diplomats and former ambassadors at Sapru House at a talk organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), Natalegawa referred to the South China Sea disputes, which were “drawing more attention” as the issue had become “more acute” and the tension was rising.

“Potential for conflict is ever more present and more enhanced now, I believe,” he said.

Natalegawa, who had earlier been Indonesia’s representative at the United Nations, said the 10 nations of ASEAN had negotiated over the last eight years with China to agree on guidelines for implementing the Declaration of Conduct by parties in the South China Sea.

“After conclusion of the guidelines, we have now moved on to the elements for a code of conduct itself that is legally binding to ensure that the potential for conflict is minimised. This is on track. ASEAN nations have discussed and agreed on what the code of conduct should be and we are now ready to discuss with China on it,” the Indonesian leader added.

Natalegawa, to a query from one of the participants, noted that for most states in South China Sea dispute, their domestic setting is often a huge determinant on how they conduct themselves diplomatically.

“Expectations and pressures are how policies are formulated and the room for manoeuvre, for compromise, and for consensus becomes ever more smaller and smaller. This is not a dilemma, but a reality that fits not only democracies, but also non-democratic countries.

“We must encourage leaders to put themselves in others’ shoes and not only sympathise, but also empathise with them. I don’t know what the internal situation in China is, but this generic assessment may be suitable to China too. There is an action-reaction vicious cycle and this must be intervened. We can turn around the situation,” he added.

The ICWA session was chaired by its director general Rajiv Bhatia and attended, among others, by Indian External Affairs Ministry’s Secretary (East) Sanjay Singh.

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