US-India Joint Statement on Disputed Areas Set to Rile Xi

Document calls for all parties to avoid use of force, threats in advancing claims in South China Sea; push to trilateral ties with Japan could be seen by Beijing as building block of anti-China coalition

Published: 02nd October 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd October 2014 07:33 AM   |  A+A-

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WASHINGTON: At the end of over 35 engagements, including three close encounters between the Indian Prime Minister and US president, a desire for an intimate, strategic embrace is distinctly discernible — something that is likely to set off alarm bells in Beijing and Islamabad.

For China, whose president Xi Jinping was in India for a visit just a week before Modi’s US visit, there is plenty in the joint statement to raise eyebrows. At least three big paragraphs in the strategic sub-section could be directly linked to the anxiety over the rise of China among its Asian neigbhours and the flaring up of disputes in the South China sea. Narendra Modi and Barack Obama “reaffirmed their shared interest in preserving regional peace and stability” in the Asia Pacific.

In a not-so-subtle jibe at Beijing, India and US called on “all parties to avoid the use, or threat of use, of force in advancing their claims”. Both Vietnam and the Philippines have complained about China’s increasing aggressive stance — from bringing in an oil rig to ‘island-making’ and muscular patrolling.

Both urged the “concerned parties” to pursue a solution through peaceful means and in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This has, of course, been India’s traditional position, but it is against China’s claim that its historical claims supersede international law. Incidentally, both countries also committed “to work more closely with other Asia Pacific countries through consultations, dialogues, and joint exercises” as part of India’s Look East and US’ Asia Pivot initiatives.

Besides, the joint statement also repeated an aspiration made during Modi’s visit to Tokyo to explore the upgradation of trilateral India-US-Japan dialogue. In fact, an important part of the trilateral agenda is regional connectivity between India and its South-East Asian neighbours — mentioned in a paragraph in the statement. Beijing would certainly interpret this as a nascent step to build an anti-China coalition. It remains to be seen how much the troops stand-off had a role, if at all, in tipping India to the US side.

Along with China, Pakistan will also have much to be unhappy about. For the first time, there was explicit language about “joint and concerted efforts... to disrupt financial and tactical support for terror networks”. The networks have been used by the Pakistani establishment to target Indian assets. But, there was no hint of fostering talks between India and Pakistan.

The reset of US and India ties is in process. The levers, screws and cranks have been put in place, but require regular high-level supervision for a smooth operation.

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