NEW DELHI: India on Saturday played down the reference to maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea (SCS) that was included in a joint statement with the US, claiming that it was just a replay of language articulated publicly in recent foreign visits.
The pushback came after the joint statement released on September 30, at the end of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit, devoted an entire paragraph on tensions in South China -- the first time in the bilateral India-US context.
However, three days later, official sources here played down the significance of the language.
“This formulation is not new. You will find this in precisely other visits -- President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Vietnam, official spokesperson’s reply to question and other visits. It’s the same, no change,” said a senior government official.
The bilateral document states that Indian Prime Minister and the US President expressed “concern about rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes, and affirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, especially the South China Sea”.
It further calls on “all parties to avoid the use, or threat of use, of force in advancing their claims”. This seemed like a direct reference to China’s muscular strategy in the South China Sea, which includes aggressive patrolling, new policy of island making and setting up mobile rigs.
While India has mentioned its position on freedom of navigation and rule of overflight in the South China Sea, it was not mentioned in the last 2013 joint statement during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit and neither did it figure in the bilateral document released on July 31 after the Foreign Minister-level strategic dialogue.
The India-Vietnam joint statement did mention the SCS dispute, but Hanoi is also very much a direct party in the contested region and therefore, a strong mention was expected.
So, the reference to the South China Sea in a bilateral document with the US is definitely a change for India, which has so far assiduously tried not to alarm China.
Doval on Follow-up Mission
National Security Adviser Ajit Kumar Doval, who stayed back in the US after Modi packed his bags to India, is holding talks with the US authorities on how to implement the language of dismantling safe havens and disrupting financial networks of terror groups such as Haqqani Network(HQN), LeT, JeM and D-company. He is also likely to take up the issue of NSA snooping on Indian entities, said a senior government official.