Military & Aerospace

INS Airavat Incident: What Does It Portend?
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By B Raman
Issue Net Edition | Date : 02 Sep , 2011

She warned all the rival claimants against using force to bolster their positions. She added: “Each of the parties should comply with their commitments to respect freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, to resolve their disputes through peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force.”

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that his country had “suffered at least seven aggressive intrusions” in the disputed waters since February.These included Chinese forces shooting at Filipino fishermen, deploying navy patrol boats to intimidate an oil exploration vessel and placing markers on some of the islets.

India has done well to assert that the South China Sea is international waters and that its naval ship had a right to transit the Sea.

Del Rosario said China’s actions appeared motivated by a hunger for the region’s natural resources, and were heightening fears about how the country intended to treat its neighbors as its military and economic might expanded.

He told the Agence France Presse:.“I think there is that concern that China is becoming more powerful. We support their progress and their growth … but at the same time it is our expectation that their strength and their growth and their influence will be exercised in a responsible way.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechiassured that China would work to ensure that the tensions did not escalate into conflict. He told the journalists in Bali: “South China Sea and Asia as a whole are peaceful and stable, and this will continue through our joint efforts.China will continue to contribute to peace and stability in Asia.”

At a meeting with the 10 members of the ASEAN in Bali, China also agreed to a set of guidelines laying down a framework for an eventual code of conduct for the sea.However the Philippines maintained the guidelines lacked teeth and did not change the fundamental problem that China claimed all of the sea, even up to the coasts of other Southeast Asian countries.“How can you discuss anything bilaterally when you sit down with them and they say that they own everything?” del Rosario asked.

Till now the Chinese frictions in the South China Sea have been mainly with Vietnam, the Philippines and the US. Despite India’s developing strategic relations with Vietnam, the Chinese , while maintaining a close watch over India-Vietnam relations, had maintained a discreet silence and avoided any statements or actions which could impact on their bilateral relations with India.

Moreover, the Chinese assertiveness vis-à-vis Vietnam and the Philippines was mainly in relation to the exploitation of the fisheries and mineral resources in the sea adjoining the various island territories. They had avoided an assertive policy in relation to the freedom of navigation and over-flights which could bring the US more actively into the dispute.

This is the first time they have taken an assertive step against a country not from the region in order to test its reaction on the question of their claims of sovereignty over the sea as a whole. India has done well to assert that the South China Sea is international waters and that its naval ship had a right to transit the Sea. It is important for India to mobilise the support of the US and other members of the international community not from this region on this issue.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

B Raman

Former, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai & Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. He is the author of The Kaoboys of R&AW, A Terrorist State as a Frontline Ally,  INTELLIGENCE, PAST, PRESENT & FUTUREMumbai 26/11: A Day of Infamy and Terrorism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

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