NEW DELHI: India on Thursday said it was firmly supportive of unimpeded freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea area where China is locked in territorial disputes with its smaller neighbours.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said that the South China Sea was “part of global commons and India has an abiding interest in peace and stability in the region."
He was responding to questions on how India viewed recent comments by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which Pompeo had said that Beijing’s claims to large portions of the South China was “completely unlawful."
“We firmly stand for the freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in these international waterways, in accordance with international law, notably UNCLOS," Srivastava told reporters in what can be seen as comments tacitly backing the US position. “India also believes that any differences be resolved peacefully by respecting the legal and diplomatic processes and without resorting to threat or use of force," he added.
The comments by India on the South China Sea come in the midst of tensions between New Delhi and Beijing along their common border. Since May, tensions have been high following China massing troops along their common border and making deep inroads into Indian territory. A violent clash between troops of the two countries on 15 June left 20 Indian army personnel and an undeclared number of Chinese troops dead. It was seen as the worst incident along their common borders in 45 years.
New Delhi previously made similar remarks in May.
On Monday, in what many see as the strongest statement by Washington on the South China Sea dispute, Pompeo said : “We are making clear: Beijing's claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them."
"The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire," Pompeo said in a statement posted on the US State Department website.
China and five other countries have competing claims to land features in the South China Sea, and China has also come into conflict with Indonesia over Chinese activity in waters by that large archipelago nation. China delineates its claims to the South China Sea with what it calls “a nine-dash line," a boundary that demarcates almost the whole of the South China Sea. The area has potentially rich oil and gas resources, and governments often sign contracts with companies that do exploration and drilling in the region. There are also abundant fisheries. Fishing boats and coast guard vessels from various nations have clashed repeatedly in recent years across the sea.