BEIJING: China today asked India to play a “constructive and positive” role in safeguarding peace and stability in the disputed South China Sea, in a guarded reaction to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s call for “ensuring freedom of navigation” in the strategic waters amid escalated Sino-US tensions.
“We hope that countries who really care about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea (SCS) can play (a) constructive and positive role” in peace and stability of the region, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying told a media briefing in Beijing.
She expressed concerns over the current round of tensions between US and China over an American naval vessel sailing through artificial islands in the SCS built by Beijing.
China has raised vociferous protests and warned Washington against sending naval vessels and military aircraft to the waters.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan had overlapping claims over a number of islands of the SCS and strongly contest China’s claims of sovereignty over almost all of the SCS.
Speaking at the ASEAN Plus defence ministers meeting, Mr Parrikar expressed hope for a “peaceful resolution of the dispute”.
Asserting that maritime security is a common challenge, he said “the situation in the South China Sea and recent developments there have attracted concern”.
“This is natural since freedom of navigation in international waters, the right of passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources in accordance with recognised principles of international law including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, are of concern to all of us,” he added.
Assuring that there is no threat to freedom of navigation in the SCS, Ms Hua said it is a major passage for cargo shipping and energy transportation of China.
“China is the littoral country of the SCS. We, of course, care about freedom of navigation in the region,” she said.
“China is committed to safeguarding peace and stability of the SCS together with all relevant countries. As we can see that overall situation in the SCS is stable and there has never been any problem about freedom of navigation and over flights in the SCS,” she said.
China has been wary about India’s Look East Policy under which New Delhi sought to expand its relations with the South East Asian countries in Beijing’s backyard, specially India’s fast-developing ties with Vietnam and the Philippines.
Beijing also opposes India undertaking oil exploration off Vietnam’s coast, asserting that the area falls within the disputed area of the SCS.
India, however, took up Vietnam’s invitation, stating that it is undertaking only a commercial activity which has no bearing on the dispute.
About the freedom of navigation, China has maintained that there is no threat to commercial shipping and civilian overflights but considers naval vessels and military aircraft travelling through the area as violation of its sovereignty.