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India-Japan seek peaceful solution to South China Sea issue, could anger China

Tokyo: India and Japan sought a peaceful solution on to the territorial disputes in the strategic South China Sea, saying parties involved in the matter must not resort to “threat or use of force”, in remarks that could anger China which is opposed to any outside interference. After their comprehensive talks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe also reiterated their commitment to respect freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded lawful commerce, based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“In this context, they urged all parties to resolve disputes through peaceful means without resorting to threat or use of force and exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities, and avoid unilateral actions that raise tensions,” according to a joint statement issued after their talks. “Regarding the South China Sea, the two prime ministers stressed the importance of resolving the disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law including the UNCLOS,” it said.

The remarks may not go down well with China, which has been asking countries to refrain from “interfering” in the disputed South China Sea. Ahead of Modi’s visit, a Chinese state media report on Wednesday warned India it may suffer “great losses” in bilateral trade if it joins Japan in asking China to abide by an international tribunal’s ruling quashing Beijing’s claims over the SCS dispute.

As the leaders of the state parties to the UNCLOS, Modi and Abe “reiterated their view that all parties should show utmost respect to the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans”. This assumes significance given that China had rejected a verdict given by an international tribunal striking down Chinese claims over the SCS.

China has been making aggressive advances in the strategic region – parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei – by rapidly building artificial islets that experts fear could be potentially used as military posts. China claims by far the largest portion of territory – an area defined by the “nine-dash line” which stretches hundreds of miles south and east from its most southerly province of Hainan.

China has also objected in the past to India’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) undertaking exploration at the invitation of Vietnam in the SCS, which is believed to be rich in undersea deposits of oil and gas. India and the US have been calling for freedom of passage in the international waters, much to the discomfort to China. Modi and Abe asked North Korea, which in September claimed to have conducted its fifth and potentially most powerful nuclear test, to comply with its international obligations towards the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

India and Japan’s interest have been converging on strategic issues like the dispute in the South China Sea, through which US $5 trillion of trade passes annually, and on the threat Japan perceive from a nuclear-armed North Korea. “The two prime ministers reaffirmed their determination to cooperate against proliferation activities posing a threat to the region,” the joint statement said.

India and Japan also called for “expeditious reforms of the UN including the UNSC to make it more legitimate, effective and representative, taking into account the contemporary realities of the 21st century and reiterated their resolve to work closely with like-minded partners to realise this goal.” “The two Prime Ministers reiterated their support for each other’s candidature, based on the firmly shared recognition that India and Japan are legitimate candidates for permanent membership in an expanded UNSC,” the statement said.

India and Japan along with Germany and Brazil are part of G4 nations, who support each other’s bids for permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. “Prime Minister Abe briefed Prime Minister Modi on Japan’s efforts to further contribute to peace, stability and prosperity of the region including through initiatives such as ‘Proactive Contribution to Peace,’ the statement said.

It said Modi acknowledged Japan’s positive contribution to regional and global stability and prosperity. “Recognising India as the largest democracy and a fast growing large economy in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan firmly supports India’s membership in the APEC. The two Prime Ministers decided to work towards liberalisation and facilitation of trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region,” the statement added.

On clean energy cooperation, “they further desired to strengthen bilateral energy cooperation as it will contribute not only to the energy development of both countries, but also to worldwide energy security, energy access and climate change issue.” The two prime ministers welcomed the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and reaffirmed their commitment to work together in developing the rules for successful implementation of the agreement.