India’s Stand on the South China Sea Ruling between China-Philippines

The normative stand taken by India on the South China Sea dispute between China & Philippines is in keeping with its stated principle of non-interference and respect for International Law

Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

India’s position is bang on target as far as the recent decision (July 12) by the international arbitration tribunal, The Hague on the dispute between China and Philippines is concerned. The court ruled that “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources falling within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine dash line’. As was expected, China disagreed with the ruling. The US position is that the ruling should be treated as final and binding.

Mr V.K. Singh, India’s Minister for External Affairs had the following to say at recently concluded 14th ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at Viantiane, Laos

As a State Party to United Nation Convention on Law of the Sea(UNCLOS), India urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans. India supports freedom of navigation, over flight and unimpeded commerce, based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UNCLOS.” Singh also stressed upon “maritime cooperation as a key priority.”

China has laid sovereign claims on the areas within South China Sea based on historical legacy and then rounded it off for the first time in 2009 with what is called the ‘Nine Dash Line.’

The US has always held Freedom of Navigation operations (FON OPS) as central. But China believes in what one can term as ‘strategic ambiguity’. There is a difference between sovereignty and jurisdiction. Sovereignty is like ownership of property domestically whereas jurisdiction roughly equates to an ability to benefit from or license the use of specific produce in an area (like the fish and hydrocarbons within the exclusive economic zone [EEZ] or a mining lease). Jurisdiction does not mean that one can impose controls on navigation or control the areas as if it is ownership. China has always reacted strongly to FON ops in the South China sea by the US. With the strategic pivot to Asia, we are in for interesting times. The US has unabashedly stated that it will continue to operate in the South China Sea by engaging in flight and naval activities, according to Admiral John Richardson, the chief of US Navy.

As India plans to host East Asia Summit (EAS) Maritime Conference in November this year, the issue of FON is certainly going to be a focal point of discussion. According to the Maritime Strategy unveiled in October 2015, South China Sea is a secondary area of interest to India. What role India plays as an emerging power in Asia and how it engages with China are somethings that would be of deep interest to policy makers .

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Chinese map of Spratly Islands by Joe Jones licensed from