India’s Interest in South China Sea

South China Sea is one of the most important seas of the world- geopolitically, economically and strategically. Thus, it attracts a considerable attention of the nations of the South and South-East Asia. However, the recent conflicts have made it an arena of escalating contention.

India has vital stakes in the area, as around 55% of India’s trade in the Asia-Pacific passes through this region. Thus, India has been voicing for the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and for peaceful resolution of territorial disputes between China other nations of the region.

Strategic Importance

South China Sea is an important link between the Pacific and Indian Ocean. It connects with the Indian Ocean through the Malacca Strait to the southwest, and gives access to the East China Sea to the northeast. The sea lane between the Paracel and Spratly Islands is used by oil tankers moving from the Persian Gulf to Japan, as well as by warships passing from Indian Ocean to Pacific Ocean. Thus, security of the region becomes a concern, not only for the adjoining countries, but for others as well. A serious conflict in the region can have severe international repercussions.

The disputes in South China Sea are mainly related to the issues of territorial sovereignty, contention on energy, threat to maritime security and overlapping maritime claims.

South China Sea is one of the the richest seas of the world in terms of flora and fauna, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, fish and plants. It accounts for about 10% of the annual global fisheries catchment, making it extremely viable for the fishing industries of nearby countries.

However, China has been playing a difficult role by imposing fishing rules to operate in the disputed waters. This often result in serious maritime security concerns and objections from other claimant states.

Recent disputes have also been due to the discovery of large amount of oil and natural gas, which, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), is about 11 billion barrels of oil and about 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Stakes for India

India has been making advances in relations with the South East Asian nations. It also recognise the role of Southeast Asia and Indian Ocean for defense of the Indian peninsula. Further, India’s prosperity is largely dependent upon sea trade. Thus, safety of the oceans is an indispensable need for India’s development.

Apart from its interests, India also support the freedom of navigation in South China Sea because:

  • India believes in the unimpeded right of passage as essential for peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

  • India favors a peaceful resolution of conflict and disputes, in accordance with the international law, like- UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

  • India is also interest in the mineral wealth of the nation. A free South Asian sea would be beneficial for Indian interest.

However, problems might be created due to Chinese assertiveness and tendency to take unilateral actions. But, an armed conflict over the issue is not needed.

Courtesy: The Hindu

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