India and the South China Sea Dispute


The Hague’s Arbitration Tribunal on July 12 clearly backed the Philippines on the issue of the South China Sea (SCS) dispute. It also declared large parts of the South China Sea as international waters and a few as other countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). India stood in support of The Hague’s ruling as it believed that the international law should always be abided.

Apart from being a member of the UNCLOS, there are three large reasons why India needs to play a role in the South China Sea. Though India is not a direct claimant in the South China Sea, it has 55 per cent of its economic stakes in the South China Sea. Secondly, to uphold its strong “Act East Policy”, it is seemingly expected to take a stand. Thirdly, it is answerable to its ASEAN colleagues. Hence, silence would not work in favour of India. Exemplifying this further, India had recently dismissed a picture printed in a state-run Chinese newspaper that stated that India was standing in support of China over the issue of the South China Sea.

At the 14th ASEAN meeting at Laos, Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh stated: “As State Party to the UNCLOS, India urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans.”

Hence, India clearly supports freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded commerce, based on the principles of inter-national law, as reflected notably in the UNCLOS. India’s stand on taking sides with the claimant countries is neutral as it wants the involved parties to directly resolve it. It also believes that the involved states should resolve it without any use of threat and force which would unwillingly lead to complications and affect the peace and stability of the region.

The South China Debate can either have opportunistic or paradoxical outcomes in various ways.

India has already offered military support to Vietnam, which is a direct and important claimant in the South China Sea. India has signed two major naval projects with Vietnam and discussions on installing the ‘Brahmos Missile system’ and ‘Varunastra’ in Vietnam is also underway. India has also offered a hand on modernising and upgrading their military equipment along with training the Vietnamese submariners. The Philippines’ military equip-ment are second hand and aged and that country has also already expressed its interest in purchasing cruise missiles and other military systems from India.