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India expresses concern over South China Sea development & calls for respecting territorial integrity

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New Delhi: India on Saturday expressed concerns over incidents and actions in the South China Sea (SCS) that erode trust in the region and emphasised on the importance of adhering to international law, respecting territorial integrity and sovereignty, and promoting a rules-based global order in what can be described as a veiled message to China following its aggressive posturing.

These views were expressed by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar who represented India at the 15th East Asia Summit (EAS) on Saturday. The Summit was chaired by the Prime Minister of Vietnam H.E. Nguyen Xuan Phuc in his capacity as ASEAN Chair. All the eighteen EAS countries participated in the virtual Summit.

Jaishankar, in his remarks, re-affirmed the importance of EAS as the Leaders-led forum to exchange views on strategic issues. He spoke of the importance of adhering to international law, respecting territorial integrity and sovereignty, and promoting a rules-based global order, according to MEA statement issued after the Summit.

On COVID-19, he briefed the EAS Leaders about India’s response to pandemic and highlighted India’s efforts to support the international community. He reiterated Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to help make the COVID vaccine accessible and affordable to all nations.

The Minister also noted the growing interest in the Indo-Pacific as an integrated and organic maritime space, with ASEAN at its centre. He appreciated the synergy between the ASEAN Outlook and India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative. India was equally positive about the Indo-Pacific policies announced recently by other nations. Harmonizing various perspectives would never be a challenge if there is commitment to international cooperation, according to Jaishankar.

On South China Sea, he expressed concern about actions and incidents that erode trust in the region. He stated that the Code of Conduct negotiations should not be prejudicial to legitimate interests of third parties and should be fully consistent with UNCLOS.

He also underlined the need for greater international cooperation in the post-COVID world to tackle the challenges cutting across national boundaries such as terrorism, climate change, pandemics etc.

The Summit discussed ways to strengthen the EAS platform and to make it more responsive to emerging challenges on its 15th anniversary and adopted the Ha Noi Declaration. The Leaders underlined the importance of cooperation in ensuring safe, effective and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines. They called for greater cooperation in keeping the global supply chains open for an expeditious and sustainable economic recovery.

Regional and international issues such as the South China Sea, situation in Korean peninsula and Rakhine state were also discussed. Besides Ha Noi Declaration, the Summit also adopted four other Leaders’ Statements on Marine Sustainability; Epidemics Prevention and Response; Women, Peace and Security; and Steady Growth of Regional Economy.

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