Russia and China have asked India to clear its stand on the South China Sea dispute, saying that New Delhi’s different stands on the issue have created confusion.

In a joint letter to the Narendra Modi government, Russia and China have said that India should state its exact position on the South China Sea, as it is not clear why it has taken slightly different positions on the biggest point of international conflict.

Russia and China discussed the issue with India during the tri-nation RIC meeting in Moscow on April 18. At the end of the RIC meeting, the three countries issued a joint statement, saying: “Russia, India and China are committed to maintaining a legal order for the seas and oceans based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS).” They also agreed to address all related disputes through peaceful negotiations and decided to encourage concerned parties to sign agreements in order to resolve the issue.

At the RIC meeting, India assured Russia and China that it would respect all provisions of UNCLOS, the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea and the Guidelines for the implementation of the DOC.

However, New Delhi issued a different statement during US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s recent visit to the South Asian country. In a joint statement, Carter and Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said: “The US and India reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over-flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea.” The two defence ministers also said that they wanted a “rules-based order and regional security architecture conducive to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean”. New Delhi and Washington further agreed to work together in an attempt to ensure the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region (and the South China Sea). A week after Carter-Parrikar talks in the Indian capital, Moscow and Beijing have said that India’s two affirmations are slightly different and the Modi government should clear its actual position on the issue.

Ahead of Carter’s arrival in New Delhi, Beijing declared in its state media outlets that India was sympathetic to China’s view. However, US Pacific Command Chief Admiral Harry Binkley Harris announced last week that India and America might soon be sailing together for joint patrols as per a roadmap of the Strategic Vision document signed by the two countries during President Barrack Obama’s visit to New Delhi in 2015. Admiral Harris’ announcement has prompted China (and Russia) to ask India to clarify its official position on the South China Sea.

On Tuesday, Charge d’Affairs at the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi Liu Jinsong stressed: “We do not accept the jurisdiction in the South China Sea arbitration at the request of Philippines. The matter concerns China’s territorial sovereignty, which is beyond the scope of UNCLOS. We can settle and manage the issue bilaterally through peaceful means based on international law, including UNCLOS.”

Meanwhile, a senior Indian official has explained that the RIC statement was issued in the context of a multilateral forum, but India’s sovereign position is different. According to the official, India is waiting for the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s verdict, as New Delhi will clarify its sovereign position only after receiving a copy of the judgement.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]