South China Sea Row: Beijing Wants India’s Support

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Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

A day after China’s aspiration to be a globally respected power suffered huge setback at hands of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), a state-run Chinese daily displayed a world map showing 70 countries, including India, support its position on the South China Sea disputes.

The ‘China Daily’ claimed on Wednesday that most of the world, except North America, South America and Australia, backed Beijing’s position. The daily said: “More than 70 countries have publicly voiced support for China’s position that South China Sea disputes should be resolved through negotiations and not arbitration. In contrast, just several countries, mainly the US and its close allies, have publicly supported the Philippines and called for observing the ruling as legally binding.”

Meanwhile, New Delhi rubbished the report published by China Daily and once again urged Beijing to respect the PCA’s verdict. On Tuesday, judges at the UN-appointed Arbitration Court ruled that China had no legal basis for its famed ‘Nine-Dash Line’, which it had interfered with the Philippines’ fishing rights. They also ruled that Beijing, which breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by exploring oil and gas and building artificial islands in South China Sea, had no right to claim a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

A senior official of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs described the Chinese media report as a flight of diplomatic fancy, saying that Beijing should not expect New Delhi’s support especially after opposing India’s NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) membership bid during the elite club’s plenary in Seoul a fortnight ago. The official, who wished to remain anonymous, also slammed the Chinese daily for showing India, with incorrect depiction of its boundary, in the map.

Speaking at a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, the Indian official said that China’s unilateralism in South China Sea dispute undermined a fragile global order. He advised Beijing to emulate New Delhi, if it wants to resolve the issue peacefully. When the PCA upheld Bangladesh’s position on delimitation of maritime boundaries between the two neighbouring countries in 2014, India accepted the verdict and rejected the “might is right” approach, the official told reporters.

Indian foreign policy experts believe that China is actually damaging its reputation by seeking to unilaterally impose its will on its neighbours. According to experts, it becomes important for the top Chinese leadership to understand the fact that hard might isn’t everything, soft powers matters too.

Even Australia warned China of “strong reputational costs” and called for an end to the “Chinese island building” in the region. In a move that may rile Beijing, Coast Guards of Japan and the Philippines are taking part in security exercises off Manila Bay.

However, China is in no mood to accept the PCA verdict. In the last 48 hours, Beijing not only described the UN report on South China Sea as ‘garbage’, but also claimed that all the five members of the PCA Panel were appointed by Japan and paid by the Philippines. The Asian giant further warned against ‘cradle of war’ in South China Sea, saying that it has the ‘right’ to establish air defence identification zone over the sea (if it feels threatened). On Wednesday, China launched naval drills in the region even as the US Pacific Command deployed an aircraft carrier to “support security” in South China Sea.

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