India has said its concept of the Indo-Pacific is “inclusive” in nature and is based on cooperation and collaboration, given the need for shared responses to the shared challenges in the strategically important region.
India calls for a free, open and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific, based upon respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue and adherence to international rules and laws, First Secretary and Legal advis0r in India’s Permanent Mission to the U.N. Yedla Umasankar said on December 8.
“India’s concept of the Indo-Pacific is inclusive in nature, and supports an approach that respects the right to freedom of navigation and overflight for all in the international seas,” he said.
“India’s Indo-Pacific vision is premised upon the principle of ‘ASEAN-Centrality’ India’s approach is based on cooperation and collaboration, given the need for shared responses to shared challenges in the region,” Mr. Umasankar said.
Speaking in the U.N. General Assembly on ‘Oceans and the Law of the Sea’, Mr. Umasankar said “We cannot allow our seas to turn into zones of contention. Secure and open sea lanes are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development.”
India, the U.S. and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s rising military manoeuvring in the region.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.
India also reiterated the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight on the high seas, unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as resolving maritime disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law including the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“We have seen instances where decisions of international judicial bodies are not being respected or given effect to by countries. This is clearly unacceptable. We call on all member states to respect rule of law at the international level,” Mr. Umasankar said, apparently referring to China.
In 2016, an arbitration tribunal under the UNCLOS ruled that there was no evidence that China had historic rights to the waters or resources in the South China Sea that fell within its “nine-dash line”, and was violating the Philippine’s sovereign rights with its operations there. Beijing has rejected the ruling by the tribunal.
Mr. Umasankar also stressed that terrorism and transnational crimes such as drug and weapons smuggling, human trafficking and piracy could also have a similar impact on maritime activities.
“Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and natural disasters are other issues that could have a catastrophic impact on all maritime activities and the environment as such. It would be evident that no nation however powerful or rich would have the resources to meet all the above tasks alone,” he said.
“Emphasising that oceans are a common concern of mankind,” Mr. Umasankar said cooperation between all stakeholder nations to ensure peace and stability in the seas is essential to safeguard common maritime interests and in furthering human development.
“Trust and confidence between nations are essential to ensure cooperative security,” he said.
Voicing concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the implementation of ocean-related work programmes, Mr. Umasankar said the work of international tribunals involved in the settlement of maritime disputes and various capacity-building activities has been affected.
“In this context, COVID-19 shows us the importance of preserving ecosystems and biodiversity, and marine biodiversity is no exception,” he said.
India, with a vast coastline of more than 7,500 km and over thousand islands whose one-third population lives along the coast, has a longstanding maritime tradition and abiding interest in ocean affairs.
“A seafaring nation with a large coastal economy, India is acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities that oceans represent and recognises Blue Economy as a driver of inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development,” he said.
“We must work towards innovative technologies for offshore renewable energy, aquaculture, deep seabed mining and marine biotechnology which provide a new source of jobs. The need for ‘greening’ the ocean economy is also gaining importance,” Mr. Umasankar said.
He noted that India is concerned with the illegal fishing practices and those relating to maritime safety and security, including the acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.
“India is strongly committed to protecting its coastal and marine environment and attaches special importance to prevent and significantly reduce marine debris and litter by 2025, through global action and collective efforts of all stakeholders. We have also undertaken the commitment to eliminate single-use plastic in India by 2022,” he said.
The General Assembly postponed action on the omnibus draft resolution ‘Oceans and the law of the sea’ to enable its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) to review its programme budget implications.
That text would, among other things, have the world body reaffirm the unified character of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the vital importance of preserving its integrity.