In a veiled message to China amid its growing assertiveness in resource-rich South China Sea, India and Indonesia on Monday asserted that the dispute must be resolved through peaceful means and in accordance with principles of international law without resorting to threat or use of force.
The issue figured prominently during talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesia President Joko Widodo as they deliberated on developments in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and beyond. Without naming China, the two leaders also called for exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities, and avoid unilateral actions that raise tensions.
In the talks, India and Indonesia have also decided to boost ties in maritime security sphere with a focus on cooperating with each other to ensure the safety and security of the sea lanes.
“Regarding the South China Sea, the two sides stressed the importance of resolving disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law including the UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea),” a joint statement issued after the talks between Modi and Widodo said.
While Indonesia was not directly involved in the South China Sea dispute it has been strongly critical of China’s claim over the resource-rich waters around Indonesia’s Natuna Islands.
China has an acrimonious relationship with a number of countries including Vietnam and Philippines over the disputed waters. China has also been objecting to India’s oil exploration projects in South China Sea which it is implementing in cooperation with Vietnam.
In the talks, the two sides also reiterated their commitment to respecting freedom of navigation and over flight, and unimpeded lawful commerce and urged all parties to resolve the disputes through peaceful means and without resorting to threat or use of force.
“As the leaders of the State Parties to the UNCLOS, they emphasised that all parties should show utmost respect to the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans,” the statement said.
After the deliberations, a Joint Statement on Maritime Cooperation was also issued which outlined the agenda of bilateral engagement in maritime security sphere.
“Our partnership will also extend to combating terrorism, organised crime, drugs and human trafficking,” it said.
Both Modi and Widodo affirmed that India and Indonesia are maritime neighbours whose relations are rooted in civilisational contacts developed through the seas and who share similar perceptions of the evolving maritime environment in the region and the world at large.
The two leaders recognised that India and Indonesia share common interests in ensuring maritime security and the safety of sea lines of communication.
“The leaders noted that India and Indonesia, as two large countries straddling the Indian Ocean, have a high stake in ensuring the effectiveness of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA),” the joint statement said.