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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 46 New Delhi November 5, 2016

India and Russia vis-a-vis China’s Claims in the South China Sea

Monday 7 November 2016

by Hasan Hamidullah

India should be far more active in the use of international institutions while promoting its national interests, especially in its territorial disputes and the right of free navigation.

Our support to the Philippines in their case against the well-known claims of China in the West Philippines Sea helps us to pursue our own interests in similar cases, like the Sir Creek dispute with Pakistan or measures to counter Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. In such a scenario New Delhi is expected to enjoy undisputed support of not only such countries like the Philippines but also the entire United Nations and other influential global bodies.

Our coherent approach in similar cases is bound to reinforce our position in our own disputes and portray us as a reliable and stabilising defender of law in international relations.

The other issue that New Delhi should use in its own interest is Russia’s appeal to the UN Tribunal concerning the border of its continental shelf in the Arctic. First of all, Moscow’s move is another example of using international arbitration in a territorial dispute and appealing to the Inter-national Convention on Maritime Law, unlike Washington’s approach that denies the Conven-tion’s ratification. If India supports Russia’s case it can kill two birds with one stone. It could expect (and demand) that the Kremlin take positions similar to ours in international territorial disputes and convince the Russians that support to the decisions of international bodies could prevent accusations from others involved in a dispute. That will be useful in Russia’s sensitive relations with China and some other countries. And in the same way it will be easy to explain our stand of supporting not Russia in the direct sense but in effect the international law given Moscow’s tense relations with the West.

Another point is the fact that the Arctic region has a vast resource of hydrocarbons and we are much interested in getting access to them to ensure our energy security in future. And in the light of the access to the Russian oilfields we have been able to recently get, we can expect the same approach from Moscow when it comes to the region’s natural resources that are badly needed for India’s long-term sustainable economic development.

Our position on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea will in the main give us the most potential strength. Even Beijing’s opposition cannot possibly ignore the International Tribunal’s decision and at the same time is unlikely to heighten tensions between India and China because that will not be due to India’s anti-China policies but acutually on account of the rule of law in international relations.