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India on Wednesday without naming China sent a clear message that the Code of Conduct (CoC) on South China Sea (SCS) “should not prejudice legitimate rights and interests of nations not party to discussions”.

This message was delivered in no uncertain terms by Foreign Minister S Jaishankar while addressing 11th edition of the East Asia Summit (EAS) meeting.

In a series of tweets following the meet, Jaishankar said, “Stressed that Code of Conduct on South China Sea should be fully consistent with UNCLOS 1982. Should not prejudice legitimate rights and interests of nations not party to discussions.”

He further tweeted, “Supported the ASEAN five-point consensus on Myanmar and welcomed the appointment of Special Envoy. Noted the growing Covid-19 challenge faced by ASEAN and conveyed our support and solidarity.”

Highlighted the growing convergence of approaches on Indo-Pacific among different members.

Over 50% of India’s global trade and over $5 trillion global trade passes through the SCS region.

China, in its negotiations with ASEAN, is allegedly trying to dictate a Code of Conduct (COC) to bolster its territorial as well as economic claims in the SCS and lack of a balanced COC could impact India’s strategic and economic interests in the SCS region, according to persons familiar with the issue.

The CoC is expected to be a regional framework establishing rules and standards for regional peace and stability. However, the lack of intra-ASEAN unanimity, allegedly due to Chinese influence, continue to remain key impediments, according to one of the persons quoted above. The CoC has to be legally binding to be effective. There also has to be a consensus between participants on the CoC’s geographic scope.

Beijing often invokes the so-called nine-dash line to justify its apparent historic rights over most of the resource-rich South China Sea region where Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims. But China often intimidates other claimants through display of force by its Navy and Coast Guard and created artificial islands in the SCS region where it has installed military equipment. In 2016, Beijing refused to honour the UNCLOS ruling on SCS.

Later addressing India-ASEAN Foreign Ministers meet Jaishankar noted that 1982 UNCLOS sets out accepted legal framework for all maritime activities.

He noted that Much of India’s interests and relationships now lie to its East, a testimony of its ties with ASEAN and that India is looking forward to early review of Trade in Goods Agreement.

“Seeking convergence between the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific(AOIP) and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) proposed by India. Support Initiative for ASEAN Integration through capacity building initiatives,” the Minister tweeted.

He described ASEAN states as strong partners in Covid response: medicines or oxygen, equipment or logistics. The Minister proposed 2022 as ASEAN-India friendship year for 30th anniversary.

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