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The latest move by the United States to reject most of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea as “completely unlawful” has tacit support from India, which has been concerned over maritime expansionism of the communist party.

New Delhi has not immediately reacted to the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement denouncing Beijing’s bid to turn South China Sea as its “maritime empire” – ostensibly because Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government wants to tread cautiously and make it sure that the ongoing process of withdrawal of troops of the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from the face-off scenes along the disputed boundary of the two nations does not get derailed.

A source in New Delhi, however, told the DH that India had abiding interests in peace and stability in the South China Sea, which was a part of the global commons, and it would support any move to resist attempts to undermine freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

New Delhi may later this week formally call upon China and its maritime neighbours to resolve disputes through peaceful means without threat or use of force as well as to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability, said the source.

The South China Sea is a major waterway and the sea lanes in this region account for over US $5 trillion of international trade.

It has been at the centre of a territorial conflict between China and many of its maritime neighbours – Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines and Taiwan.

“India too depends on the South China Sea for over 55 per cent of its trade. India undertakes various activities, including cooperation in the oil and gas sector, with littoral states of South China Sea,” another source aware of New Delhi’s position on the issue said.

The ONGC Videsh Limited has a long-standing partnership with PetroVietnam for exploration of oil and gas in Vietnam. China, however, has been protesting the role of the OVL and other foreign companies in exploration of hydrocarbons in the blocks in the continental shelf of Vietnam. China last year deployed its survey vessel – Haiyang Dizhi 8 – near “Vanguard Bank” in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Vietnam, to re-assert its claim on the disputed waters. The vessel, which was escorted by at least two ships of China Coast Guard, sailed close to an offshore oil block, where ONGC Videsh of India has 45 per cent, Rosneft of Russia has 35 per cent and PetroVietnam of Vietnam has 20 per cent stake.

“India supports freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded commerce in the South China Sea, based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” said the source. “As a State Party to the UNCLOS, India urges all parties to show the utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans.”

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