What is at stake for India in South China Sea?

New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Mar 22, 2021, 11:02 PM IST

Satellite photo shows Chinese-controlled North Island, part of the Paracel Islands group in the South China Sea, on September 29, 2017. Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, which is extremely rich in resources

The Indo-Pacific region has become the geopolitical centre of the world for which several leaders are fighting over.

The location is crucial because it is the merging point of two oceans, that is, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

The geographic region has become the biggest maritime flashpoint of the world.

China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, which is extremely rich in resources.

The country has been accused by the United States of efforts to "intimidate, coerce and threaten other nations" to control it.

An international tribunal invalidated China's claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea in 2016, but Beijing does not recognise the ruling. China has built islands in the disputed waters in recent years, putting airstrips on some of them.

Beijing often invokes the so-called nine-dash line to justify its apparent historic rights over most of the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he "commended India's leadership role in the Indo-Pacific and growing engagement with like-minded partners across the region to promote shared goals," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

New Delhi has recently shifted its foreign policy focus eastward. Nearly 200 billion dollars worth of Indian trade passes through the South China Sea.

Free and open navigation is in India's interest, but Chinese dominance would be disastrous.

The Philippines urged China on Sunday to recall more than 200 Chinese boats it said had been spotted at a reef in the South China Sea, saying the presence of the vessels violated its maritime rights as it claims ownership of the area.

From the British empire in the 16th and 17th centuries to the United States since World War I, maritime superpowers have dominated world politics.

China's unilateral actions have had an unintended effect. It has brought all the regional stakeholders including the Quad together.

The leaders of the United States, India, Australia and Japan - countries together known as the Quad - held the first summit last week pledging to work together for a free and open Indo-Pacific and to cooperate on maritime and cybersecurity in the face of challenges from China.

India has been cultivating its ties in the region as a part of the ''act east'' policy. Its major focus is on the ASEAN grouping.

The ASEAN has 10 member nations. It is among the fastest-growing political unions in the world.

India has opted for mini trade deals. It is mulling a preferential trade arrangement with the Philippines, the third-largest economy in ASEAN.

Despite over 70 years of diplomatic ties -- India and the Philippines do not have close ties. Earlier this month, the two countries signed a major defence deal.

The Philippines will buy the Indian-made Brahmos PJ-10 missiles, the fastest cruise missile in the market. Defence cooperation mostly leads to strategic partnerships.

India and the Philippines are also cooperating on the vaccine front. Manila plans to secure 8 million doses of COVAXIN -- developed by India's Bharat biotech.

India could help the Philippines revive its struggling inoculation campaign.

In December last year - India and Vietnam participated in a two-day military drill

An Indian warship was dispatched to Vietnam to deliver humanitarian aid and the naval drills were organised on its return voyage.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the region is ''India's sphere of influence.''

Indians have sailed these waters for more than 1,500 years.

Economically and politically -- India has a lot at stake in the South China Sea.

In the last 40 years -- the Indo-Pacific prospered as a hub of free navigation...

Deterring China's belligerence in the region is key and India could be the bulwark against Beijing.

New Delhi has the economic power, the political clout and the military strength to tackle China on the high seas.