New Delhi’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar outlined India’s position on the disputed waterway at the East Asia Summit, which brings together the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) along with India, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand South Korea, Russia and the US.
Mr Jaishankar pointed to the importance of adhering to international law, respecting territorial integrity and sovereignty, and promoting a rules-based global order.
Without naming China, the minister said India was concerned about actions and incidents in the South China Sea that “erode trust”.
He said ongoing negotiations on the proposed code of conduct “should not be prejudicial to legitimate interests of third parties and should be fully consistent” with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Beijing has been pushing Asean members to wrap up negotiations on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
A Chinese aircraft carrier conducts drills in the South China Sea
Premier Li Keqiang raised the issue during the Asean-China Summit last week which many saw as a bid to consolidate Beijing’s influence in the region.
The code of conduct is aimed at regulating activities in the South China Sea, where China is embroiled in disputes with Asean members such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
China’s claims of sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea are contested by Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Beijing rejected a 2016 arbitration ruling invalidating most of its territorial claims in the South China Sea which resulted in an increased US military presence in the region.
This has led to regular displays of Chinese military muscle flexing which Washington has branded “bullying” and “coercive” and has accused China of attempting to build a “maritime empire” in the area.
The latest flashpoint between the two superpowers has been Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic state which China views as a renegade province to one day be brought back under its sovereignty, by force if necessary.
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A Chinese battlegroup on patrol in the South China Sea
China’s activities in the South China Sea are ‘eroding trust’ in the region
Washington has enraged Beijing by signing a series of arms deals with Taiwan and Chinese military chiefs have responded with yet more sabre-rattling in the region.
Chinese fighter jets carried out sabre-rattling sorties above the Taiwan Straits on 25 days in October as tensions between Beijing and Taipei reached boiling point, according to defence officials on the island.
The Taiwan airforce scrambled its own jets on a number of occasions when the Chinese fighters approached the island’s self-proclaimed southwestern “air defence identification zone”.
Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert, told China’s state-run Global Times: “This shows that the Chinese mainland’s military forces have made patrols in the Taiwan Straits routine and normal, and they have achieved complete monitoring of any anomaly on the island or from foreign forces that might occur.
“The mainland will adjust its activities in accordance with the situation.
“If Taiwan or foreign countries like the US conduct further military provocations, the PLA could demonstrate more of its abilities, including anti-access and seizure of aerial superiority and sea control.”
Chinese defence ministry spokesman Colonel Tan Kefei said: “The PLA operations came amid America’s latest weapons sales to the island, which seriously violates the one-China principle and the three China-US Joint Communiques, and severely interferes in China’s internal affairs and undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests.”
Taiwan’s defence authority said China mainly deployed its Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft, and Y-8 and Y-9 electronic warfare aircraft.
Defence analysts said these warplanes can monitor surface and underwater vessel movements, gather electronic signals and intelligence and jam the electronic devices of opposing forces.
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Chines fighter jets fly above the Taiwan Straits
Global Times editor Hu Xijin accused the island’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of promoting anti-China sentiment and working with Washington to “jeopardise the rise of the mainland.”
In a fiery editorial he said: “The fighter jets of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) must fly over the island of Taiwan to declare national sovereignty and show the determination to exercise the Anti-Secession Law.
“This is the firm step the Chinese mainland needs to walk in a bid to lock down ‘Taiwan independence’ tendencies.
“The mainland should clearly warn the DPP authorities that if the Taiwan military dares to open fire at mainland warplanes flying over Taiwan, it means war and the PLA will deal a crushing blow to the Taiwan military.”