In a rare show of unity, the UK government has joined its European neighbours, France and Germany, to issue a joint statement expressing concern over brewing tensions in the South China Sea, which it warns could lead to “insecurity and instability” in the region. The statement welcomes the efforts by members states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN), of which India is a sectoral dialogue partner, to hold talks with China to achieve a rules-based Code of Conduct based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
China flexing its military muscles in the resource-rich South China Sea have unnerved many countries in the region. Beijing claims most of the contested sea and has rejected a UN-backed international tribunal ruling that said China’s assertion to the South China Sea is without legal basis. “We are concerned about the situation in the South China Sea which could lead to insecurity and instability in the region,” the statement reads.
“We call on all coastal States of the South China Sea to take steps and measures that reduce tensions and contribute to maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability and safety in the region, including as regards the rights of coastal States in their waters and the freedom and rights of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” it notes. As state parties of the UNCLOS, the UK, France and Germany underlined their interest in the universal application of the Convention, which sets out the comprehensive legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seasincluding in the South China Sea must be carried out and which provides the basis for national, regional and global co-operation in the maritime domain.
The statement adds: “They [UK, France and Germany] recall in this regard the Arbitration Award rendered under UNCLOS on 12 July 2016. “Furthermore, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom welcome the ongoing negotiations between the ASEAN member states and China in view of achieving a rules-based, cooperative and effective Code of Conduct consistent with UNCLOS in the South ChinaSea and encourage progress towards its early conclusion.”
Despite being signed and ratified by all concerned countries in the region, the interpretation of UNCLOS in South China Sea remains a fiercely disputed issue. Beijing has been exerting increasing influence in the region and recently accused the US military of “provocative” actions in the area. China had last month deployed a large number of survey vessels in the South China Sea on the Vietnamese side.
The Chinese action aimed at disrupting oil exploration projects in Vietnam’s waters triggered the biggest confrontation between the two neighbours since 2014. China claims almost all of the South China Sea but Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the waterway. The South China Sea is stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources. It is also vital to global trade.