Jakarta: Vice President M Hamid Ansari on Sunday said India is not engaged in the business of counter-balancing the influence of any country, let alone China in the South China Sea, which is under dispute.
Interacting with media on board Air India One, Ansari, when asked whether India was looking for ways to counter-balance Beijing or any other country's influence in the area, said, "We are not in the business of counter-balancing with anyone, China or any other country. The world of the 21st century works on the principle of commonality of interests."
Ansari's strident comment on the issue came days after an arbitration court in The Netherlands delivered a legal setback to Beijing by ruling that it had the jurisdiction to hear some of the territorial claims filed by the Philippines against China over disputed areas in the South China Sea.
According to foreign news agency report, Manila had filed the case in 2013 to seek a ruling on its right to exploit the South China Sea waters in its 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, according to the foreign news agency, had rejected Beijing's claim that the disputes were about territorial sovereignty and said additional hearings would be held to decide the merits of the Philippines' argument.
China has boycotted the proceedings and rejects the court's authority in the case. Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, dismissing claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
The foreign agency report quoted the tribunal as saying that it found it had authority to hear seven of Manila's submissions under UNCLOS and China's decision not to participate did "not deprive the tribunal of jurisdiction".
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea involve both island and maritime claims among several nations within the region, namely Brunei, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, The Philippines and Vietnam.
There are disputes concerning Spratly and Paracel Islands, as well as maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin and elsewhere. There is a further dispute in the waters near Indonesia's Natuna Islands.
Developments in the South China Sea (SCS) have significant implications for India's strategic interests and its role in the Indo-Pacific region. New Delhi has traditionally maintained a safe distance from making direct commentary on issues like the SCS maritime disputes, and instead emphasized on the need for freedom of navigation.
But with the advent of NDA rule, New Delhi has turned the 'Look East Policy' into the 'Act East Policy', and made some direct comments on the need to resolve the maritime dispute.
It recently inked a joint strategic vision with the US for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region and is reportedly in talks with key regional countries to increase security collaboration, especially in the maritime domain.
The present government sees the South China Sea dispute as an important element of New Delhi's relationship with the East, for both trade and strategic reasons.
In order to strengthen its relationship with South East Asian nations, India has to portray itself as a credible security actor in the region.
New Delhi clearly is on record as saying that the South China Sea dispute has the potential to destabilise regional security. This view was aired in the India-U.S. joint statement, in the joint statement with Vietnam, and at the East Asia Summit and the India ASEAN Summit of 2014.