At a time when China’s image has taken a beating due to its failure to share information with regard to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic; its belligerent behaviour too, has been condemned by the 10 nation ASEAN group that held its virtual meeting in Manila last week. The group reiterated its’ position that “the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the basis for determining the maritime entitlement, sovereign rights and legitimate interest over maritime zones”, this further exposed Beijing’s obduracy and its scant regard for international law.
It is unfortunate that at a time when the world is busy fighting the pandemic; which incidentally originated in Wuhan, China’s belligerence is on ascendency be it in Hong Kong, or sabre rattling in the Taiwan Straits or at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China border. In April this year, in a wanton act, a Chinese ship sank a Vietnamese boat with a crew of eight on board near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Two Vietnamese fishing boats attempting to rescue Vietnamese fishermen were detained by the Chinese. It is against this backdrop of China’s high-handednes that the ASEAN statement was issued. This move has received international traction. Some South East Asian diplomats have said that the statement marked a significant strengthening of the regional block’s assertion of rule of law in a disputed region that has been long regarded as an ASEAN flash point. While earlier, the Association had criticised the aggressive behaviour in the disputed waters, ASEAN had never castigated China in its post-summit communiqué. Incidentally, Vietnam is the current Chair of ASEAN.
India and Vietnam have always enjoyed strong bonds. The two nations are linked culturally, historically and politically. India’s stance on the South China Sea dispute has added a new dimension to its relationship with Vietnam; and New Delhi’s engagement with the countries of the region as a whole. China’s assertive behaviour has impelled other countries of the region, including Vietnam, to look towards India for peace and stability in the region.
India has consistently supported freedom of navigation at multilateral fora like ASEAN Summits and in bilateral joint declaration including with the US, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam. India’s naval exercises in South China Sea and patrolling in the Sea also indicates India’s strong strategic support to Vietnam. India’s defence, particularly naval cooperation with Vietnam and the credit line to Vietnam during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for acquiring high speed Patrol boats from India also reflects New Delhi’s concerns and commitment to Vietnam’s territorial security and sovereignty.
The world is not only fighting against China’s aggressive behaviour in the Sea and on land but also a virtual war against Covid-19. Many nations believe that had China shared information regarding the outbreak of the pandemic in time, a lot of preventive measures could have been implemented that would have minimised the loss of precious human lives and suffering.
The World Health Assembly on May 20 adopted a resolution supported by 122 countries which called for the world to “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population including the possible role of intermediate hosts” As the Chair of the WHO Executive Board this year, India is mandated to take a call on the resolution on the Covid-19. New Delhi is of the view that the “Resolution adopted at the World Health Assembly is an opportunity to use facts and science to assess our response to the pandemic and take lessons to prepare for future. As the Chair of the WHO Executive Board, India is ready to work towards these goals.” The World Health Assembly is expected to take a call on Taiwan’s aspiration for observer status in the global body. Taiwan attended the World Health Assembly as an observer in 2009, making its first participation in the activity of UN since its withdrawal in 1971.
Script: Dr. Rupa Narayan Das, Strategic Analyst on Chinese Affairs