Containment anxieties seem to have gripped Beijing in the aftermath of the India-Japan joint position against “unilateral actions” in South China Sea during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s just-concluded visit to India. Beijing has reacted sharply to the first-ever mention of the South China Sea dispute in a India-Japan joint statement, asserting that countries outside the region should not meddle in what China sees as a dispute with other five states which are contesting parts or whole of South China Sea.
“We hope countries outside the region respect the efforts of regional countries in maintaining peace and stability of South China Sea, instead of doing the opposite,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei in Beijing. Mr Hong asserted that Chinese activities were “justified, reasonable and lawful, targeting no country and impeding in no way the freedom of navigation and overflight in South China Sea”.
Many countries in the region, including Vietnam and Malaysia, have opposed construction and shipping by the Chinese Navy in and around the disputed islands in South China Sea. The US and Japan have also opposed Chinese activities in the disputed territory, saying these would impede freedom of navigation.
The joint India-Japan formulation calls on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that could endanger peace. China has been opposed to external interference in the region and has stressed that the disputes need to be resolved bilaterally.
Beijing has also objected to India’s invitation to Japan to participate regularly in the Malabar naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. “As for Japan’s participation in the relevant military exercises, China’s position is very clear. Relevant countries should not provoke confrontation and create tension in the region,” he said.
India has also entered into agreements with Vietnam for oil exploration in the South China Sea, which has also been strongly opposed by China. China has stressed on the fact that India should not use the seas for commercial purposes as it is an external player in the territory.
China’s sharp reaction to India’s growing strategic partnership with Japan emanates from Beijing’s apprehensions that Tokyo and New Delhi are collaborating to contain China’s rise. Beijing’s anxieties have been compounded by what it sees as the India-US-Japan triangle and the concert of democracies shaping in the region.
India has been wary of China’s assertive postures in the region, but has denied any anti-China containment strategy. In fact, India is also seeking to expand economic and infrastructure partnership with Asia’s largest economy, which was reflected in substantive outcomes during Mr Modi’s visit to China in May this year.
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