India and China on Friday discussed maritime security issues and prospects for bilateral cooperation for the first time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi had enunciated India’s policy on the strategic Indo-Pacific region amidst Beijing flexing muscles in the South and East China seas.
The two sides held their second maritime security dialogue here during which the Indian side elaborated on its vision for the Indo-Pacific region as articulated in Prime Minister Modi’s keynote address at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
The two countries had held the inaugural maritime security dialogue in 2016 in New Delhi amid tensions over the South China Sea. It was not held last year.
The first dialogue covered a range of issues of mutual interest, including the exchange of perspectives on maritime security and prospects for maritime cooperation between the two countries.
Developments in international regimes such as UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) also figured in the discussions, according to the External Affairs Ministry.
In the second dialogue, the two sides exchanged views on various topics of mutual interest, including perspectives on maritime security and cooperation, blue economy, and further strengthening of practical cooperation, a press release issued by the Indian Embassy said.
Both sides underlined the importance of the dialogue as an important mechanism between the two countries for consultations on maritime issues.
“They emphasised the need to further strengthen maritime cooperation as an important area of India-China bilateral relations, and as a platform to strengthen political and strategic mutual trust between the two countries,” the press release said.
The term Indo-Pacific being highlighted by the US, Australia and Japan besides India has caused concerns in China, considering its stakes in the disputed South China Sea, where it claims about 90 per cent of it. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims over the area.
China is also engaged in maritime disputes in the East China Sea with Japan.
The growing presence of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean where it already acquired a logistic base at Djibouti has aroused concerns in India besides the acquisition of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka by China on a 99-year lease.
China is also expanding its influence over the Maldives besides aggressively pursuing its 21st century Maritime Silk Road which is part of its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aimed at expanding its trade and influence in the world. In his address at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore last month, Modi had termed the Indo-Pacific is a natural region.
“Inclusiveness, openness and ASEAN centrality and unity, therefore, lie at the heart of the new Indo-Pacific. India does not see the Indo-Pacific region as a strategy or as a club of limited members,” he had said.
The Indian delegation at today’s talks was led by Pankaj Sharma, Joint Secretary (Disarmament and International Security Affairs) in the Ministry of External Affairs while the Chinese delegation was led by Wu Jianghao, Director General at the Department of Asian Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. The Indian delegation also called on Kong Xuanyou, Vice-Foreign Minister of China. Both sides agreed to hold the next round of the dialogue at a mutually convenient time in India, the press release said.