The consensus on maritime security

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The consensus on maritime security

Friday, 13 August 2021 | KUMARDEEP BANERJEE

The consensus on maritime security

India's efforts at the UNSC meeting to bring back the centrality of UNCLOS are being appreciated

India got off to a spectacular start at the prestigious and powerful United Nations Security Council and achieved what many consider a diplomatic victory of sorts over China. The Indian Prime minister’s first address as chair, for an open debate on maritime security, managed to re-center United Nations Convention on the law of the sea (UNCLOS) as the key driver for managing all oceanic activities. China has for long managed to negate the influence of UNCLOS with its aggressive militaristic actions in the South China Sea. The world has been keeping a close eye on China’s illegal claim to many islands in the region while conducting exploitative fishing activities. The permanent court of arbitration setup under UNCLOS had in 2016 termed China’s actions in the South China Sea as illegal. but failed to refrain the dragon to comply. Against this backdrop, India’s efforts to bring back the centrality of UNCLOS are being appreciated. India began working towards the document and the speech read by the Prime Minister months in advance. Adopting a consensus-building approach, the document was shared in advance with members of the UNSC and after delays, China finally turned around and submitted to the primacy of the international agreement. While the permanent representative of China to the UN was absent during the deliberations attended by two prime ministers, two presidents, and 10 ministers, his deputy was present.

China continues to use the UNCLOS agreement to criticize the United States, Japan, and Australia on a range of issues calling it political trickery of the United States in the garb of international law. Statements made by the US on China accepting the SCS arbitration award has been questioned as a threat to territorial sovereignty, maritime rights, and China’s interest in the South China Sea.  Efforts by countries such as Vietnam (one of the first signatories of UNCLOS) to hold a discussion on maritime security in the UN Security Council has been stalled by China. India’s other agenda at the UN Security Council meet was to highlight and bring terrorism to the center of global debate. The Security council acknowledged that terrorists could target critical infrastructure and public spaces specially in the transportation sector including ports,maritime transport, and interconnect critical infrastructure which could bring the global economy to a standstill. India with its 7500 kms of coastline has been at the receiving end of sea route terrorists landing in the financial capital Mumbai during the 26/11 terror attack.Therefore, the security council’s call for enhanced international and regional cooperation on maritime security, prevention of terror activities, and appreciation of regional and individual countries via information sharing is commendable. Finally, India’s well-crafted statement on promoting responsible maritime connectivity to boost trade can again be seen as the growing importance of the country as a major maritime player. India mentioned that while developing any infrastructure it is important to pay attention to the fiscal sustainability and absorption capacity of the host countries for which appropriate global standards and norms need to be developed. This was a reference to China’s opaque debt trap aid through the Belt and Road Initiative which has led to some beneficiary nations relinquishing their rights to critical infrastructure projects developed in their countries with Chinese money. The Indian Ocean is the major gateway accounting for nearly 75 per cent of the world’s maritime trade and half of global oil consumption. Any threats to the free movement of ships on these oceans and unfair practices have an impact on the global economy.Therefore, regional trade relations based on internationally acceptable principles should be the way forward.

(The writer is a policy analyst. The views expressed are personal.)

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