India - Japan - South China Sea

India - Japan - South China SeaOn November 30th, 2019, in New Delhi, India, Japan and India held the first 2+2 Security Dialogue with the participation of Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono and his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh.

At the dialogue, India and Japan discussed important issues in defense, fuel and ammunition supply, and arms development cooperation. After the dialogue, the two sides issued a Joint Statement, emphasizing that in the context of the complicated regional development, the need to deepen their defense cooperation and to hold mutual exercises between the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Indian Air Force in 2020.

Recently, after stepping up the militarization of the South China Sea, Beijing has increased violation in waters under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of other countries around the South China Sea; at the same time, increasing the military presence in the Indian Ocean which raises international concern, especially for Japan and India. Thus, in the joint statement, both ministers called for ensuring "the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Analysts say that both India and Japan have territorial disputes with China. For India, there is a dispute regarding the land border of India - China where there was a military confrontation in the 1960s. For Japan, there is a dispute regarding the Senkaku Islands and the waters in the East China Sea. Therefore, Beijing's aggression is not only a threat to the countries around the South China Sea but also to India and Japan.

Regarding the South China Sea, Japanese and Indian ministers emphasized the importance of freedom of navigation and aviation as well as unimpeded legal trade in the South China Sea - the center of an escalated conflict between China and its maritime neighbors in Southeast Asia. The Ministers sent a strong message to Beijing that it should stop not bully neighboring littoral countries around the South China Sea.

From the beginning of July to the end of October 2019, China sent Haiyang Dizhi 08 and many coast guard vessels, maritime militia to conduct illegal surveys in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, threatening and obstructing Vietnam's regular oil and gas activities. This offense by Beijing directly menaced the interests of both India and Japan.

The aforementioned law enforcement vessels of China constantly threatened and harassed the Hakuryu-5 rig operated by Japan Drilling Co., Ltd. (JDC) while it was conducting drilling in Lot 06-1 as a joint exploitation between Vietnam Oil and Gas Group and Rosneft Petroleum Company of Russia; simultaneously the violation of Haiyang Dizhi 08 vessel group went even further in Vietnamese waters right, in Lot 128 which was designated for a joint exploitation between Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (PVN) and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited of India (ONGC).

Both JDC of Japan and ONGC of India persisted in carrying out the above projects despite China’s pressure and threats because they understood that the waters was under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of Vietnam; their cooperation activities with Vietnam in these areas were in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982.

In the recent negotiations with ASEAN countries on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), China has increasingly pressured ASEAN to agree on a set of COC that could restrict the US, Japan, India, and other countries outside the region from participating in maritime security cooperation and military exercise with Southeast Asian nations as well as exploitation of resources in the South China Sea.

If China succeeds in bringing all its proposed terms into the COC, ASEAN countries may need Beijing’s approval to conduct joint military exercises in the South China Sea with the US, Japan, India or any other country outside the region.

China’s unreasonable demands in negotiating COC with ASEAN may also cause difficulties for ONGC of India and oil and gas companies of Japan as well as other countries in the continuation of joint exploration and exploitation of oil and gas and other resources with the littoral countries around South China Sea in their waters defined by the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982.

Both Japan and India cannot accept these requirements. Therefore, at this first 2+2 Security Dialogue, the two countries' ministers insisted that the COC must be "efficient, substantial and consistent with international law, including the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and guarantee freedom of navigation".

India and Japan share view on the South China Sea issue which is supporting a rule-based order in the South China Sea; opposing militarization, coercion and bullying activities in the South China Sea; respecting the rights of littoral countries around South China Sea to exploit marine resources, including oil and gas in their waters, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982. Japanese and Indian politicians have repeatedly affirmed this perception.

At the 6th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM+) in Bangkok - Thailand on November 18th, 2019, regarding the South China Sea, Indian Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh underscored the concern of international community in open sea routes, hoping the situation remained stable and there would be no use or threat of force, or militarization of the region. Regarding COC negotiations between ASEAN and China, Defense Minister Singh accentuated that the COC should protect the rights of countries not involved in these negotiations.

In the Joint Statement at the first 2+2 Security Dialogue between the two countries, Tokyo and New Delhi called for an effective and substantial COC in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS), and peaceful settlement of disputes, respect for legal and diplomatic procedures according to the principles of international law, including those in UNCLOS.

At this Security Dialogue, the ministers of Japan and India also agreed to make effective use of the Information Fusion Centre (IFC) - Indian Ocean Region, established by New Delhi in December 2018 to increase information exchanges about the Indian Ocean - where China has increased its military presence.

At the meeting with Japanese ministers at the Dialogue at New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi underlined that India - Japan relation is "an important factor for the two countries' vision of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific".

Given that Beijing is increasingly aggressive in order to realize the goal of turning China into a sea great power to fulfill its ambition of "The Chinese Dream", the "Quad" - the United States, Australia, Japan, and India - actively promotes the Indo-Pacific strategy to counterbalance China's “Belt and Road Initiative”, preventing the expansion of Beijing's influence.

To realize the ambition of "The Chinese Dream" set by Xi Jinping, China is aggressive not only in the South China Sea and East China Sea, but also with the implementation of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing also reaches out to the South Pacific and Indian oceans, violating areas that have long been under the influence of the US, Australia, and India, creating great challenges for these countries.

The first Japan-India security dialogue was organized to create a mechanism for coordination between the two countries within the framework of implementing the Indo-Pacific strategy.

Although there are differences within the "Quad" about the Indo-Pacific strategy, they always consider the South China Sea to be an important area in the Indo-Pacific strategy because these countries share a common awareness to prevent the expansion of Beijing in the Indo-Pacific region, starting with its expansion in and monopolization of South China Sea.

From the above analysis, it can be seen that the South China Sea issue will become an important item of security cooperation between Japan and India.