India today called for a peaceful solution to the disputes in the South China Sea region through consensus by all parties, in accordance with the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to ensure its effective implementation.
Addressing the third ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM-plus) at Kuala Lumpur, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said the situation in the South China Sea and recent developments there have attracted interest and concern.
''This is natural since freedom of navigation in international waters, the right of passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources in accordance with recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, are of concern to all of us'', he stated.
He also hoped that the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea would be concluded at an early date by consensus.
Parrikar's call comes at a time of worsening discord between Washington and Beijing over Chinese claims to virtually the entire South China Sea and its attempts to reinforce those claims by turning reefs and tiny islets into full-fledged islands through land reclamation.
The defence minister said the ADMM-Plus has emerged as a compact and useful forum for discussing security issues among officials of the ministries of defence of the region and has contributed to greater trust and confidence within the region.
A peaceful and stable regional and international security environment is critical to our goal, he said, adding that India has been working bilaterally and multilaterally with all the states in the region to enhance the security and stability from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.
''Our efforts include joint military exercises in areas such as disaster response and humanitarian assistance, training and capacity building in areas such as navigational safety and cyber security, exchange of perspectives and cooperation on counter terrorism and support for ASEAN-led initiatives for security cooperation,'' he said.
ASEAN has also led useful and constructive discussions in the past couple of years on the regional security architecture, he said. Parrikar welcomed the very useful and constructive ideas presented by Indonesia, Thailand, China, Russia, Japan and others and said that any future framework must be centered on the 18-member EAS as a premier leaders-led forum for dialogue on strategic issues thereby reinforcing ASEAN's centrality in the evolving architecture.
''India would like to see a closer relationship between the EAS and the ADMM-Plus,'' he said.
''Maritime security is again a common challenge. The seas and oceans in our region are critical enablers of our prosperity,'' the minister pointed out.
The dispute arises because of Beijing's insistence of its sovereignty over nearly all of the strategic waterway, through which about one-third of the world's traded oil passes and whose seabed contains coveted energy and mineral deposits.
China's territorial claims are widely disputed, and the Chinese island-building push has sent fears of conflict to new heights.
Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan all also have various claims, some overlapping, though none are as extensive as Beijing's.