India backs efforts to bring code of conduct in South China Sea: Mathai

Phnom Penh, Nov 19: Ahead of the Seventh East Asia Summit that is to be held here on Tuesday, India has said it supports the establishment of a code of conduct to make South China Sea an area of cooperation.

Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said that while the code of conduct for moving on the South China Sea did not figure during the bilateral talks, New Delhi is in favour of such a code in the sea to ‘make it an area of cooperation’.

“Our position always has been that we support the efforts to arrive at a code of conduct and firm up measures by which South China Sea should be the area of cooperation,” Mathai told mediapersons after the talks between Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao here on Monday on the sidelines of the 10th ASEAN-India Summit.

China is engaged in bitter disputes with regional neighbours like Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, who have also staked claim to parts of the sea, which is home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in fossil fuels.

China insists it has sovereign rights over the South China Sea. Tensions have risen over the past two years amid concerns expressed by some ASEAN countries that Beijing is becoming increasingly aggressive.

India has a huge stake and has remained a strong advocate for freedom of navigation. ASEAN countries insist that they will raise the issue with China during the East Asia Summit on Tuesday

The last ASEAN meeting ended without a joint communique being signed, amid divisions over claims that China had pressured Cambodia to keep the subject of the South China Sea off the agenda.

Meanwhile, Mathai informed that Indian National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon’s visit to Beijing was also discussed during the talks.

“Yes, the subject of the NSA (National Security Advisor) visiting Beijing fairly soon was mentioned by the PM. He mentioned in the context of the ongoing dialogues between the two countries and immediately after the strategic economic dialogue which would be in the end of Nov mber sometime, we will be finalising the date for the NSA visiting Beijing,” he said.

Dr. Singh, during the meeting earlier in the day, sought greater investment and infrastructure collaborations from the Asian economic powerhouse.

“PM has emphasised that the East-Asia Summit is important as a forum for accelerating economic development and enhancing the economic inertest of all the countries,” Mathai said.

The Indian Foreign Secretary also revealed that Premier Wen Jiabao had replied that he was ‘cognisant of India’s interests’ for the need to balance trade, and added that it will be done ‘gradually’.

During their 45-minute-long meeting, and their 14th interaction in eight years, Dr. Singh and Premier Jiabao agreed to make bilateral ties ‘stronger, wider and deeper’.

The Prime Minister is presently in the Cambodian capital on a three-day visit to attend the 10th ASEAN-India Summit and the Seventh East Asia Summit. By Naveen Kapoor (ANI)