South China Sea: Vietnam seeks support, India cautious

New Delhi, Dec 20 (IANS) India and the 10-nation ASEAN grouping Thursday robustly backed freedom of navigation, but New Delhi treaded cautiously on the South China Sea dispute, saying the issue of sovereignty should be resolved by the countries which claim disputes areas of the sea, including China.

"There are some issues like those of sovereignty which should be resolved between the countries concerned," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters after the end of the plenary of the India-ASEAN commemorative summit.

There are better ways than intervention, he said when asked about Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's remarks that India should play a role in resolving the dispute in the South China Sea by peaceful means.

Doing something about conflict also means not doing something about it, said Khurshid.

In a veiled allusion to China's increased assertiveness in the South China Sea, leaders of various Southeast Asian countries attending the summit backed freedom of navigation and increased cooperation among ASEAN countries in the maritime domain.

The vision document issued at the end of India-ASEAN summit came out strongly in support of maritime security.

"We are committed to strengthening cooperation to ensure maritime security and freedom of navigation and safety of sea lanes of communication for unfettered movement of trade in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS," said the vision document.

Issues relating to the South China Sea figured in discussions between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the leaders of the 10 countries from Southeast Asia, said reliable sources.

China claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Recently, China objected sharply to Indian Navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi's remarks that the navy was ready to protect Indian economic interests in the disputed South China Sea.

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