Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired the first-ever independent discussion on maritime security in the United Nations Security Council on Monday, its first major activity during India’s month of presidency of the global body. The session highlighted the primacy of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) which “sets out the legal framework applicable to activities in the oceans, including countering illicit activities at sea”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken represented his country, even though the US permanent representative is a cabinet-level person, indicating the importance of the issue and the growing convergences with India. China, however, showed its displeasure by sending its deputy permanent representative Dai Bing to the meeting. Significantly, Russian President Vladimir Putin was also present.
China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea, island building and bullying of countries by its fishing militia have been a source of international concern. Even though the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) under UNCLOS ruled in 2016 that China’s activities in the South China Sea are illegal, Beijing has continued undeterred, leading to growing tensions. On Monday, however, China submitted diplomatically to asserting the primacy of UNCLOS under severe international pressure.
In his remarks, Modi pointed to India’s own record of abiding by the decision of the PCA and settling its maritime boundary dispute with Bangladesh in conformity with international arbitration.
The session had its tense moments, with the Chinese official lashing out at Japan for emptying Fukushima waters into the Pacific as it asked the ASEAN countries to work out a code of conduct. It was left to Blinken to criticise China’s actions in the South China Sea.
Sources said although it's the tradition to adopt the presidential statement unanimously, “the process was not smooth, with one P-5 country holding out till the very end on language related to UNCLOS”. India, according to sources, persisted in finding a way out in drafting the statement using language that was acceptable to all, but retained the reference to UNCLOS. While China objected to its inclusion, all other P-5 members insisted on highlighting the law. Diplomats said India’s actions “reaffirm its bridging role in the UNSC”. Held under the agenda item “Maintenance of International Peace & Security”, the meeting was attended by two presidents (Russia and Kenya), two PMs (India and Vietnam), and 10 ministers, seven of them being foreign ministers. It was one of the highest levels of participation in the UNSC of late.