March 30, 2023

PARIS: While the deepening Ukraine crisis threatened to eclipse the EU ministerial forum on Indo-Pacific that France hosted on Tuesday, foreign minister S Jaishankar used the opportunity to mount another attack on China for making claims on “the global commons”.
Addressing the meeting that saw the participation of close to 60 countries, including EU member-states and all Asean nations except Myanmar, Jaishankar underlined the need for respecting international law, sovereignty and territorial integrity. India sees South China Sea, where China remains embroiled in maritime disputes with several Asean states, as a part of the global commons as it seeks freedom of navigation and overflight and “unimpeded lawful commerce” in the region. China was not invited for the meeting.
The forum agreed to “concrete” action to escape, as French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, the trap of dependency and respect international rules-based order and sovereignty of all countries. Le Drian, however, said France and EU’s strategies were not targeted at China. Taking another dig at China, Jaishankar said connectivity efforts must not only offer alternative resources, but must also set standards in sustainability, viability and transparency.
Not surprisingly, Jaishankar remained silent on the Ukraine issue even as his Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi condemned Russia’s recognition of the “independence and sovereignty” of Ukraine’s breakaway regions. Despite pressure from the US and EU, India has so far said nothing on the issue that could rile Russia because of the sensitive nature of its ties with Moscow.
Jaishankar said the Indo-Pacific is at the heart of the “multipolarity and rebalancing” that characterises contemporary changes. “But it is essential that greater power and stronger capabilities lead to restraint. This means respect for international law; territorial integrity and sovereignty. It means economics free of coercion and politics free from the threat or the use of force. It means observing global norms and practices. And refraining from making claims on the global commons,” he said.

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