A day after an unusual announcement by the US that it conducted patrols in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone this week without consent to assert its’navigational right and freedoms’, India registered diplomatic concerns with Washington DC.
In an official statement later, the foreign ministry said that the USS John Paul Jones “was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits” during which it passed through the Indian EEZ off the Lakshadweep islands. “The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is that the convention does not authorise other states to carry out military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, ” the official statement said.
Sources said that the announcement of the “freedom of navigation” patrols by the US has come as a surprise, given that such operations were carried out in the past but never announced in such a provocative manner. Sources said that while the US warship was tracked during its transit close to India, it was not challenged, given the friendly nature of maritime relations.
Official sources said the nature of the statement, rather than the patrol itself, was a matter of concern as India has not objected to innocent passage of traffic through its EEZ. There have been several instances of US Navy ships passing through these waters but the statement issued by the US Navy is being seen as provocative, they said.
“We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future,” the US Navy had said, indicating that it will continue such manoeuvres. The US statement has raised concerns in diplomatic and naval fraternity as well, with former chief of naval staff admiral Arun Prakash pointing out that carrying out such missions in violation of Indian laws is unfortunate, and publicising it even more so.
“Freedom of navigation operations by USN Navy ships (ineffective as they may be) in South China Sea are meant to convey a message to China that the putative EEZ around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim”. But what is the 7th Fleet message for India?” the retired officer tweeted. Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal also raised concerns over the move, terming it a needless provocation. “US advocates a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific in the maritime domain but refuses to adhere to UNCLOS which lays down the international maritime law. It wants to eat the cake and have it too. Freedom of Navigation Operations in SCS is one thing because China has violated UNCLOS and repudiated the arbitral award rejecting its claims. FONS in India’s EEZ is needless provocation,” he said.
Former deputy NSA SD Pradhan said that the move has the potential of disturbing the quadrilateral arrangement being pursued for peace and security in the region. “This is going to impact not only bilateral relations with US but could adversely affect the aim of establishing free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. The Quad meeting had agreed to follow the international norms based on respect of sovereignty of all nations in the region and this act goes against the spirit of the fledgling group,” he said.