Air Marshal says freedom of navigation is valid for everyone

Until a solution is found to defuse tension in the South China Sea, India would like to have a code of conduct for all countries with stakes in the region so that the situation does not escalate, Air Marshal P.K. Roy, Commander-in-Chief of the joint services Andaman and Nicobar Command, has said.

Maintaining that freedom of navigation was valid for everyone, he said many countries had economic interests in the region. While India had issues with China on the land border, they shared a strategic partnership and had tremendous scope for economic partnership, the Air Marshal said at a media interaction a day ahead of the closure of the biennial multi-naval interaction, Milan 2014, on Saturday.

Asked if southeast Asian countries saw India as a natural partner in countering China’s aggressive posturing in the region, he said India and China were growing rapidly, and looked to harvest oceanic resources. “If you look at it as a threat, we will not reach anywhere,” he said.

India was, however, building capabilities and capacities to safeguard its interests, the Air Marshal said.

To a query, he said while development of a runway on the [Myanmar-controlled] Coco islands neighbouring the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago had come to India’s notice, there was no report on Chinese presence there.

Human trafficking

Air Marshal Roy said despite attempts on the part of the command to curb human trafficking, it was on the rise. “If the figure was 300 people in 2011, it went up to 1,300 last year,” he said adding it included those rescued by Indian forces while in distress at sea, those who drifted into Indian waters while on the way to the East and those who landed on the islands.

“We provide support to those in distress and let them go if they are in international waters. Whenever there is a sudden rise in such instances, we press into service additional surveillance mechanisms. Those rescued by us are handed over to the civil administration,” he said.

(Instances of trafficking of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar to southeast Asian countries have been widely reported recently.)

On the measures adopted by the command to beef up security of the region, he said India conducted periodic joint patrols with Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar. Surveillance of the northern and southern groups of the island chain was ensured by way of regular patrol by ships and deployment of maritime reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters.

Four coastal security sensors would be activated along the islands shortly to further bolster surveillance. Military infrastructure, with more jetties and airstrips, including extension and strengthening of the existing ones, were being undertaken. The region being an ecologically sensitive zone and the fact that contractors and materials were from mainland India, the works were moving slow. “But they will move nonetheless,” he said.

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