View From India | Dispute in the South China Sea 

October 03, 2023 05:32 pm | Updated October 09, 2023 09:38 am IST

(This article forms a part of the View From India newsletter curated by The Hindu’s foreign affairs experts. To get the newsletter in your inbox every Monday, subscribe here.)

Tensions in the South China Sea flared once again when China installed a 300-metre floating barrier near the disputed Scarborough Shoal and the Philippines removed it last week. Chinese coast guard vessels laid the barrier, held up by buoys, as a Philippine government fisheries vessel approached. Manila has repeatedly accused Beijing of blocking its shipping vessels in and around the Scarborough Shoal, a triangular reef encircling a resource-rich lagoon that China seized from the Philippines in 2012. The Philippines sent Coast Guard crew in a boat to the Shoal, who dived and cut the rope that anchored the buoy line. In response, China warned the Philippines “not to stir up trouble”. 

Tensions were high between China, which claims much of the South China Sea, including areas far away from its coast, and a more assertive Philippines in recent months. Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who assumed office last year, Manila has been vocal about China’s high-handedness in the disputed waters while at the same time strengthened ties with the U.S. In February, the countries announced a defence cooperation agreement, which provides the U.S. access to nine Philippine bases, from the previous five. In April, the Philippines hosted its largest joint military exercises with the U.S. By removing the barriers, the Philippines has shown a willingness to take risky steps in countering maritime claims in the South China Sea, writes The Hindu in this editorial. Why the South China Sea remains such an important body of water? Ananth Krishnan dives into this question in this profile of the South China Sea, “Asia’s disputed waters.” He writes simmering tensions in the waters have ramifications to all countries in the Indo-Pacific region, including India. 

Neighbourhood watch 

Nepal on September 16 appeared to reject calls from China to join President Xi Jinping’s Global Security Initiative (GSI), but agreed to take forward ambitious cross-border connectivity projects during the visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ to Beijing. A joint statement, issued during the visit, reflected a careful balancing act from Kathmandu which made clear it would work with China on development projects but take a cautious approach on matters relating to security cooperation, reports Ananth Krishnan

Tibetans are asking for more autonomy, but not political separation, said Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, adding that while he wishes to revisit Lhasa, he would prefer to live on in Dharamshala. “We want to have full autonomy, as a part of the People’s Republic of China. Then we can help millions of Chinese, [without] political separation, and remaining a part of the People’s Republic,” the Dalai Lama told a small group of journalists in Dharamsala. Separately, the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) Sikyong (elected leader) Penpa Tsering said a “back-channel” between Tibetan representatives of the Dalai Lama and Chinese representatives exists at present, but their talks had not progressed enough to be discussed publicly. In an interview to The Hindu, Sikyong Tsering said the CTA backs the Dalai Lama’s call for the “Middle Way” that demands more autonomy from China, but not independence. “We follow the Middle Way, and believe that a non-violent peaceful negotiated mutually beneficial lasting solution to Sino-Tibet conflict could contribute towards peace in South Asia. If Dalai Lama can return back with his followers to Tibet that would be one thorn removed, certainly for India and China as well,” Mr. Tsering said.

A new President in Maldives

Abdulla Yameen

Abdulla Yameen | Photo Credit: MOHAMED AFRAH

Opposition candidate Mohamed Muizzu was elected President of the Maldives on Saturday, as he beat the India-friendly incumbent, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in a closely fought contest. The outcome signals a likely shift in both domestic governance and foreign policy of the island nation, reports Meera Srinivasan. Mr. Muizzu garnered about 54% of the vote, while Mr. Solih secured nearly 46%, according to provisional results. The vote for change in the Maldives comes after a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the Solih administration, and a concerted Opposition campaign led by his rival, former President and jailed leader Abdulla Yameen, demanding ‘India out’ of the country. Who is Muizzu, the former Housing Minister who rose to the top office of the country? See this profile written by Meera Srinivasan on September 17, immediately after the first round election.

The Top Five 

What we are reading – the best of The Hindu’s Opinion and Analysis.

1. G-20 diplomacy and a shifting world order: Euphoria about the G-20 outcome under India’s presidency needs to be tempered given the many dark clouds on the global horizon, writes MK Narayanan.

2. Pakistan’s internal challenges, shifting dynamics: Pakistan’s steadfastness in backing global jihadist and Islamist militant groups is a policy choice that is now casting a long shadow over the nation’s trajectory, writes Aziz Amin.

3. The need for quiet diplomacy to clear the air: Indian and Canadian leaders and diplomats have never really engaged; rather, they have talked passed each other. This is occurring today too, writes Vivek Katju.

4. Is Ukraine’s counteroffensive working: What was the strategy behind Ukraine’s attack against Russian troops in June? How has the U.S. viewed Ukraine’s plan for attacking Russia? What have confidential U.S. documents revealed? explains Stanly Johny.

5. When India-Canada ties were reset: In 2010, then Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologised for the Kanishka bombing which was suspected to have been set off by Khalistani separatists operating from Canadian soil. Former diplomats say 2010 changed India-Canada relations, reversed now after PM Trudeau’s allegations, explains Suhasini Haidar.

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