Jaishankar flags 'sharpening of tensions' on territorial issues across Asia amidst China's rise
The consequences of China's rise and its growing capabilities are ''particularly profound'', External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Saturday as he flagged the ''sharpening of tensions'' on territorial issues across the breadth of Asia with Beijing's actions raising a question mark on the agreements of yesteryears.
Speaking at the fifth Indian Ocean Conference - IOC 2021 – in Abu Dhabi, Jaishankar also said that in a globalised world it is vital that freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded commerce are respected and facilitated.
Noting that a number of developments have taken place that have direct bearing on the well-being of the Indian Ocean region, the minister said that two developments - the changing American strategic posture and the rise of China - have influenced the evolution of the Indian Ocean in recent years.
''Since 2008, we've witnessed a greater caution in US power projection and an effort to correct its overextension. It may have taken different forms and been articulated in very different ways but there's larger consistency over three administrations that they themselves may not readily recognise. It is expressed in footprint and posture, terms of engagement, extent of involvement and nature of initiatives," he said.
Overall, the US is moving towards greater realism both about itself and the world. It is adjusting to multipolarity and rebalancing and re-examining the balance between its domestic revival and commitments abroad, he added.
''The second major trend is the rise of China. Even otherwise, the emergence of a power at a global level is an extraordinary happening, that this is a different kind of polity enhances the sense of change. The USSR may have borne some similarities, but it never had the centrality to the global economy that China has today. ''The consequences of China's growing capabilities are particularly profound because of the extrapolation of its domestic seamlessness to the world outside. As a result, whether it is connectivity, technology, or trade, there is now an ongoing debate on the changing nature of power and influence," he said.
''Separately, we have also seen a sharpening of tensions on territorial issues across the breadth of Asia. Agreements and understandings of yesteryears now seem to have some question marks. Time will provide answers," he said, apparently referring to the unresolved border standoff between India and China in eastern Ladakh since May last year.
India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China's rising military maneuvering in the region.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.
The Chinese military's aggressive moves in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India last year triggered a border standoff between the two sides. The standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted on May 5 last year following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry.
Jaishankar also said that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the impact of COVID pandemic have significantly heightened uncertainties in the Indian Ocean region that is particularly vulnerable to health and economic stresses.
The theme of the fifth Indian Ocean Conference - IOC 2021 - is ''Indian Ocean: Ecology, Economy, Epidemic''. The first edition of the conference was hosted in Singapore in 2016 followed by three successive editions in Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Maldives respectively.
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