Thursday, June 20, 2024

India for vigorous regional collaboration


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Energy security to be a major agenda at East Asia Summit

By Nitya Chakraborty

With the joining of the USA and Russia at the East Asia Summit (EAS) at Bali in Indonesia in the middle of November, the regional grouping of the Asian countries will get a new dimension influencing the geo-politics in the Asia-Pacific. Energy will be a major area of discussion at the Bali summit since the Russia, the largest producer of oil in the world, will be participating and all the big countries including USA and China are engaged in expanding the area of operations for stepping up the production of oil as also ensuring ready imports.

India lays special importance to the inclusion of two new powerful members-United States of America and Russia at the Sixth East Asia Summit. Russia’s joining is sure to focus discussions on energy security and energy prices. India is desirous of having discussions on both as the issue of energy security has emerged as an important geopolitical issue in the present days and all the three big powers — China, Russia and USA are actively involved in this energy security area.

India is of the view that the inclusion of both USA and Russia at the EAS this year provides an invaluable opportunity to hold policy dialogues on energy security for evolving a viable long term policy. Asia’s surging demand for energy may create rivalries for energy resources instead of cooperation. From the Sino-Japanese contest over oil and gas reserves in the East China Sea over the past decade to Chinese activism in the Indian Ocean leading to India’s anxiety, India is looking for an amicable solution to this vexed issue through discussions and adherence to international norms.

With Russia as the largest oil producer and China as the largest oil consumer, India is looking for a discussion on energy prices which is a continuation of the agenda from the previous summit. But this time, Russia’s joining has given an added urgency. Russia, currently the world’s largest oil producer, partly bordered by North Korea, China and Japan, is of geo political importance to East Asia, especially with regard to Energy security. This is illustrated by opening of Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean (ESPO) oil pipeline, exporting Russian crude oil to the Asia Pacific markets.

India wants a pragmatic and composite approach on the maritime security issue at the EAS since this will generate heat and is expected to divide the members. Sources say that the USA wants nothing less than to bring hard security issues to the discussion table including free navigation and the avoidance of hegemonic dominance over South China Sea-China is set to avoid this agenda. India feels that bipolar dominance of the agenda at the summit by US and China should be averted and the ASEAN members should be effectively vocal to air their views and ensure that the discussions are not hijacked by USA or China.

As the host of EAS 2011, Indonesia supports the inclusion of geopolitical security issues. At the conclusion of 2011 ASEAN Summit, ASEAN leaders reiterated the importance of the 2002 declaration of Conduct and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as a means to peaceful dispute resolution. Enacting a regional code of conduct for South China Sea border disputes and pressurizing the US to ratify the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea which the US has signed, will be the real challenging issues. China has to be persuaded by the ASEAN members to follow the path of peaceful negotiations and EAS should strengthen the commitment of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation signed by all EAS members.

At East Asia Summit, India will not take any confrontationist stance on China’s objection to oil blocks in Vietnam in the South China Sea. India will softpedal the issue and India’s point is that this is an issue between China and Vietnam and Vietnam will deal with China as per the 2002 code of conduct and the other international norms which are also valid for the other members of the EAS. Indian officials point out that there is a code of conduct (2002) between ASEAN countries and China to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat to use of force, particularly consultations and negotiations. But it has been followed less in observance than in the breach. The ideal solution will be for China and Vietnam to arrive at a jurisdictional settlement or at least an interim cooperative agreement for offshore oil and gas exploration and development in the area without prejudice to the final settlement.

There is a view among the Indian side that the need for such an understanding between China and Vietnam is all the more since gas transportation might entail laying pipeline across several claims. Since no such solution between Chin and Vietnam seems to be on the horizon, India should firmly state that the concessions will be worked on, subject to any future settlement. After all, China is following much the same norm in undertaking projects in Pak Occupied Kashmir.

Two new agenda items are likely to be added.-connectivity which is proposed by China and a dynamic relationship between traditional and non-traditional security, lobbied by US. This Chinese proposal is consistent with the Master Plan of Asean connectivity. Physical connectivity is imperative to connect ASEAN with China and to build an integrated East Asian community. The plan includes the construction of the Singapore-Kunming rail link that may be extended as far as the city of Surabaya in East Java. The ASEAN connectivity agenda will also include regulatory reforms and education.

Given the ongoing territorial disputes and other non-traditional security issues such as piracy in the Indian Ocean, the interplay of traditional and non-traditional security is now considered a timely issue. India is studying the Chinese proposal. Apart from the two new items, the agenda includes few from the previous summit which are continuous ones like education, finance, energy, disaster management and the prevention of avian flu. But in any case, the energy issue will dominate the discussions at the Bali summit in the context of the present oil crisis and Russia joining as a new member with huge interests in the energy security and pricing issues. (IPA Service)


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